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Will Google+ Be the Answer for Safe Social Networking?

The jury is still out on whether or not Google+ will be right for K12 public schools.

When Google+ was announced in late June, it began in a field trial to determine its place in social networking. While it's still unavailable to Google Apps for Education customers and the jury is still out on whether or not it will be right for K12 public schools, the project is designed to make sharing on the Web more like the real world—sharing different pieces of information with different people.

But various bloggers and experts in education have hopes for its use in classrooms. Rob Mancabelli, a columnist for District Administration who has 15 years of experience in education, technology and change management, says Google+ is a "terrific new addition" to the online tool box. "Teachers and students can share customized streams of information with each other, and, even better, build networks of teachers and learners from around the world," he says. "Used thoughtfully, Google+ is yet another way to teach 21st century skills such as global collaboration, learning in networks and information management."

Iska Hain, a spokesperson for Google, says the company agrees there is "plenty of potential" but it's still too early to tell where it will go. "We're excited about these opportunities, but right now, the team is working on getting the product ready for open sign-up," Hain says.

Google+ has various unique features built into it:

  • Circles, which shares certain information with only certain groups of people in one's entire network, which differs from Facebook, and is considered safer for youths in cyberworld;
  • Sparks, which allows users to access videos and articles they find of interest;
  • Hangouts, which allows the user to pop into and out of video hangouts;
  • Mobile, which allows the user to access all the features of Google+ from anywhere, including having "instant upload" for any photo and video the user takes on a smartphone and having "huddle" to turn multiple conversations into one group chat.

Elliot Soloway, who is chair of ISTE's Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning and a blogger and columnist for District Administration, says Google+ "is still not what schools need to keep the kids safe." Edmodo, in which teachers can track communication among students, is "more in line with the functionality that is needed by a social networking tool," Soloway says.

Districts using it on a trial basis are Palo Alto (Calif.) Unified School District and Westerly (R.I.) Public Schools. Educators are hopeful, but its use might depend on which cloud-based educational platforms, such as Google Apps or Microsoft's Live@edu, a district adopts, published reports state.