This spring, I used a Google+ Community as part of a course I teach at Grand Valley State University on Nonprofits and Government Technology. Typically, 20-25 students take the class, which is an elective (i.e., not a required course) within the School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration. Class meets weekly in a computer lab on GVSU's campus.
The class is entirely "paperless". I use a Google Site to share the syllabus, lecture content and assignments. I use Google Forms to give the mid-term and final exams. I use Google Slides, SlideRocket, MindMeister, Storify, Wordpress and Diigo to organize and share information for various class sessions. The students use most of these tools during the course, as well.
The class' Google+ Community served as our central hub of activity. The students and I used it to share links, discuss news, and comment on classwork. For students, "completing an assignment" meant posting their work to the class Google+ Community page. I posted mundane things there, as well, including reminders of upcoming deadlines.
This was the first year I used Google+ as part of the course. It worked very well, and I intend to use a Google+ Community with the class again next year. I'll cover how to set up your Community in this post. Look for tips on how to use your Google+ Community for your group in a later post.
Set up your Google+ Community
1. Find out if Google+ is available for university Google Apps accounts
At GVSU, when the semester started, Google+ was not enabled for student addresses. A couple of weeks into the semester - after I'd inquired about having the feature enabled - students were able to join using their student "@gvsu.edu" email addresses.
If your organization uses Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, Drive, etc.), check with your Google Apps administrator to find out whether Google+ features are enabled for your domain. If so, students will be able join your Google+ community using a school email address (e.g., in my case, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Setup of a Google+ Community for a class is simpler if your Google Apps administrator enables Google+ features
You can still use a Google+ Community for your group if your organization doesn't use Google Apps, or if Google+ features are not enabled for Google Apps accounts. In either case, you and your group will need to use a personal Google account to login to Google+.
Go to http://plus.google.com to sign in to Google+. Use your organization's email address if your institution uses Google Apps and has Google+ enabled, or your own personal Google account.
2. Create your Community
Once you're logged in to Google+, click on Communities (left menu) and then "Create a Community".
Login to Google+ to create your Community
You'll then need to choose whether to make your Community public or private. I recommend you make the Community "private". This will let you restrict membership to your students or co-workers, etc.
For class use, choose Private
Now, choose a name for your community. I named mine the relatively obvious "GVSU PA311"; I've seen many other communities similarly identified by the university and course ID.
Name your community and let people search for it
I suggest you change the "Can people search for your community?" to "Yes". This will let other Google+ users see that your community exists when searching. This makes it easier for others using Google+ at your institution to find and connect with you. Click the "Create Community" button to finish.
3. Edit your Community: Add an image
I recommend you add an image for your Community. Go to Communities, select your community, then click on "Actions", and choose "Edit Community" from the drop-down menu. Click "Pick a photo" to edit the image for the community. I used a photo I took on the GVSU campus. I considered using a GVSU logo, but I checked the school's logo guidelines and that seemed to be prohibited. (GVSU prohibits using the logo on social media as an avatar, except for official accounts.) Guidelines and interpretation vary by institution.
Choose Actions | Edit Community | Pick a Photo to add an image for your community
4. Invite members
During my first class session, I had my students log in to Google+, search for the "GVSU PA311" community, and then asked them to join. I quickly approved each request for membership. This saved me the time of inviting each student individually. When an individual joins the class later, choose "Invite Members" from the Actions drop-down menu above to invite them individually.
Congratulations! Your Google+ Community is now set up. I'll share what I learned from using a Google+ Community with my students in next week's post.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.