Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Potential of Google Plus

The Potential of Google Plus

by Nicholas Gallimore

Google has changed the face of education. I am not merely talking about classrooms, homework, or researching for your child’s science fair project. By Google making information readily available, the human population can self-educate on any topic they wish. Combine that fact with the connectivity of smart phones along with high speed Internet, and a new unintended product emerges, On Demand Learning.

I feel that mankind has already developed the first stages of brain augmentation on a global scale, and much of that can be attributed to the ability to organize a vast sea of information in mere seconds from the palm of your hand. Here is an example of modern self-education. If I want to make a quiche’ from scratch, then I can pick up my phone or tablet pc search for quiche’ recipes, and now I know how to make quiche’ from scratch. Not only that, but I can also see reviews on the best quiche’, video tutorials on cooking techniques, and have the dish prepared before everyone wakes up for breakfast. Before the combination of high speed Internet, smart phones, and search engines, I would have either had to own a cookbook with quiche’ recipes (which have been previously taste tested) or print a recipe from my computer, so I wouldn’t have to keep running back and forth between the monitor and the kitchen.

We have the ability to learn anything we want, video lessons from Harvard, the latest developments in String Theory, or how to get kids to like vegetables. Unfortunately, we are limited by our own self-interests. Instead of learning more about Physics we tend to learn how to get to the next stage of a videogame, or about the mundane life of our favorite celebrity, or how to bake a quiche’. On the transverse for those of you who are into Physics, simply replace celebrity with theorist.

This On Demand Learning will change the educational system, eventually, once all of the tradition of institutionalization has been deemed archaic. In the meantime, my fellow teachers become a revolutionary. Even if you’re the only one in your school, find new and exciting technology and try it out. See if it makes your lesson sink in, or makes your life a little easier. If it doesn’t, then try something else. Find your students’ interests, and give them the tools to develop into life-long learners. But most importantly show them that there is another world outside of their limited self-interests, and that there might be something else that they find appealing. As teachers, we should feel obligated to facilitate On Demand Learning. We should teach our students how to use modern tools to solve modern problems, and just maybe rekindle the connection between education and the “real world”.

I see ways that Google Plus can help teachers facilitate extremely individualized instruction. It can be used along with Google Docs as a classroom management tool that has the potential for realistic instruction that is driven by the student’s self-interests. This paired with teachers facilitating their students’ desire to learn about a variety of new potential interests, which happen to align to state standards, learning goals, and lesson objectives.

Problems with Google Plus in the Normal Classroom Environment

How can this On Demand Learning classroom revolution become realized through the use of Google Plus? Well that’s where a problem arises. Notice I didn’t give this article the title “Google Plus will Change the Way You Teach.” There are still realistic relevant objections to using social media in the classroom. Most they stem from cyber bullying and privacy concerns. Another stumbling block is the fact that not every classroom has one computer for every student, and that not all students have working computers at home. There are also strains on the school network, content filtering, and other concerns that seriously need to be addressed before teachers mandate the use of Google Plus in their classroom. Realistically, Google Plus will probably be blocked by your school’s content filter for some time. I know that many of you are already devising ways to circumvent the network filters (allowing cell phones in the classroom for example). A word of warning though, if one of your students does something off task while using unapproved technology, then you as the teacher will have a lot of explaining to do to your administrators.

Engaging the Learner through Google Plus

Engaging our students has always been the bane of every teacher’s existence. “I have the information that they need to pass; so why don’t they just listen to me and study.” People simply don’t work that way. Yes the information is what we need, but it’s not necessarily what we want. The modern teacher is tasked with making their students want what they also need. However, we are rarely given the proper tools to accomplish this impossible task. For those of you who are not teachers, relate this to trying to get a child to want to eat broccoli. Many of you thought, “Well I just put some cheese on it.” What if there wasn’t any cheese or if they just lick the cheese off of the broccoli? How do you get someone to do something you want them to do, because they want to do it?

Google Plus is designed to tailor your experiences based upon your interests. As teachers, we can address the interests of our students through the creation of dynamic circles and project based, teacher facilitated hangouts. I relate this concept to virtual versions of traditional classroom centers. However, unlike the traditional classroom center, the teacher has the entire Internet at their disposal. This leads me to wonder why school systems will continue to spend so much on textbooks, while they are faced with slashed budgets.

My vision of Google Plus in the classroom sound a little complicated on paper, but I can visualize how it would work. The teacher and students all have Google Plus accounts; the teacher leads the class in setting up circles based upon what topics are to be learned. The students could have generic circles for each subject or more specific circles for group projects, key learning goals, or specific tasks. The teacher would have to be a member of each of these circles to facilitate discussions, offer feedback, share resources, and collect group submissions. Basically, I see Google Plus as making learning a collaborative effort.

Each student is the center of their circles, so their learning experienced can be tailored to their interests through the sharing of ideas. Not only can those ideas be shared, but the teacher has given them a platform and an audience. If they want to share a video that they made about the quadratic formula, then they can post it to those in their Math circle. If they would like to have a hangout session about the global impact of America’s foreign policy, then the students could actually invite others from around the globe to get their perspective. They could utilize Google’s translate feature to speak to other kids in their native language. I know that the translations wouldn’t be perfect, but that could start a whole other project based on the importance of linguistics in a global economy.

I realize that this may seem like a convoluted pipe dream now, but I can see a future where this type of learning is not only feasible, but expected. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome to get there, but I can see the potential of Google Plus when in the able hands of a competent, caring teacher.

Note: If you would like an invite to Google Plus please send me an email and I’ll send an invite to you