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Google+: the building blocks for collaboration

Lego blocks

From Gmail to Google Docs and now Google+, Google is increasingly offering a suite of resources which make collaboration easier.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then it appears that the newly emerged Google+ has some worthy features.  When Facebook announced last week that their Privacy Settings would be updated so that users could control who had access to their posts, it was clear that the G+ Circle idea had found a new home.

The notion of organising one’s contacts, friends and family into different communication streams was enough reason for me to check out this newest entrant to the social media market.  The problem I’d always had with Facebook centred on identity.  The person I present at work is very different to who I am with my family and who I am with my friends.  I simply didn’t want my work colleagues or my family seeing (or participating) in conversations with friends (and vice versa).  This isn’t inherently duplicitous, but when your Circles become a Venn diagram, there are possible negative ramifications.  News stories centring on Facebook in the workplace have identified some of these issues.

Google+ offers the opportunity to group all of your contacts under any heading you like, as the Circles are customisable.  If you’re working on a project, simply create a new Circle with the project title as the heading, drag and drop the participants into the Circle icon and start communicating.  If colleagues don’t have a Gmail account, you can still add them, and they’ll receive any Google+ posts to their email account instead.

Google’s strength is being revealed as a collaborative tool.  From Gmail, to Google Documents and now Google+, there are emerging possibilities, especially for universities which assess teamwork and groupwork assignments.  Students are able to post their thoughts in real time, respond to the work of others in their Circle, post links to interesting and relevant material and even create a Skype-like video conference (called a ‘Hangout’).

Most Learning Management Systems do have the capacity to create ‘break-out’ rooms or their equivalent.  However, due to the administration issues of course sites, these often need to be created by the lecturer, which can be perceived by students as forcing them to use tools that might not be intuitive or of their choosing.  Google+, by comparison, has a very gentle learning curve.

Allowing students to use other collaborative tools (such as Dropbox) empowers them to find solutions and critically engage with collaborative technologies.  Whilst most assessment will incorporate a student reflection on the teamwork experience, how many specifically ask students to reflect on their choice of tools (or give them a chance to share that knowledge with their peers – and the lecturer)?  Given the sheer number of options, selecting the ‘right tool for the right job’ is not only a skill for university, but one that is critical to workforce success.

Google+ has, in some circles been neglected due to its Beta status.  Bear in mind though, that Google Scholar was in beta since its launch in October 2004 and the ‘Beta’ tag was only removed this year.  Given that the current estimates place the number of users of Google+ at well over one million users (after only six weeks), it is gaining traction and the possibilities, especially for education, are increasing.

Adrian Stagg – Learning Technologist (Co-Pilot)

Image credit: NickPiggottLego bricks ,used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic Licence.

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