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Communication Tools in Google Plus

Google Plus (or Google +) is among the newer social networking services vying for the attention of potential users. We use it as an example because of the method it employs to organize an individual’s contacts into groups and to control what content is offered to which group. Google assumes that participants in Google Plus are at least 13 years old. Hence, what we describe here presently does not invite access by younger learners. Google also has identified provisions for those between 13 and 18. For example, the videoconferencing procedures we describe limit who can participate in a conference when the younger individuals are present. Google thinking regarding how Google + can be used has been in a state of flux and we will try to keep up in describing what is assumed about use.

Google Plus might be described as originating from the insight that our social relationships, face-to-face and online, are really made up of a complex assortment of overlapping groups. It is typically our intention to interact with these groups in different ways and to share different things with different groups. Our patterns of communication can vary with individual messages. The message that “I have a new grandson” would be shared with the “family group” and the “college buddy group”. The message “I am going to homecoming this year” would likely only be shared with the “college buddy group”. What an online social networking site needs to mimic the actual way we interact with those we know is a way to designate groups, assign individuals to multiple groups, and designate which groups receive which messages. These actions must be easy enough to perform that the users of a system will take advantage of these options and not just push content out in an indiscriminate fashion.

A core concept in Google Plus is the “circle”. A circle is a group of individuals that fall within a category. Users of Google Plus both create circles and then assign individuals to these circles based on whatever criteria the users determine are appropriate. Assuming those assigned to a circle accept the invitations to participate, the circle becomes a way to target the delivery of content and participation in communication activities.


Google Plus is really a framework for a number of services with the promise that more will eventually be added. Our focus here will be the Stream and Hangouts as these features are relevant to our focus on targeted communication.

Google Plus allows users to push several types of content (text, images, links, video) to members of their circles. This content will appear within the “real time” stream of each recipient and will be merged with content arriving from other sources the recipient follows. Items will appear at the top of the stream as they arrive and will move down as new content is received. The user can scroll through this stream of content as desired. The benefit of circles in relationship to this stream of content is that it allows the content author to carefully target who will receive each message, image, or video. It is this level of control that makes Google Plus especially well suited to educational settings. The one caution we would raise in this regard is that Google Plus automatically assumes your next contribution to the stream is intended for the audience you last addressed and content can inadvertently be forwarded to the wrong audience. Changing the intended destination is easy to do, but this simple step can be overlooked. A video tutorial demonstrating sharing to a specific circle follows.


While you can control who you share with by designating a specific circle, you do need to be aware of the opportunity providing content offers to members of the circle. These individuals can then share this same content with members of their circles. You may want to eliminate this opportunity. One of the options available when you create content allows you to lock that post (note the drop down menu indicator in the upper right hand corner when you author a post). This removes the share option for those who receive your post.

lock post

Understand that once you share digital content there is always a way to share this content. For example, it is relatively easy to capture part of the screen as an image and then to pass this image on to others. Trust must always be a part of making content available to others and if you feel you cannot trust those in a circle do not share.

Hangouts Video Call: The second Google Plus application appropriate to our present focus on communication is the Hangout Video Call. A video call is a group video chat involving up to 9 participants.

You being by connecting to

You should encounter a screen that looks like this. I have X'd out the history of past hangouts I have used. I am specifically describing video call here. If you must deal with more than 9 people in real time, you will have to make the effort to use the YouTube Live alternative.

Video call should bring up a screen allowing making use of your camera and mic and a couple of other things. In the lower left-hand corner, you should see an icon that will launch chat. I will get to that later, but you may want to make use of chat and video/audio with a group. The dialog box appearing in the middle of the screen allows the originator to invite others. I prefer not to have to enter addresses for all members of my class, but I use the copy link to generate and copy a unique URL to the clipboard. I then send this link to all members of the class using any email system. Note - you will not see this link immediately as it is copied to the clipboard. Just assume the address is there and paste when you generate the email invitations.

Students click on the link they receive and show up in the video session.

The video Hangout call allows many features those of us who use online class systems are used to having available. In the upper right-hand corner, you should find an icon that launches the drop down you see here. You can launch that chat tool and screen sharing from here.

Screen sharing offers two options - share the entire screen or share the active window of an application (e.g., PowerPoint, the view from a second browser).

The chat pane is fairly standard and should appear on the left of the video pane. Participants can carry on a chat while others are speaking.

Hangouts offer the opportunity for face to face (virtual) discussions. Some college professors see this as a convenient way to hold office hours. Have a circle for students in your class. Originate a hangout at a designated time and invite the class circle - post the web address in your course CMS. Students with questions can connect during the time period the hangout is open. The hangout may also serve as a setting for small professional meetings and even for connecting to another teacher at his or her desk.

Hangouts seem a great way for students to engage with other students from other schools or to bring guest presenters to your classroom (just connect the instructor’s computer to a projector so the entire class can see). If these are not repeated events with the same people, these are the types of circumstances in which the opportunity to share the unique URL for a hangout would be useful. Just set up the time for a meeting and then just before the meeting is to begin initiate the hangout and email the URL to those you expect to participate.

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