Education

Using Google+ Communities for Online Study Sessions

Today, Google launched Google+ Communities, a new feature of their social networking service. Already, Code4Lib, a “volunteer-driven collective of hackers, designers, architects, curators, catalogers, artists and instigators from around the world, who largely work for and with libraries, archives and museums on technology ‘stuff’,” has created a community to further bring members together. Seeing the Code4Lib community in action, I thought, how could students or teachers use this?

Online Study Sessions

For professors and teachers, time is one of the most precious commodities. While discussion forums aren’t new and come packaged with learning management systems (LMS’s), the ability to communicate in real-time through video is new. Google+ Communities combines the traditional discussion forum with Google Hangouts and in the process creates a forum that can be both synchronous and asynchronous.

Creating a Community

First, you need to have a Google+ Account. Once you are signed onto Google+, click on the Communities icon on the lefthand side of the screen, then select Create A Community on the top right of the page. You can choose for your community to be either public or private. In the case of an online study forum, it makes sense to keep it private. Once a community has been made private, it cannot be made public at a later date. You will then be asked to name your community. Don’t worry, you can always change it later. The last part of this setup phase is to decide whether or not you want the community discoverable through search engines.

Make It Yours

Now that you’ve created a community, you can add a photo, fill out the about section, and most importantly, create discussion categories. The discussion categories break up the posts according to topic. You may create a discussion category for broad topics or structure them according to a test schedule. You have total flexibility in your approach. Categories can also be created or edited at a later point.

Invite Participants

When you’re finished creating your community, you will be asked to invite participants. You can add people individually by their name,  you can add entire circles of people, and you can add people through their email addresses. However, members must have a Google+ profile.

Finished Product

After your community has been created, you may notice that it essentially functions like Google+. Members can post content, add images, videos, events, or links. While adding text files may not be an option, users can add links to Google Drive. Discussion items can be replied to or given a simple +1. Furthermore, a member can view content by clicking on the discussion category or by clicking on All Posts.

This community is private and contains discussion categories for: Study Questions, Text Encoding, Topic Modeling, and Mapping. The Events section is a separate feature and cannot be deleted.

Not only can students or instructors post questions and comments, but they can chat online, and most importantly, interact through video chat. Why does that matter? Let’s say you were working on a problem and needed to sketch out a quick diagram. With Google Hangouts, you could draw that diagram, hold it out to the video camera, and explain what you mean. Try doing that with your LMS. Finally, you can meet outside of normal class times from many locations. This may be especially relevant during the winter months with icy roads and snow with which to contend.

Your Thoughts

Now that you’ve been introduced to Google+ Communities, what do you think? Is this something you may do in your classes?

Timothy A. Lepczyk

Tim is an instructional technologist and former librarian. On the side, he writes fiction and poetry, and publishes the magazine Scintilla. You can follow him on Twitter at @thirdcoast.

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4 Comments

William

Hey Tim, I’m contemplating trying a G+ community for an online course this fall. Have you heard of anyone using this for college-level classroom work yet?

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