Last week Twitter was a flutter with talk of Google+. Via invite (thanks Kate!) math tweeps from around the country were able to sign-up, add circles, and connect.
I am a technology junkie, so I love exploring new technology as soon as I can get my hands on it! Google+ has potential. The two things that appealed to me the most were the circles and the “Hangout” features.
The circles allow you to categorize your GooglePlus friends. This solves the problem of friending your students. Friend away, because with circles you can specify exactly who will (and who will NOT) see every post that you share. You can pick a circle to send a message to, or even just one person. This is similar to the private messaging in Facebook, but it is rolled into the front page. You don’t have to go to a separate place to send a message, you just type it right into your stream (status) and then pick who you want to see it.
The Google Hangout is Skype-like as it uses your webcam and mic for interaction. You see who you are talking to on a large center image. However you can also see all of the people “hanging out” in your room at the bottom of the screen. The neatest feature is that when a person talks, the large image automatically shifts to the person talking. It does this via sound. So, even when no one was talking, the screen would shift to the person making any noise (like a dog barking in the background). Reportedly, up to 10 people can “Hangout” at a time. We had 6 or 7 last week so I haven’t tested this limit yet. In Hangouts you can also chat and watch YouTube’s together. I pushed every button in every box to try it all out.
An advantage of using Google+ in my classroom is that my students will not have to sign up for another new account. Since I use Google Docs daily in my classroom, all of my students already have Google accounts. My students currently sign up for my MathReuls wiki, Google Docs, and use an online book. I like that they will not have to sign up for any additional accounts.
Once Google+ opens up and allows everyone to join, I can envision this as my new “Homework Hotline” in the evenings. I use a Google Document for my current “Homework Hotline”, but it is cumbersome explaining problems to students by just typing. Too much gets lost in translation. It is confusing. I tried Scribblar,
but my students had to create new accounts to use it so I decided against it (update below). I like that I can talk, Skype-like, to students. Each student can talk and it will switch to their face so I can see who is asking the question. We can also type in the chat as we talk. A disadvantage of Google+ as a Homework Hotline is that currently there is no “interactive whiteboard” feature to draw or upload images into yet. However, you can just write something on paper and hold it up to your webcam for students to see. Think old school meets new technology. I actually may like this better for now as every student you are working with online will need to write down the problem and work on it for you to see instead of all drawing on the same interactive whiteboard page.
Until Google+ becomes readily available for all, I will continue to search for an easy to use, feature rich site for my Homework Hotline for the fall. I am currently experimenting with Dabbleboard with my fabulous math teachers Tweeps. There is no required sign-up, so my students can just click the link and join right in. It has an interactive whiteboard, image uploading, and a chat feature with webcam. However, the webcam was unreliable at best. We could either hear voices and see no picture, or see the picture and hear no voices. And then, the voices kept freezing. Frustrating. So, this only be useful as an interactive whiteboard, sans voice. So I will keep searching this summer! If you have something great that you use, I would love to know about it.
It turns out that students do NOT need to create an account to join a room on Scribblar. They do need to “sign in” but they do this as a guest so they do not need to create an account or a password, they simply type their name. Their name shows up inside the room so I will know who I am talking to. Scribblar has more features than Dabbleboard and uses Latex so I will be using that for my students until we are all on G+.