Innovative Social Media Use at Colleges: Will Education Pioneer Google+?

This is the second article in a series that will highlight one social media network or application at a time to showcase the different ways colleges are utilizing each of them.

There is a long history at Google of building technology catered towards empowering students and education professionals. That may have been responsible for the tremendous hype among education technology gurus when the Google+ project was announced in late June this summer.

Now I know that hype and Google+ have had a somewhat exhausting relationship since (and well before) the project’s launch.

Last May, the Internet became abuzz with mass reports that Google would launch “Google Me” at SXSW. After Google denied a product launch, various suggestive tweets moved the digital world again to speculate the launch of a “Google Circles” website. Even on the eve of Google+’s launch, The Next Web championed the last great predictions (that turned out to be fairly accurate) after an Australian Javascript engineer accidentally stumbled upon mentions of “Circles” in the source code of Google Profiles.

The social media community had created an almost mythological foretelling of Google’s grand social scheme that would one day kill Facebook, revolutionize the social world, and maybe even cure cancer among other feats. I, myself, was certainly guilty of contributing.

The point is that in the four months since the launch of Google+, many of us (GenY in particular) have come to ask “so what?” We’ve all seen the headlines and heard our peers (and ourselves) groan about Google+’s apparent cloning of Facebook, the pains of adopting yet another social networking site and so forth.

Still, Google+ has its champions and some of the most interesting case studies I’ve seen have been in an unexpected place: the classroom.

In an age where social media has become a debatable weapon of class distraction, it’s odd to think of one of the newest social media sites making waves within college auditoriums. Ian Knox, an eBusiness Professor at the University of Ballarat, disagrees. “In fact,” he says, “the contribution to the class has been well beyond my expectations.”

Knox has been using Google+ for a Social Media Marketing pilot course he’s been teaching this semester. Students were given a beta invite to Google+ over the summer when Knox decided to capitalize on the wet-behind-the-ear social network.

To his surprise — with still two weeks until the first day of class — every student had signed-up and introduced themselves on Google+.

“Each week, I would share class updates on Google+, telling them what was expected for the week,” says Knox. In addition to other social platforms such as Twitter and Moodle, Knox oriented his students to “share links to articles, videos and other information on the topics we were discussing.”

The results he’s found have been higher levels of class engagement compared to the other social platforms. Knox claims, “my feeling is, it was because they were already logged into Gmail, and it was easy to just click the + button.”

The overall student response to Google+ has been positive according to Knox. The most interesting reason? “Their friends were not there because they are still on Facebook,” says Knox, which raises a number of interesting connotations.

I had the opportunity to speak with another education technology guru, Rick Kiker, who also happens to be the top-rated Google Certified EDU Specialist in the world.

“This type of social network that is media rich and offers more ownership to end users is powerful in many industries,” Kiker says. “Education is in a renaissance period right now and is poised to leverage Google+ as a powerful communication platform to impact student achievement.”

Kiker recently presented to a graduate class in educational leadership at Lehigh University to talk about why school administrators need to use social media as a core component of their leadership practice.

Since PowerPoint presentations have been known to cause spontaneous human combustion, Kiker took a different approach: he used Google+ Hangouts to simultaneously video chat with education experts from around the country. The results? “It was awesome…we all liked it very much and the students in the class were very excited about learning to use it themselves” says Kiker.

Steven Anderson, another guru on education technology, agrees. “Hangouts have the ability to change how distance and e-learning is done,” he says. According to Anderson, “creating circles of classmates and professors to collaborate and communicate in both public and private ways is going to be a huge benefit to higher education learning.”

In its four months of existence, the fledgling social networking site has seen the acquisition of 20 million users, considerable drops in user-engagement, an unexpected niche for sharing photos and Hangouts used by global figures. To some extent, Google+’s future is unpredictable. Facebook’s history has been rich with unexpected twists and turns in its end-user features.

The common history between social media sites from Facebook to Reddit, 4Chan or Delicious is how their user communities contributed to their designs. That is why in the midst of an uncertain future, it is important to watch pioneers such as college educators because, in the end, much of Google+’s future will be created by Time’s 2006 Person of the Year:  you.

Image Credits: topgold Sean MacEntee

Hiroki Murakami I'm the Community Manager of The Next Great Generation and Mullen's busiest intern. Emerson College marketing and entrepreneurship student graduating this May. I'm a Seattle native studying in Boston, working with startups, and your local coffee shop's #1 customer. Drop me a line at @hnmurakami.

View all posts by Hiroki Murakami

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