Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Top 10 Tips: Getting Started with Google+

Google+ is a funny thing.  Just the other day, Google were saying that the service had over 170 million users with 100 million of those active in the previous month.  And yet, if you've thought you'd have a go yourself, it can feel eerily quiet.  Well, I've had that experience too and at first found it extremely off-putting.  Add into the mix a confusion between my personal Google account and the university Google Apps account I've got, well... let's just say it took me a while to get my head around it!

However, because I think that as learning technologists it's our job to see the potential in things and to explore them fairly and fully - I persisted.  And I have to say that I'm glad I have.  So, I thought it would be helpful for me to share Ten Top Tips for using Google+ which have helped me to find a role for it in the portfolio of online tools I currently work with.

1.  Sharing curated content

Link shared with comment on Google+
One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on your perspective) of Google+ is that you can't auto-publish content to it.  This means that rather than feeling spammed you know that every item involved someone thinking about the way it was shared - and that's a good thing.  Because there's theoretically no limit to the number of characters (although I believe it's around 100,000) people can use to comment on a link, it means that you can get the context of whatever's been shared and it can help open up items for further discussion and sharing.  Overall, it boosts the quality of what's there and means that dipping into Google+ is more likely to pull up something useful.

2.  Sharing with a very specific audience

Photos of our new offices, shared only with the team
While it's easy to send out an email to multiple recipients, it's very easy to share with specific groups in Google+.  You just create a circle with those people in it, and then whenever you want to share something with them, you chose that circle as the audience.  It means it goes only to them and for things like shared images / video, you don't open them up to the world or weigh down someone's inbox.  For example, when I took some photos of our new offices, I knew only my team would be interested - so I uploaded the photos, shared it with my 'Learning Technologies Team' circle.  And that was that!  If you're still not sure, then the post I wrote a week or so ago on 'Google+ Circles in Plain English' might be helpful!

3.  Carrying out asynchronous interviews online

Interview via Google+ with David Read, April 2012
There are lots of ways of interviewing someone.  In person.  On the phone.  Via Skype.  Via email.  But what about Google+ too?  I've recently done an interview with David Read - one of our teachers from the English Language Teaching Centre at the university - on his experience of being at the Google Teachers Academy UK.  And since he was away from the university and I was working from home, but neither of us around at the same time, that left us with my emailing a list of questions to him.  Or... using Google+.  So, I posted a message on Google+ with just David as the audience (you can share with individuals as well as with circles / making things public)... and away we went.  Easy.  Like chat but asynchronous.  If you find that you want to chat 'face-to-face', then just start a hangout from the post... and it's a single click away.

Starting a hangout from the original interview post

If you were wanting pairs of students to work together, then getting them to use Google+ is an easy way of having them chat to one another - and keep their work private too.

4.  Setting up a Google+ page for an interest group

The Learning Technologies at the University of
Sheffield Google+ page, April 2012
Whether this is for a class project or for a team - setting up a Google+ page is like creating yourself a mini web presence in just a couple of clicks.  You can have Hangouts with 9 other people, you can share links and ideas, photos, videos - but unlike an ordinary web space, you get the ability to control what content goes to which audience with the use of circles.  You can have multiple people manage the page too, so as with our own Learning Technologies at the University of Sheffield Google+ page which we've recently set up, it's not only proving to be a great way to have additional places for people to chat about learning technologies - but having multiple managers means the responsibility for looking after the page doesn't fall entirely on one person's shoulders.

5.  Sharing content... and seeing where it went

Ripples for a public share on Google+
Ever wondered what happened to something you shared with others?  On Google+ if you share something and it gets re-shared by someone else - that's what's called a 'Ripple'.

Well, those ripples can go pretty far and wide - and it's fascinating to see how something went viral.  And even for things that got shared with only a few people, it's still great to see where things went.

6.  Creating a form in Google docs... then sharing it with a Google+ circle

Sharing a form with a Google+ circle from within Google docs

The integration of Google+ with other Google services is one of its strengths and if you've created a form in Google docs recently, you may have noticed a little Google+ share button at the top when you've been editing.  It not only means that you have another way to share / promote things like surveys, but that you can quite finely control the audience by using circles to control who it goes to.  For example, a staff survey going only to particular members of a team or a sign up sheet going to certain students.

7.  Taming the information flow

Drag the slider to allow more or less content from a particular circle
to appear in your Google+ stream

One of the problems with social media - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr etc is that sometimes it can feel like the information flow is less of a flow and more of a torrent.  Well, not only is the curation on Google+ one built-in way of controlling that flow, but once you've sorted out your circles, you can then adjust how much content from people in that circle appears in your stream.  From everything to nothing.  That really helps to put some of the control back in your hands.

8.  Sharing connections with others

Sharing a circle with other people
Why would you want to do this?  Well, if you want to recommend other people to follow, then sharing your carefully curated circles (and that's the trick - make sure you think about how you're grouping people) can really help people make connections and find relevant and interesting people.  If you've got a circle for your team, group or class - then sharing it with a colleague is just a click away.  If you're setting up groups for an activity, create them as circles, then share the circles.  Simple!

9.  Real-time collaboration using hangouts

Creating a hangout based on a shared item in your Google+ stream

Hangouts are fantastic for collaborating.  Where 'hanging out' is the very Google+ specific hanging out.  So far I've used them to remotely participate in a meeting and to collaboratively author a document with a colleague (Google docs is well integrated into Hangouts).  The possibilities for small group work are vast and whether you want to create hangouts on the fly or off the back of particular discussion topics / at prearranged times, the fact that they're so well built into Google+ makes them very straightforward to use.

10.  Using unique hash-tags to aggregate content and discover related items

Searching for the #cicsltt hashtag on Google+

I'm a big fan of hash-tags for tagging and aggregating content - whether that's on Twitter or on services such as Diigo or Delicious, tagging is a powerful thing.  And on Google+ it's fantastic for tracking your content, not least because when someone re-shares something you've created (and tagged), they can't edit that content and the tag travels with it - which again, means that you can find what's happening to your resources.  You do that by searching for the hash-tagged items - and then save those searches for future reference.  If you're working on a project and want to bring together items from multiple sources, getting people to use a unique hash-tag is the way to go.  We use the hash-tag #cicsltt (CiCS Learning Technologies Team) for our Google+ posts - but I also tag things with #elearning or #edtech in case other people are searching for those terms - it means our content is more likely to be discovered.

So, there you go.  Ten ways of using Google+ in education.  How are you using it?  Have you got to grips with it yet?


No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...