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Google+: New Social Media for Education?

Whether you consider yourself a technology innovator or laggard, you may want to take a look at Google+. It's a new, brand new, social network launched less than a month ago. It's also Google's latest attempt at creating an online social network (you may remember Google Wave and Google Buzz). There are already 20 million Google+ users worldwide and it's gaining a lot of attention in higher education. 

Marketed as a potential replacement for Facebook and Twitter, Google+ access is currently by invitation only. Invitations however seem like they are getting easier to come by. PCMag posted an interesting infographic with a side-by-side evaluation of Google+ and Facebook for quick comparison.

About Google+

So what makes this network different from the others? There are many similarities with systems you might already be using – personal profiles, pictures, and a stream of updates from those you are following. Here are a few of the more unique Google+ features that are getting attention so far.

  • Circles: You decide what your circles will be labeled and sort your contacts into these groups. The possibilities are potentially endless – family, friends, co-workers, classmates, instructors, topics of interest, types of resources or conversations, etc. And you can assign one contact to multiple circles. It's a lot to figure out, but also very flexible.
  • Hangouts: This feature allows for video, real-time chats using your webcam. Each hangout can accommodate up to 10 participants. And you can share in there, too. USAToday College has some good recommendations for how these might be used for student groups and study sessions.
  • Sparks: A "recommendation engine" that is built into the interface allowing you to find information, links to articles and videos, on subjects of interest to you.
  • Privacy options: Using the circles method, you can choose to share each of your posts with everyone or only with specific groups (i.e. friends, family, classmates, co-workers).
  • No ads, at least for now: The Facebook interface includes ads, as does Twitter (in the form of "promoted tweets") when you use something like Hootsuite to view your stream.

Mobile formats are also available, providing enhanced access on multiple devices. There are also plans and predictions that this system will gain capabilities, such as connection with Gmail, since it is still in a testing phase and the developers are receiving a lot of feedback from initial users.

How will Google+ work in higher education?

Educators at all levels are weighing in on Google+, its features, and potential for use in both traditional and online classrooms. Take a look at what some of these learning professionals, early voices from the field, are writing about this new social networking tool.

Patrick Powers, Media Manager at Webster University, shares his review of how "Google+ will work for higher education." Google+ allows for the creation of targeted audiences through the circles feature, "meaning there can be circles for alumni, donors, current students and prospective students, and each can receive targeted messaging."

Steven W. Anderson, a District Instructional Technologist in North Carolina, has created a collection of Google+ related resources using LiveBinders. This site includes lots of guides and how-to information, as well as ideas for use in the classroom. 

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education also provides a list of professors and their considerations for the use of Google+. These ideas include creating circles for individual research projects, office hours, and exam review sessions using the hangout feature. They are also exploring how to use Google+ as an alternative to Blackboard for course and content management.

Educators are also expressing some concerns about Google+. George Siemens, from the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, shares his thoughts about how recommendations are made in Google+. There seem to be some promoted accounts and potential flaws in the algorithms used to generate lists or recommend people, resulting in recommendations that may not really match up with the network you are trying to build.

A New Media Checklist

Before diving in, take the time to find out more about the following elements of a new application:

  • Privacy Settings: Do a little research to find out what the default settings of any new application are. What options do you have for what information you share about yourself and who you'll share this information with?
  • Users: Where is the exchange with your current personal learning network taking place? Can you take these people, the ones you are following and the ones that follow you, to the new system? Are they already over there? Expect a transition period for yourself and members of your network.
  • Features and Functions: What do you need and want to do? Are you building your personal brand for a job search? Are you having conversations with peers? Are you interested in learning more about current trends in your field? Consider how you are currently using other applications, like Facebook and Twitter, and look for those capabilities in any new system you might be considering. Explore how a new system might also provide new ways to do things.

My initial thoughts….

If you are already heavily invested in Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, should you make a move to Google+? I am trying to answer this question as well. As a huge fan of Twitter, and its impact on my own professional networking, I am cautiously giving Google+ a spin. As other users have mentioned, it still seems a little empty, but there's a lot to figure out. Time will tell if it's the right network for me, and for you.

For more "how-to's" and reviews, check out Mashable's Complete Guide to Google+ and this list of over 100 blog posts that include suggestions from a wide array of users from the BlogWorld and New Media Expo community.

A lot of people are writing about Google+ and sharing their lists of pros and cons, some specifically for use in education. What would it take for you to make the transition to Google+? Share your input, tips, and opinions about your experience so far!