For some of my classes I’ve been using a mix of Google Sites or Wikispaces and Google+ Communities. I discussed the use of Wikispaces earlier and decisions that I make in terms of keeping them public or private for courses. As I stated in earlier posts here, I do not use Blackboard for my learning management system (LMS) in my classes primarily because the pre-service teachers that I work with will never be able to use this environment (Blackboard) in the classes they teach. I prefer to use free Web 2.0 tools for all of my online activities in the hopes that it will help teachers out as they use them in their own classrooms. Plus…FREE is a good price point for me. Signing up for a Google+ account is also a bonus for teachers as this information will be what Google uses…and promotes when people search for you. And…as a teacher…you should be creating and curating your online brand.
The main challenge in using some of these online tools and building our own LMS is starting up each semester and getting students into the online classroom. Increasingly I’m using Google Apps for Educators as my primary, free LMS. I’m putting this blog post together as a way to get students into Google Apps, Google+, and using Google+ Communities as a classroom LMS.
1. The first thing that students need to understand is that the work and communication they share in Google+ is for the most part “public.” Many times our classroom wiki, or Google Site, or G+ Community will be private. I will always indicate what I constructed is public, and what is private. Instructors need to seriously think through these choices, and inform students as to the decisions that have been made, and the rationale for the choice of privacy settings. Students should understand which sections are public, which are private…and how this should affect what they share.
2. To use Google Apps and Google+, students need to have a Google Account. If you currently use gMail, Google Docs, or Google Drive you already have a Google+ account. If you need to sign up for a Google Account, please click here.
3. Once you have a Google Account, and are signed in, you should see the following black bar at the top of the screen. In the picture below, you will see my screen when I’m signed in to gMail. To the far left you will see that it shows a plus sign…and your first name. If you click there you’ll go to Google+.4. Once you get in to Google+, you will likely be asked to sign in again to Google+ in case you haven’t used it before. I suggest taking the time to edit your profile. When you first sign in, Google+ will ask you to make a ton of friends…and follow a bunch of pages. I usually suggest refraining from this until you get more adjusted to the environment. Please keep in mind that Google+ is primarily a social network. The benefit of using Google+ for our classroom activities is that it is linked to Drive, Hangouts, and Apps. For more guidance on how to edit and effectively use Google+, please view the following page on our Digital Texts & Tools site.
5. By this point you should have created a Google Account, and a Google+ profile. It is suggested that you add a picture of yourself, and indicate where you’re from because it’ll make it a lot easier to differentiate your profile from the hundreds of other people that share your name. I’m not an FBI Profiler…I don’t need to deduce who you are.
The next step is to find your instructor, and add them to a circle so you are connected to them. My profile is available here. Once you’re on my page, you should see a button that says “Add to Circles.” If you hover over it, you can add me to one of your circles…this is sort of like friending on Facebook. I added the profile for Bud Hunt below..you might want to follow him as well.6. The last thing you’ll want to do is contact the instructor, usually via email to let them know that you signed up for everything…and you added them to your circles. Chances are the instructor will immediately add you to their circles once you’ve added them. Your instructor may also add you to the Google+ Community for class once they see your name. By emailing them…you make sure that they don’t overlook you and invite you right in. If the Community for class is public, you should be able to sign up for it. If it is a private community…many times you won’t even be able to find it without being a member.
Hopefully that helps. Please leave comment below if you believe some of these directions should be clarified. Please also feel free to ask me questions on G+, or Twitter (@wiobyrne).