Sunday, July 17, 2011


Google+ a new social-networking platform is currently in a limited field trail. The ability to check it out is by invitation only. Some scholars who have viewed Google+ have shared excitement about its potential - so lights up the blogosphere.

Google+ is Facebook like in many ways and may be a spring forward from Google wave (remember that platform? It was quickly dropped after nonuse). Google+ promises the tools to share photos, updates, and recommendations with a tight circle of identified colleagues or friends. The key difference from Facebook is that it is easier to restrict access and information by isolating contacts, friends, and subgroups. This provides a veil of protection from accidently sending updates to everyone on your “friend” list.

The structure of sharing found on Facebook is defaulted to share with everyone – creating a FERPA nightmare. While it is not difficult to restrict access in Facebook to only friends, there have been enough accidental posts and sharing to cause weighty concern. Professors and students alike have posted comments that they meant for only a few, to later find that their comments were shared wider than intended.

In Google+, scholars may be able to define classes into subgroups and use the application to deliver course content and share communications or collaborate in new ways. Some have said that they plan to use it to collaborate on research projects (search - B.J. Fogg, Dir. Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab and the Chronicle of Higher Education to learn more). Others have praised the potential of the video chat features as a possible way to hold virtual video office hours or synchronous small-group meetings. The video chat application allows up to 10 people to join a discussion. Another scholar (Dave Parry from the University of Texas, Dallas) has gone further to say that Google+ may turn out to be an alternative to learning management systems such as Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, etc.

Emerging technology is exciting as it provides fertile ground for leading edge thinkers to find new ways to use tools and applications for teaching and learning. But caution must always be applied as we consider first and foremost: Is the new application accessible to all learners? Does the new application facilitate learning and achieve desired outcomes? Does it protect student privacy and records? Is it appropriate? And, does it make sense to use it?

The reason I approach new applications with caution rests with the fact that we have seen many cases where the use of technology and new applications are simply added to classes without consideration of goals, objectives, outcomes, or pedagogy. Add-technology-and-stir is not the right approach.

I am also cautious because we know that many of the existing Google Apps may not be accessible to all learners and universities have faced discrimination lawsuits for violating federal (ADA) law.

I also share concern because social networking sites and learning management systems prove to be a fertile ground for scholarly research. There is much we can learn but also much at risk. Take for example events at Harvard whereby scholars have been accused of violating student privacy after it was revealed that they downloaded the profiles of a Harvard college class without students' knowledge and for failing to protect student privacy. Ethical challenges abound as scholars research social networks and other online environments. Both faculty and students need to realize that what is posted on public forums is public and may not be protected as private.

From an administrative perspective, we need to be certain that before we implement any new application that all learners have equal access to the benefits of using the application to drive learning. Therefore, as Google+ prepares to make its debut, academics and administrators should ask themselves many questions. Like others, I share excitement about the potential of web 2/3.0 in higher education. I also look forward to innovative flexible learning platforms that tear apart silo infrastructures. Google+ may be the next step forward that many of us have been waiting for.

Resource: Wired Campus, Chronicle of Higher Education (Monday July 11, 2011).

No comments:

Post a Comment