When Google launched its new social network, Google Plus earlier this summer, there was a flurry of stories about the site's potential for education. I confess, I penned a few:
- Google Plus: Is This the Social Tool Schools Have Been Waiting For?
- Will Google Plus Replace Facebook or Twitter for Teachers?
- Google Plus and the Future of Sharing Educational Resources
- How are Educators Using Google Plus Hangouts?
- Google Plus and Privacy: Better for Educators?
But as the summer waned on and the initial buzz over the site died down, it became less clear whether Google Plus would have the momentum going into the school year to appeal to returning teachers and students. Some of the pieces to make the site successful in an academic setting were (and still are) missing: namely integration with Google Apps for Education. The current 18-and-over age policy doesn't help much either.
Hangouts: Video Communication and Collaboration
But Google announced a number of updates to Google Plus this morning that do point to the great potential the site still could have for teaching and learning. Most notably, Google has made its Hangouts feature even more useful for communication and collaboration.
Hangouts allow up to 10 people to video chat with one another. The feature is free and easy to use (once you download and install a browser plug-in, you're all set). You can invite specific people to join a Hangout with you where you can chat, perform, demo, or watch YouTube videos together. (It's worth noting that anyone who joins can in turn share the Hangout's URL and invite others. As being in a Hangout appears in all the participants' Streams, it does mean that these are public gatherings.) As I noted above, I've written about how educators are using Google Plus Hangouts, with a story that focused on the Ask an Engineer/show-and-tell meetings that Adafruit Industries has been running.
New Features for Hangouts: Broadcasting, Google Docs, Screensharing
The new features added today now allow Hangouts via mobile phones, not just via the desktop. You can also stream your Hangout live with an "on air" feature that enables you to broadcast the video conference so that anyone can watch. (A Hangout is still limited to 10 participants, but this way others can also view it. And this new "on air" feature is in a limited release currently.) Google also released the Hangouts API, which hopefully means we'll see a bunch of new services and tools integrate with it.
But here are the best new educational features, in my opinion: Google Hangouts now offer screen-sharing, a sketchpad, and integration with Google Docs. That means that as you collaborate with others, you can view each other's desktops, you can view and edit documents together, you can scribble and share notes.
Google Plus officially opened its doors to everyone (over age 18) today too. So if you haven't joined yet, you no longer need a special invitation. You can add me to your Circles if you like, and if you look at who I've circled, you'll find a list of almost 300 other educators and ed-techies who are using Google Plus.