My July mornings have been filled with +1s, circles, reshares, and streams. Yes, I’ve been playing around with Google’s new social network Google +. It’s neat, and it’s better than the failed Wave and Buzz properties. One plus is that it sits in my main email box. So far, it is a good tool for sharing articles and short messages with friends and family. I’ve used Gmail since 2004, and have about 5Gbs of email. This makes adding everyone I know to Google + very easy and seductive. Since I never used Friendster, MySpace, or Facebook, Google + could become the first social network in my personal life.
However, I am skeptical about using Google + in my classes. I am not sure that Google + will continue to hold my attention after September 1, 2011, when the fall semester begins.
Liz Dwyer has declared Google + a game changer in education:
“There’s a good chance that Google+ is going to become a powerful communication and collaboration tool in the classroom. In fact, it could end up being a serious education game changer…Even at the college level, Google+ seems like it’s poised to revolutionize things.”
Really? Also, The Good Doctor imagines at least four ways Google + could become part of the academic’s work flow:
“Using Sparks to collect research-related web items
Using Circles to create networks of academic interest
Using Google Docs to share content
Using hangouts to teach, host mini-conferences, and host writing groups”
Is Google + really poised to revolutionize education? And is there a compelling reason to incorporate Google + into our professional, academic lives?
My gut reaction so far is…probably not. And here are my reasons why, in no particular order:
1.There is nothing really new about Google +. Beyond the hype, Google + is just another social networking platform, or if you will, a cloud application package. All functionality of Google +, besides those pretty circles, can be duplicated using other services. Putting aside public services like Facebook, Dropbox, or Twitter, many institutions already have purchased expensive services like BlackBoard that contain blogging software, collaboration tools, study groups, gradebooks, chatrooms, etc. Other places use OpenSource programs similar to blackboard. Cornell, my home institution, pays for Edublogs, a great place for sharing web items, allowing students to comment on each other’s papers. Everything that Google + offers is already available through the university.
2.Google + doesn’t deal with the problem of privacy or security. One argument is that the circles will make it easier for teachers/professors to firewall their personal lives from their students’ lives. I doubt it. I predict that too many students will accidently make their drunken photos “public,” or a student will reshare nasty comments about the professor to other circles. Google + is no more “private” or “secure” than anything else, because all social networks are inherently non-private and insecure.
3. Requiring every student to sign up for Google+ is questionable. Professors weld a great deal of power over young people, and it is my experience that most students will do anything you tell them to if you use the magic phrase: “this will be on the exam.” However, should we require students to sign over their identities to Google in order to take a class?
Google is a company, and its business is selling our private thoughts, identities, and habits to advertisers. Google wants to track everything you do online (not necessarily evil). Those advertisers want to trick us into buying crap that we don’t need. In essence, turning over important classroom functions to Google + could become another example of the corporatization of education. Why should students have to agree to have their online movements tracked so that they can join a classroom discussion? It is against Google’s TOS to create fake accounts on Google +, so using fake names and information is out.
At my university, requiring Google + accounts would seem to be against the rules, because it would raise serious concerns about ensuring student privacy, especially when it comes to grades. Also, office hours and student advising must be done “face-to-face,” according to my reading of the faculty handbook, so yet-to-be-tenured-facutly should ask around before adding Google + to the syllabus.
4. Google + in the classroom assumes that all students possess digital literacy. Like other professors, I am OLD. As such, we assume that young whipper-snappers are all about their Tweeters and Texters. Young people, with their hippie-hop music! However, research demonstrates that there is a huge “digital divide” along the lines of race, social class, gender, and family background. Adding Google + this fall, especially in freshman level classes, may put first-generation/minority students even further behind their peers. Most first-generation college-students don’t finish college, so we need to think this through. In addition to the digital divide, research also shows that there is a serious “participation gap.” This means that black and Latino kids, especially males, don’t know how to use social media tools. These gaps have been shown to persist among middle school, high school, and college students. Arguably, adding Google + might just advantage the already-advantaged students. All kids aren’t “growing up digital,” so using Google + will come at a cost: a substantial amount of class time will have to be spent teaching students how to use Google +. Some of that time will be spent on teaching students how to use it responsibly.
5. Collaborative research on Google+ may reinforce the status hierarchy among faculty. I like Lester Spence’s idea about hosting mini-conferences and writing groups using Google +. For minority faculty members in particular, this could help ease the feeling of isolation, and foster collaboration with folks at other institutions. Plus +1. Still, Google + can also reinforce the elite cliques and social groups who dominate the peer review process, conferences, and the like. Unless these are public groups and discussions, Google + can be just another site exclusion. Reproducing the good ole’ boys club, the faculty club, locker room, or golf course: minus -1. How do junior faculty members, minorities, etc find out able and join the “right” circles?
6.The problem of social media and technology fatigue. Finally, I have to admit that I am usually “technologied out” by 3:00pm on most days. Emails, tweeters, IPODs, Ipads, TVs everywhere at the gym. It would be my guess that many students are overwhelmed with their Facebook updates and YouTube as well. Some of the most important memories I have from college remain those face-to-face interactions with professors. Google + seems a poor replacement for having coffee with students, or giving a lecture on the quad on a sunny afternoon. Having taught at Williams College, an elite liberal arts college in New England, I know that many students/parents believe they are paying good money ($70,000+) to interact in “real life” with professors, not by email, Gmail or plusses. At Cornell, I regularly stop students on campus, ask them to take off their IPods, and talk to me about anything. Whatever Google + turns out to be, we need to unplug (from the Matrix) some of the time.
What do you think? Will you be using Google + in your classes this fall? Leave feedback or talk to me on Google + (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Tweeters (@basedprof)