Google+ School Equals?

Image from GoogleGoogle+ has captured the attention and curiosity of many people around the world. This is Google's latest attempt at creating a social network to compete with both Facebook and Twitter. Google+ is currently in a beta test right now and it is a real beta test because invitations are needed to create Google+ accounts at this time (we all know Google never releases a product out of beta). I was fortunate enough to receive an invite from an EdTech friend who likes to use me as her personal guinea pig which I usually don't mind. The concept is basically like both Facebook and Twitter, just enter whatever you want to share with your network. This can be links to articles to ever popular what you had for lunch on a given day. Right away the big difference is you can direct your message whatever group or circle you wish to see it. Circles are groups of friends, followers, or whatever you call the people you share your life with online. I like the circle concept Google uses because circles can be created for whatever purpose you need. For example, everyone has a everyone and public circle. Along with those circles I also have Acquaintances, Friends, Ed Tech, Family, and Work circles. Whenever you wish to add someone in Google+ you can just drop them into whatever circles you wish him or her to be in.. Then when you post a message just choose the circle who gets the message. Sounds like a social networking teacher's dream right?

Not so fast. While I do have segregated circles involving a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and teachers I work with, I don't think you will be seeing a student circle anytime soon in my group of circles. While the privacy settings on Google+ look a lot better and simpler than on Facebook, I am still not trusting Google totally yet. Also, While your messages might be delivered to select groups which would not include students, what about their messages? Until they learn about what information should be shared and to whom you will might get blasted with student messages including some inappropriate ones. Of course, you might let a message slip through as well. I still like that high wall that separates me from my students online and I don't think the circles are a high enough wall. Finally, what about turning-in assignments? Yes, you can chat on Google+. Yes, you can exchange links to website too. Yes, you can even post assignments on Google+. However, you really should not post a grade on it or discuss the work on the site and I would think having to search for each student to send a message would become tiresome. While schools and their media centers can use this effectively, I think teachers should stick to learning social networks such as Edmodo or Schoology for the time being.

Personally, I am excited about Google+ and the promise it has as a social network. It will be great for PLN's. Will it be the Facebook "killer"? Not anytime soon. However, Twitter is the social network that should worry. Google+ does not have the same restrictions Twitter has on space. You can insert a link and know where it is going which beats just looking at those URL shorteners which are handy but potentially dangerous since you don't really know where the link will take you or what it can do to your computer. Big pluses in my book. I also, hope some of the collaboration tools from the defunct Google Wave will make it to Google+ to turn a potentially great communication application into a great collaboration application as well. If you wish to join one of my circles just look me or up.

The 20X Prize

I was listening to the latest episode of the Freakonimics Radio podcast and how competition is used to drive innovation. The examples were Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight, the X-Prizes given to achieve various goals, and the United States Department of Education's Race to the Top competition. Google's 20% time was also mentioned. In the 20% time, employees are expected to use 20% of their work week to develop independent projects that would be innovative and help the company. Gmail is an example of a successful 20% project. The podcast talked about how such initiatives could help solve education's problems.

I thought "why not"? Let's have an X-Prize competition at the school or district level to stimulate innovative ideas! Cash prizes could be given to those who develop programs that raise student achievement. Winner take all, no points for second place! Winners at the school level could compete at the district level and, possibly, the state level. The rules could look something like this:


  • Winner must demonstrate an increase of student achievement on state standardized tests. 
  • The winning idea must be cross-curriculum. 
  •  The winning program must be trainable. 
  •  The winning program must be sustainable. 


 The 20% proposal would give teachers time to develop ideas to increase student achievement. Teachers submitting a proposal could be excused from staff meetings, duties, and/or staff development with the understanding that is time given to work on the proposed project. Projects are presented to a pannel who allow projects to continue with development or end them. This could be done in a TED-type forum to allow discussion. Financial rewards are give to ideas that are adopted.

The purpose Of these two ideas is to tap back into teachers' creativity which seems to be getting lost in the era of stanfardized testing. Education will have to be fixed from the ground up. Solutions will need to be creative to actually work. The two ideas I outlined above could help on these two accounts. Both ideas would generate thousands of ideas and most of them will not work. However, it could allow the two or three ideas to rise to the surface. What do you think? Let the games begin!