TL;DR Version: This post details our use of Google Groups to form an in-house, private personal learning network for support and scaffold students. This details possibilities for constructing your own in-house discussion groups to draw on the power of the hive mind.
As I’ve detailed many times on this blog, one of the key tenets of the IT&DML program is a belief in open teaching and learning in a BYOB program. We strive for transparency, and build all of our learning experiences using free online tools. As coordinator I share everything about the design, planning, and syllabi for the program. I urge faculty to share and reflect their teaching materials. The most exciting element of the program is that we require students to share most of their work and reflections openly on their blog, on their learning hubs, and archive this on the Digital Texts and Tools site.
As a result, our students are actively teaching, learning openly online, they interact with others and form (or join) PLNs to support themselves and others. With all of this learning, sharing, and actively working in the open we designed into the learning management system design a private, closed-door communication tool that could be used for private dialogue between members of the program…and to archive this learning over time.
To that end we started up a Google Group for students and faculty in the program. Once you’re accepted and in the program…you’re in the Google Group. When you’re finished with the program and graduate…you stay in the Google Group. 🙂 The thinking is that we have the opportunity to create ongoing PD, and a private side to the PLN we’ve formed for all students. As we uncover new tools and develop tutorials, students share this in the Group to obtain feedback. If someone is looking for advice, support, or needs a question answered, they can send it off to the Group.
We primarily use the Google Group as an in-house, private discussion group that (hopefully) replaces email. Instructors make whole-class announcements. I also post program-wide initiatives, and job opportunities that arise. For class announcements I start off a new thread in the Google Group and make all announcements for the course in the Google Group. Student questions that are of general interest for all should be directed to the Group. Students are empowered to answer and respond to these queries. Hopefully this will help support students, while negating the need to answer and respond to multiple questions about the same topic. Additionally, students that have completed the program have the ability to lurk, or remain active in the learning of current students in the program if they so chose.
To learn more about how to use Google Groups, please review the following multimodal tutorial available here.
Image CC by opensourceway