Using G+ as a Community for Your Class

googleplus screenshotEdmodo was my go-to virtual classroom for the past two years, but I’ve never felt that the students had really bought into using it.  They wouldn’t use it unless I forced them to by creating an assignment there and requiring them to send the document using the platform.  I would still have to constantly nag my students to do these assignments and quizzes.  In my mind, I envisioned using a social network to have lively discussions about biology topics, review for tests, and present information that I didn’t have time to do in our short class period.   In reality, very few students would engage in that way.

I’ve looked into other learning tools and management systems, places like Discovery Education, Class Dojo, Juno Ed, and ProProfs, but those seem to be more management or quiz tools and less focused on classroom discussions and engagement.

So why didn’t Edmodo work?   I suspect it has to do with edmodo existing as an isolated community.  It required students to go to the site, login, and then perform whatever task I has asked of them.  Most would do that, and then log off and go back to facebook, instagram, twitter, or whatever other internet tool had caught their attention that week.   What I needed was a platform that was already integrated into networks they were already using.  Facebook  would be an obvious choice,  but it is blocked by the school’s filter.  Also,  Facebook seems like it wouldn’t lend itself well to intellectual discussions, students are too familiar with using it to post sillyness.

I started using G+ about a year ago and have seen that community grow, but in a much different way from the way Facebook evolved.   I go to G+ to see thoughtful discussions about education and science and have pruned my circles to reflect my interests.  For all those who think G+ is just another Facebook, you might want to look again.   As a professional, having contacts and reading the mini-blogs from other teachers and educators has made me a better teacher.  If I open up my “educator stream,” I see several threads about testing, creativity, classroom management.  In my science circle, I see a video of a CSA astronaut wringing water out of a towel, a picture of a DNA ring, and a poll that asks about climate change.

Last month, I asked my students to join a closed community I had created on G+, to see if that worked better than EdModo.    After a month of use, I believe that next year I will exclusively use G+ as my virtual classroom, and here’s why.

1) The apps for mobile devices are very easy to use and will push notifications to students phones.  They’ll see a new post on out community, click to check it out and maybe respond.  The +1 button gives me a way to at least see if a student had read the post.  G+ is also integrated with other platforms students already use, such as gmail and youtube.  If they go to any of those connected sites, they will see activity on G+.

2) G+ allowed me to embed presentations from google docs.  If a student missed class, he could actually view the presentation without leaving the app (or his phone) and ask any questions right there.    This integration is key to my adoption, since I already use .docs for creating content.  You can make quizzes on google docs and post them directly to your G+ page for students to take.  Youtube has a similar integration system, making it easy to share youtube videos with your groups.

3)  Community groups can be made private, so while my students are a part of the larger G+ network, our little room there is just us.   However, because they are part of a larger platform, I can share posts by experts.   Remember that DNA ring I mentioned in my thread.  I click  “Share” and post it to my AP Biology community with the title “Happy DNA Day”.    The girls in my class loved the ring and some jokingly asked if I would buy it for them as a graduation present.

This openness and engagement with a larger science and educator community is also key to making this work.   There is not that same sense of isolation you get from the closed sandbox that is edmodo. If you are willing to broaden your own circles to include experts of your field, then you can also broaden the scope of your classroom discussions.  The graphic below shows how I can take a post I found in my stream and share it to my students.

googleplus_sharing_02

4) Hashtag integration is used extensively in G+ and my students seem to engage with trending topics.   For instance, for #wildlifewednesday, they will post pictures of animals they find interesting, or  I can ask them to post an exciting science article for #sciencesunday.

hashtag_wildlifegoogleplus_sharing2

5)  There are lots of other features that make G+ attractive.   The level of control you have with management circles, album integration and posting of photos.  I can also leave my group up indefinitely, and keep in touch with seniors after graduation.

I realize that EdModo can do lots of those things listed, the problem is that Edmodo could not do it easily.   Every part of edmodo was clunky and difficult to use.  I’d ask students to post images from a lab, and they’d complain about how difficult it was to use the app.  Sometimes they would be unable to open documents I’d attached for homework  (this is never a problem with google docs), and sometimes they would submit homework in file formats that were not readable.  Quizzes would not work on the phone app, which made them next to useless for end-of-class assessments.

If you’re interested in G+ you can follow Shannan Muskopf   or BiologyCorner