A new Google+ tool could help students make connections, both locally and globally.
Less than a week after Google+ Communities launched, educators were already thinking of ways to use the feature with their students. In North Carolina, Washington County Schools received access to Google+ on its Apps for Education Domain a month ago. And now David Ashby, director of instructional technology, is thinking of a plan to get students using it.
With a connection to his previous Texas home, Ashby has helped set up collaborative student projects between North Carolina and Texas schools, among others.
"We're just trying to basically let our students get connections, and then we want our students to take it from there," Ashby said.
These connections — both in the U.S. and globally — help students understand that their work is not just for their teacher, but for a broader audience. He hopes that will give them intrinsic motivation to perform better.
Last year, students used Google Docs for a collaborative poetry project. North Carolina students wrote a stanza, and so did students in Texas. They tried to keep the same mood and voice, but allow each author to show their point of view. They've also used Skype for video.
This school year, video Hangouts and Communities could enable more face-to-face interaction and make it easier for subject matter experts to talk with students. That way, it makes the learning real and cuts expenses for field trips.
It also prepares students for a life in college where they will use plenty of technology, said Torie Maldonado, a government, economics and psychology teacher at Cole High School in San Antonio's Fort Sam Houston Independent School District.
"It wasn't that long ago that I was in college," Maldonado said. "I feel for myself that technology was my No. 1 driving force when I was in school."
And that's the direction that many colleges are headed.
In Cole High School, students now have Chromebooks and access to Google Drive. District Director of Instructional Technology Roland Rios encouraged teachers to try Google Hangouts with their students. Maldonado started exploring at his suggestion and found the Communities feature, which launched Dec. 6.
"I thought, 'I can totally do this with my kids," Maldonado said. "It looks like Facebook, but it's more education friendly."
Her students try to use Facebook to connect with each other for projects. But it's just not realistic. And while her district has the eChalk learning platform, her students don't actually log on to see the resources and assignments she posts there. Maldonado has to rely on word of mouth to pass information to students and hope they write it down.
So she decided to start a private community for her 2013 AP Government class. By posting resources on different topic threads including federalism, the Congress and public policy, Maldonado said she hopes to make digital collaboration within her classroom more accessible. Because students already use Google productivity tools, it will be a more seamless transition for them to watch YouTube videos about government and start hangouts for study sessions in Communities
"The kids are going to have basically a digital binder of sorts where we're going to have an opportunity for us to collaborate."