So, it is finally here and I finally got an invite! I had a few days to begin to get my head around Google+, but nowhere near enough as much time as I would have liked to dedicate to check out this new “Buzz”. I have always been disappointed to hear about the fall of Google Wave, which I thought was a fantastic tool that would bring collaboration to a whole new level. But, unfortunately, it never kicked off properly, maybe because of the many bugs, or simply because the world wasn’t ready for it. Whatever, it was, my first impression about G+ is that it is a lot less pretentious and a lot less fuss has been made about it. So, there is a better chance that the users will drive how it develops, rather than having the presumption of telling the users this is their answer to everything they have ever wanted.
So, here are my first impressions about it. I like the idea of circles as it gives a good balance between a Facebook like experience and Twitter lists. Posting to a Circle to me sounds a bit like sending a Direct Message to a whole list on Twitter, which is quite neat. I also like the idea that now you can separate your professional updates from your personal ones. Other than that I have not done that much digging into G+, or rather I haven’t found the time yet, but there are a couple of ideas I’d like to share about how Google+ could potentially be used in the classroom.
Simulating Historical Characters
In G+ you could create an account to simulate a historical character and assign different other characters to his/her Circles, so you could have a circle of people in his family, his colleagues, enemies, etc… Each person within these circles can interact with our famous character according to their relationship with him, so, for example, how did Darwin’s father influence his life choices? Or how did his contemporary Lamark dispute his theory, etc… There could be a moderator group who could could act as the Historian and challenge the conversations within the circles with probing questions and by presenting key facts in the life of this character. Speculations on how History could have changed, if different choices had been made by the people in our character’s circles, could be explored in conversations and questions created by the learners in this role play. Giving a profile picture that match the different characters would help learners to engage even more deeply in the game and it could really spark interest in the lives of these historical characters, as they would have the opportunity to impersonate some key people in History and the whole topic could become very personal for these learners. An interesting feature of this game is that apart from the Historian and the actual main character other characters would not see the conversations between the main person and his/her circles.
Breaking down complex systems in Science
Often you can break down complex systems and processes like the human body into smaller chunks that are easier to explain, but that contribute to the functioning of the whole system. So, for example, you could create an account for the “Human Body” and break it down into Circles in Google+ like the Circulatory System, the Reproductive System, etc… In each circle you could have the organs that make up that particular system, like the heart and blood vessels in the Circulatory System. The body has needs that involve different systems depending on the situations in which it finds itself in. So, for example, when the body is exercising the heart will pump more blood around to supply the additional Oxygen needed to the muscles. The body could be played by the Teacher, or even better a group of learners, who will have to send messages to specific Circles explaining the activity, or need, it is doing and the circles will have to respond appropriately explaining the changes they are going through to supply that need. This role play could become quite interesting when a process that involves multiple systems is started by the body. You could also simulate a medical tracer, like radioactive Iodine, that could be added to all the “circles” in the body and find a malfunction according to the conversations that are going on in each Circle/Organ.
These are just a couple of ideas and I have had the chance to try them out in the classroom yet, but I would be very interested to know how the learners respond to them, if anyone out there is having a go at trying them out. So, please share your experiences and ideas by leaving a comment!