I have already said that I love Google Plus, and I had a post where I made a case why journalism students here at Lehigh and elsewhere need to jump in the fray now. But I wanted to sketch out some thoughts about why Lehigh University as a whole needs to be looking at GPlus.

The short version is that this tool is going to change education. And I think it’s here to stay. There will be some quoted sections from my journalism post, which I’ll put in block quotes so you can skip if you read the other ones.

As the new-kid-on-the-block challenger to Facebook, there are many questions out there about whether it’s worth it to learn it. I’m already on record about the fact that I think this thing is a game-changer, and I think it’s time for our Lehigh journalism, marketing, and PR students to get on the train now so they can be ahead of the curve. We don’t want to wait until someone tells us at a leadership or strategic communication seminar 2 years from now.

I’ve been an evangelist for Twitter as a journalistic tool since 2007 and first used it in my classes at Missouri in 2008. Back then it had a funny name and wasn’t instantly seen as useful. People thought it was silly or a waste of time. I had (and have) a great role model in Jen Reeves to keep pushing, and over time the journalism crowd came around.

I hear similar things about Gplus. “It’s a waste of time” or “Not ANOTHER social network!” or “Why do I need another Facebook?” or “I don’t understand it.”

Some of my rationale for journalism does apply to universities as well. The page feature, for example, is a great way to interact with alumni who might be using a different product than Facebook, so it’s a space you need to be in. And building those connections is a bit easier than it is on Facebook. When I was building my circles, for example, I discovered we had a Lehigh grad working at Google. That it can be used to drive traffic to your news and department pages also is a big one, and I’m already seeing evidence that it’s more effective than Facebook at this for my own sites (it is early, though). You can’t afford to note be in these spaces at the PR, communication, or department outreach level.

Hangouts in potential represent a great opportunity for the university to put its face forward. Chatting with professors, students, senior leadership, and so forth could be offered to newsmakers or alumni to help build that connection to the university. The interactive components are huge for alumni relations folks.

But there’s much more. As a teaching tool, Plus intrigues me. I’m already planning on holding Hangout office hours this fall for students, where they can get on and ask questions about class material. And because it’s multi-user, others can hang out in the lounge and listen. Sometimes I go over the same stuff with multiple students in multiple meetings; this could streamline that process.

Every student in my multimedia class will be required to sign up for GPlus, and I am planning on keeping a circle for each of my classes so that I have another way to communicate, collaborate, and interact with my students. I also have circles for my former students in case I have things such as job postings or articles of interest to share. This is my Classroom Without Walls on steroids; the learning won’t stop just because the semester ends.

The ability to share videos you can all watch at the same time is huge for me. I can initiate a Hangout with a student in my multimedia classes, watch one of the videos they make, and then go over it with them. Real time feedback similar to a paper conference.

But playing with Hangout now is important if the rumors are true that PowerPoint or OpenOffice integration is coming. You can have up to 10 people in a Hangout; imagine if we could hold webinars or research collaboration meetings online. If we get the ability to screencast slides or even shared Google Docs that we can work up while chatting, look out. But again, get the learning curve of the interface out of the way now so when these components come online you are ready.

Already I can see Plus having a bunch of advantages over Blackboard or the Moodle learning system we use here. About the only advantage those products have is the gradebook. Every other interactive tool those offer is inferior to what we have on Plus right now. Facebook has some great collaborative tools, but the privacy interface is so clunky that I rarely used the tools in classes for fear of being seen as infringing on their personal space. Circles changes everything. We’ll be using GPlus in my multimedia courses as perhaps the most essential course-management tool.

Finally, the university should look at Plus because there is more coming. A lot more. Google is looking to connect its myriad apps, products, and widgets with Plus. That means this thing is going to evolve a lot. I, in particular, am looking at Blogger integration, but that’s just one example. The staggering array of tools Google has already is great for education, but when folded into a social tool made for collaboration then they have much greater potential.

Silagh White and I are going to work to have a meeting on campus that goes over the basics and will have some networking for folks interested in using Plus here. More on that to come, but if you want to take part then please email me or leave something in the comments. And make sure to circle me on my profile.

And if you’re interested in the topic of Plus and education, I recommend taking a look at Brad King’s post on it his own classroom plans.

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Why Lehigh (and every other) University needs to be on Gplus. Now.
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