Google+ is here, and love it or hate it, the appearance of a new social network provides a unique opportunity for parents, teachers, librarians, and other people who spend time with kids.
With Facebook, the kids were there first, and we grownups sort of trickled in, kind of like discovering a party in your own basement because you heard the music from upstairs. Some of us joined the party and sort of check in on it sometimes, but by the time we got there, the refreshments had already been served, the games were well underway, and the kids had figured out on their own how things were going to work. It was a little late to step in and say, “Wait…here’s how you should think about this. And here are some good guidelines to consider as you play here.”
With Google+, I think we have a new opportunity. The kids are coming (some are already there), and when we go back to school in August or September, there will be even more young people on Google+. Will we take this opportunity to talk with them about social media and how to use it responsibly? Will we choose to teach them how all the features work, help them discover how it might best be used to connect with friends and learn about the world safely? Or will we hang out and let them figure things out on their own?
I’m in the first camp…and have made the argument that teachers need access to social media in the classroom so they can teach kids how to use it responsibly, how to use it to make their lives better, and how to keep it from turning into a big ugly mess.
Here’s some of what I’ll be teaching my students (and their parents) about Google+ when school starts in the fall:
When you set up a Google profile, you get to choose who can see what. The safest way to do this is to protect all of your personal information so that things are only shared with people with whom you choose to share them. Here’s a good link with information on how to do this:
You can also control who sees the people in your circle and the people who add you to their circles. It’s a good idea to keep this private, because even if you don’t say in your profile where you go to school, if your friends are visible and they all attend Lincoln Middle School in Tallahassee, it’s pretty easy for someone to figure out that you go there, too. This article on managing Google+ circles does a nice job explaining how to use them…and how to keep them private.
Think really carefully about anything you post as public. If you’re a teen book blogger, for example, it’s perfectly fine to share publicly that you just read NEED by Carrie Jones and loved it more than TWILIGHT. What you won’t want to share publicly is that your Lincoln Middle School Jaguars basketball team beat the neighboring town’s team by 15 points. That would be sharing where you live with strangers all over the world, and that’s an Internet safety issue. Instead, you might choose to share that post with the circle you’ve created for family, including your grandparents and cousins, and school friends, including people who actually attend your school, who you know in real life and see in the halls every day. Make sense?
You can read people’s public posts on Google+ without ever letting them see your posts. So it’s perfectly fine (and a really good idea) to set up circles for things you’re interested in. Want to keep up with your favorite celebrities or sports stars? Make a “Reading” circle for those people, so you can click on it and read updates. You won’t share with this group – because you don’t actually know them – but you can read their updates without them ever reading yours.
When you share something that’s not Public, you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t get shared beyond the circles with whom you want to share it. To do that, you’ll need to disable the share feature that allows people to share your post. Right after you share the post, click on the little arrow to the upper right side of that post, and select “disable reshare” from the pull-down menu. Like this…
Keep in mind, though, if you share something with me – a photo or an opinion or anything, really – if I really want to share it, I can save the photo to my own computer and re-post it, or I can copy and paste your text and share that as well. NOTHING that you share on Google+ or any social network is guaranteed to stay within the circles to whom you send it, so before you hit “Share” think about how you would feel if that post became public. If it would put you in danger, hurt someone, or portray you in a light you don’t like, then reconsider.
So how might you want to use Google+? Think about some of these possibilities, and talk them over with your families.
- Virtual study groups – Set up a circle for friends in your social studies or science class so that you can hold online review sessions and ask questions about homework.
- Hangout study sessions – Hangouts are video chats, a feature you’ll only want to use with close friends, but it could be fun to get four or five people together for a study session. You can quiz each other from your notes.
- Book clubs – Want to get together with some of your friends to talk about a book you’re all reading? Create a book discussion circle. When you’ve all finished, you may want to have a Hangout if you can’t meet in person (and sometimes, the author might even be available to join you! I’m guessing some who do Skype author visits now will happily “hang out” with book clubs on Google+ as well.)
- Send update posts to your sports teams or clubs. If you create a circle for “Baseball team” or “Skating club,” you’ll be able to check on news that relates to those events easily and also send updates to your teammates.
Like most online tools, Google+ has a ton of potential for great things, as long as it’s used responsibly, and with kindness toward other users.
Advice for kids…and a good reminder for grownups on Google+, too.
I’d love to hear from other parents, teachers, librarians, and kids, too. What else should we be teaching about Google+ and other social media?