The Educator’s Guide to Using Google Buzz
One of the latest social media applications that has been getting a great deal of buzz is…Google’s Buzz. Google rolled out Buzz not too long ago, with the hope that it would become the next be social media thing. Google is hoping that the fact that Gmail users automatically access Buzz will help it continue. Also helping is the fact that Buzz makes it easy to connect Buzz to other social media feeds, creating a hub of sorts for your various social media accounts, including Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and your Blogger profile.
All of this connectivity had an initial downside. Almost immediately, outcry over privacy on Google Buzz was raised. Private information was widely available, and that caused immediate concerns. The good news is that the widespread panic caused Google to make changes to its set-up, and now Buzz can be adjusted to rectify most of the privacy problems. Now that Google has done its tinkering, and many social media mavens have had their say, Buzz is being considered for its usefulness. While Google Buzz isn’t for everyone, it can be a helpful tool in a number of settings, including education.
If you are looking for an innovative way to connect with students, especially in an online learning situation, here are some ways that you can take advantage of the features offered by Google Buzz:
Create Education Groups
Google Buzz allows you to create different groups, based on shared interests. It is also possible to set up private groups on Buzz so that you are not sharing group information with outsiders. This is one of the most useful features of Buzz for educators. You can create individual groups for each course you teach. Additionally, if you are working on class projects, you can set up small groups and monitor how they are working together. Here are the steps to creating a private group and sending messages using Google Buzz:
- In your Gmail account, go to “Contacts”.
- Click on “New Group” and create a name for the group.
- Add members’ emails to this group.
- Go to Buzz and click in the message box.
- Look below the box to see the drop down. Switch from “Public on Web” to “Private”.
- Click on “Post to a group” and check the appropriate box.
- Write your message and click “Post”.
Of course, the major drawback is that all of those in the class group or course have to have their own Gmail accounts and access to Buzz in order to coordinate projects and discuss class items using this social media tool.
Collaborate on Projects
Using the ability to set up groups in Gmail and in Buzz, it is possible to use Buzz to collaborate on education projects. Indeed, Buzz is set up so that conversations can take place on a variety of subjects. This allows students to collaborate with each other, sharing files and information. Google Buzz allows for the sharing of pictures, documents (Google Docs can be used easily with Gmail and Buzz), and research links with each other. This can make collaboration fast and easy.
On top of this, it is possible for others in the group to easily follow the thread of conversation, something that can be quite difficult on Twitter when you have groups of people trying to read what others are saying. Buzz keeps related conversations together, so it is easy to see what other group members have contributed to class projects. Every post has the option to insert a link or photo. With Google Docs, you receive a link that you can put in this section (or just share the doc with everyone in your group).
For distance education, Google Buzz can be great for facilitating class discussion. It is easy for online educators to upload class materials so that class members can see them using Buzz. Then it is possible to discuss the materials with class members. Class members can comment on their own time schedule as well, easily pulling up what they are looking for by post discussion, and seeing what others have said. Then they can add their own comments.
Google Buzz also makes it easy to answer questions students might have. A student can post a question, and the teacher can answer it — allowing everyone in the group to see the answer. This can be an effective way for those who might have similar questions to have them answered quickly and easily without having to email the instructor separately. Filtering improvements should help increase the efficiency of this process.
The fact that you can do this with more than 140 characters (as with Twitter), and the fact that you don’t have to enter individual “friends” for each message (as with Facebook) make Buzz quite convenient. Comments, questions and explanations can be as long as necessary, and illustrative media is readily available.
Course and Assignment Updates
It is possible for you to quickly and easily send out course and assignment updates to everyone in your class using Google Buzz. If you need to make changes to an assignment, cancel a class meeting, or set up a special online class chat, you can use Buzz to quickly let everyone in your group know. You can also post information on extra credit assignments, or let students know when their grades are available.
You can also notify students when you have a new video lecture up. The “Insert Link” feature allows you to insert a link from YouTube and have the video show up as something playable immediately. You can also connect your YouTube account to Buzz, so that every time you upload a new video, it is automatically disseminated to all of your followers.
Drawbacks to Google Buzz
Even with the privacy upgrades to Buzz, there are still some concerns. One of them is that in some cases there is an “all or nothing” approach, making it difficult to make some things public and some things private. Another downside to Google Buzz in terms of privacy is that when you use Buzz on mobile devices, it can show your location to followers. You might not want classmembers knowing exactly where you are.
And, of course, in order for Google Buzz to be effective in education, all of those taking your course must have a Gmail account and use it regularly. That’s no real hardship, since it is free, but some online students may not be too keen on getting a new email account just to take a class.
In the end, though, Google Buzz offers some interesting possibilities, especially for those looking to beef up their online education offerings.
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