What Google+ REALLY Means for Higher Ed

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With the launch of Pages earlier this week, many colleges and universities are scrambling to set up their institution’s presence on Google+. Browsing the nearly 200 institution pages established thus far, I found a mix of empty and flush pages, the majority of which appeared to me to be followed mostly by higher ed industry professionals, not institution stakeholders.

While the land grab is to be expected, it’s important to ask are we just being cutting edge for the sake of it, or is there real potential with the platform?

To understand the real potential impact Google+ can have on higher education we have to look past this week’s announcement of the launch of Pages and instead check out the largely overlooked launch of Google+ for Google Apps in Education users, which took place on Oct. 27.

Google Apps for Education customers, which includes 60 of the top 100 institutions, already utilize the service for mail, calendar system, documents and more. Now, for these institutions, Google+ is education’s social layer, threading together the entire student experience. Think pre-populated circles based on degree program and class year, virtual study sessions featuring multi-person video chat, screen sharing and collaboration in Google Docs, and a whole lot more. And that’s just the beginning.

In the case of Apps for Education, Google has brought the tools and the audience together. For the rest of us, we’re left putting time and energy into a tool with amazing potential, but currently extremely limited reach and return.

While this reality isn’t lost on Apps for Education customers like Abilene Christian University, Wake Forest University and Arizona State University, who are already on board working to integrate the platform into their current efforts, it is sadly largely lost on the rest of us. Our industry should be feverishly conversing over the potential ways Google+ could impact student success and enhance the student experience, not wondering how we can spread our already poorly served online audience across yet another platform.

But beyond the potential impact on student experience, there still is a very real marketing benefit to Google+ many aren’t discussing, and that’s Social Search. For Apps for Education customers, their students will spend years of their lives logged into their Google accounts, interacting with institutional content, talking about the institution, etc., and the implications of that could be huge, really huge.

So what does Google+ really mean for higher education?

For Google Apps for Education customers it means the ability to revolutionize the student experience, and see a potentially massive shift in SEO over the coming years.

For the rest of us, Google has given us a choice, we can either join the Google Apps for Education team, delivering a social layer on top of our educational experience, or we can do the legwork ourselves of trying to build an audience and then deliver them engaging content on a platform they have largely yet to adopt.

Realistically, it’s a marketers job to be innovative and on top of trends, so go ahead, set up your Page and put out some content. The platform will certainly be growing, so working out the kinks now will only help you down the line.

But while we’re investing all this time playing with a new shiny tool, let’s take a couple minutes out to ask our institution and ourselves:

Are we ready to provide a 21st century learning environment that integrates social media into the learning experience in an effort to enhance student experience and success?

At the end of the day, Google+ is a tool. We can either use it to address real problems and goals in new and innovative ways, or we can use it as another dumping ground for the same content we currently distribute elsewhere. The choice is entirely our own.

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  • http://twitter.com/KathyLisiewicz Kathy Lisiewicz

    Great post. There is value to simply having a presence, so that you at least have a point of contact–but what I think we’re really lacking is a sense of how using Platform X serves our audiences. That goes beyond Google+, but the novelty of Google+ may just make it a great place to start trying something new.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t care if Google+ kills Facebook or not. I just want it to kill Blackboard. 

  • http://twitter.com/mikepetroff Mike Petroff

    I agree that the true benefit of a platform like Google+ is weaving it into the fabric of the student life and learning experience (faculty / staff as well). But, it’s important for us marketers and web professionals to try out these new shiny tools so we can figure out the benefits, pitfalls and develop some plans to get the campus to adopt the technology.

    You sum it up best with: “Realistically, it’s a marketers job to be innovative and on top of trends, so go ahead, set up your Page and put out some content. The platform will certainly be growing, so working out the kinks now will only help you down the line.”

  • http://twitter.com/ronbronson RB

    There are too many missing pieces right now for me to invest a ton of energy into this. But your post has opened up the possibility that there’s something bigger in store for us and Lori’s broader point is too true. I’m all for anything that can kill and replace our clunky LMS.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KDSherm Kevin Sherman

    That’s great and all, but then we have to convince a campus/IT Dept to switch over to Google Apps for Education. Not going to happen anytime soon around here.

    • Anonymous

      You’re definitely right about that. And while it’s a near impossible task, I would stress that the decision to switch a campus to Google Apps is first about pedagogy, then about marketing and IT. Too many institutions leave a decision like this up to IT alone, and often aren’t having the dialogue to discuss the true benefits, beyond the service side.

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  • t2r

    I was put onto this article by a member of our team evaluating Google apps, but frankly, it really doesn’t explain how this tool will be helpful.  Social networking is one thing; education is another.  I would love to hear some solid, practical ideas.

    • Anonymous

      Appreciate the comment, though I would have to strongly disagree that social networking and education are two isolated things. The truth is, 3 of the top 5 reasons students drop out of college are related to social experiences. Those are a students fit with the institution, student involvement in campus life/college experience, and the general social environment. This means that utilizing social tools to enhance the student experience can lead to increases in student success. Successful utilization of social networking in an educational setting is about student success and retention. 

      With the above in mind, practical applications of Google+ would be:
      1) Pre-populated circles where accepted students are instantly connected with their fellow classmates within a degree program. This provides students a built-in support network that they can tap into throughout their educational experience. You could go further and even offer circles for Single Parents, for instance, and connect students with similar challenges. 
      2) Use hangouts to support study sessions or post-class dialogue. By utilizing a tool like this students don’t have to be burdened with physical travel in order to connect in a dynamic way  with their fellow classmates.
      3) Mobile. As more institutions are exploring the power of mlearning the Google+ app is a great way for students to stay connected with faculty and classmates while on the move. It brings the classroom to their pocket. 
      traipse across campus in a snowstorm.
      4) Use Hangouts to pipe in guest speakers from around the world to any class
      5) Use Hangouts to share Google Docs and collaborate with students or faculty on various projects.

      Certainly not a comprehensive list, tese are just a few of the possibilities of how a tool like Google+ could be applied to enhance the student learning experience and potentially lead to increased success.

      • http://matthewjadams.posterous.com/ Matthew J. Adams

        I’d like to see you expand this into its own article/presentation.

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