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January 4, 2013

Playing with Google+ in my Hybrid Class

gplusLast year I taught two semesters in a hybrid learning community with my colleague and friend Cindy Ortega. We met one day a week for 2 1/2 hours. The other 2 1/2 hours was spent online. I taught ENG102 Freshman Composition and she taught CRE101 Critical Reading. Both classes when you look at the competencies are very similar, focusing on critical reading, writing and thinking. And of course we both teach research because we have to have something to read, write and think about. Our theme for the course was Food Waste and Sustainability, so we had students read the book American Wasteland and watch several movies about sustainability. This semester we watch Lester Brown’s Plan B movie and in the fall we watched No Impact Man. All of our content revolved around the ideas from the book and movie.

So with such an important topic, we thought it would be great to encourage students to be transparent in their work in the course, as what they were discussing and writing about would be relevant to all. With that in mind, I suggested we use Google+ as a blogging platform for students not just share their journals posts with us, but with the world. We did it for two semesters and students loved it. I’ll try to explain how it all worked out.

First, we have Google Apps for Education, but we didn’t have G+ turned on for students. Because of this students had to use a personal Gmail account to participate, which really can be confusing for students to have more than one Gmail account. We’d get students in class that would be logged into one account and then be locked out of an activity that was shared to the other Gmail account. An example of this is when a student logged into her personal Gmail to post her journal for the class and then went into Canvas to participate in a shared document assignment that was shared to her school Gmail account, she was denied access to the document. She didn’t realize she needed to switch accounts. This happened often, but after awhile they all figured it out.

On the first day of class we got all the students signed up for their Google accounts and opened up their G+ profiles. Then they all were instructed to add me (the instructor) to a circle – any circle. It didn’t matter what circle. I provided a link for them to click to take them directly to my G+ profile. Once they added me to a circle, they showed up in my G+ account as someone who added me to a circle. I then added them all into a circle named after the class: ENG102/CRE101. Once I had everyone in the circle, I shared the circle with the class and instructed them to save the circle with the same circle name. We were all connected now.

Throughout the semester students were given journal assignments to post in G+. Most were text posts, but some involved creating posters or videos or photos. The posts were to be shared with the class circle, thus making it private to only the class. However, we encouraged students to share with others and I often re-shared some really good posts. It wasn’t part of the grade, but students often commented on each others’ posts. But what really surprised me was students started using G+ to ask questions, and before I even realized the questions were there, other students started to answer.

We often work in groups, so students used G+ to communicate with group members outside of class. I held a few office hour sessions on G+ using Google Hangouts. And Cindy and I started using Hangouts for our weekly class planning sessions even though most of the time we were one hallway away.

Overall I think the G+ project was a good experience, and I look forward to expanding the use of it. This semester, if our class makes, I plan to do more discussions in G+ and more re-sharing of content from others outside of the course. I could maybe have students search to find other like minded individuals to learn from and share with. It could be fun.

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