Thursday, July 7, 2011

Google+ is Your New LMS

Learning Management Systems. Blackboard. Moodle. Sakai. Something in-house. The first and last options are expensive. The middle two are open-source, but will require a lot of training and other costs up front. There’s a reason people make a living based on getting schools and other workplaces set up on them.

Google+, however, is relatively intuitive. You’ve likely seen, and used, Facebook. You’ve at least heard of twitter (a subtle nudge to follow me), if only to make fun of Charlie Sheen, or wonder why Lady Gaga has so many followers, and if that might be the decline of Western civilization (hint, it’s not). Yes, Google+ does these, but it can do more.

  • Circles. Sure, you can create groups in Facebook, and then grant or restrict access based on those groups, but very few people do this. I did it, then Facebook changed this process, and it’s less intuitive. In Google+, modifying access is easy. If you teach several classes, create a circle for each course. Post something to your stream (or “feed” if you prefer to use Facebook’s terminology) and then choose which circle or circles get to see it.
  • Spark. I’m a bit unclear on how this works at the moment, but I see great potential. You list your interests, and Spark brings them to you. Curation made simple, similar to Google Reader, or an RSS feed, in your social media platform. Between Spark and Circles, you can push out articles and posts of interest to a class, or other category of users (something like a listserv, perhaps).
  • Hangout. Got a webcam? Create a hangout, a place to video chat. It’s not asynchronous, but if you’re snowed out, cancelling class; want a review session before an exam; or if you and an out-of-state colleague are working on a project and want to talk, this is useful.
  • It’s Google. You’re already there. You use search. You might use gmail personally, and maybe your place of employment uses a gmail app. You know this company, or at least you think you do.

  • There’s no gradebook in Google+. That might be the biggie. Sure, you can create a Google doc spreadsheet (and input your grading formulas if you’d like), but then everyone can view everyone else’s grades, or you can lock it down, and no one can see them.
  • Your data. Google doesn’t make stuff for you or me. It makes stuff so that when we use it, it collects data on what we do. This data is very useful to a great many organizations. Corporations, governments, terrorist groups, NGOs... you get the idea.
  • Exclusivity. Joining Google+ is difficult now. It’s in beta, and locked down. I don’t understand why the former affects the latter (note: this is Google’s argument, not mine). Gmail was in beta for years, yet everyone could join. I also imagine that Google has the bandwidth for this. Make it happen. Open up G+ to everyone. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
Like Google+, this post is also in beta. After all, I’ve only been on it for a week. What did I miss? What did I plain get wrong? Got anything to add to Google+’s functionality as an LMS? Got another caveat? Let’s talk.


  1. For the gradebook part-- either A) do what you did before everything went online- profs keep their end of the grades and students can be responsible enough to keep track of their own and everyone can duke it out come report card time. OR do some sort of individual grade sheet for each student that feeds from a direct sheet (just share one sheet per person, that would work in excel, but I'm not sure about Google).
    Only other issue with this particular school is the lack of home computer resources...

  2. What about quizzes, or content that your students are required to read or watch? LMS systems keep track of this type of content, and provide a feedback and tracking system that is often required for class credit. I can see how you could host quizzes on another system and post a link (surveymonkey maybe?), but tracking that a student has actually accessed the content they're required to read is a plus-one in the LMS column.

  3. Thank you for this post. I want to get your opinion of the newish Communities feature and how you'd use it. (There are some things that make sense in Communities, but it's not always easy to post there.)

    Also, I'm trying to figure out a way to use Google+ to store (and have students easily view) important documents: assignments, syllabus, basic stuff. In Google+, sometimes I think everything is unorganized. Do you have thoughts about that? Thank you very much.