Monday, April 13, 2015

3 Ways to Have Online Discussions with Google Classroom

We often just don't have enough class time for those deep and thought-provoking conversations with our students. Online tools like a Google+ Community and a Google Group Web Forum allow you to extend the conversation beyond the walls of the classroom. But how do you use these tools in conjunction with Google Classroom? Let me show you 3 ways you can have online discussions with Google Classroom!

Use the Comment Thread in a Google Classroom Assignment

Every Google Classroom Assignment (and Announcement) has a built in public comment thread. Any comments made in this thread can be seen by everyone in the Classroom. The comment thread can be the most convenient way to have an online discussion with students. When students are finished with their required portion of the discussion, they can click the "Mark as Done" button to receive a grade from the teacher. If you simply want an online discussion, you don't have to attach anything to the assignment. However, a video or resource link could definitely enhance the quality of the discussion.

Some other benefits to using the Comment Thread are:

  • The teacher receives an email notification every time a student posts a comment.
  • The teacher and students can mention each other in a comment. If you are mentioned, you will receive an email notification.
  • After students click the "Mark as Done" button, the teacher can assign a grade.

Sample of a discussion in a Google Classroom Assignment comment thread.

Link to a Google Group Web Forum Post

Another great option for having an online discussion is to use a Google Group. One of the choices for a Google Group is a web forum, which can serve as a private, online discussion board. Sometimes, using the comment thread within Google Classroom can clutter the Stream. So a space like a Google Group web forum, can minimize the clutter and keep your discussions organized.

To set up an online discussion with a Google Group web forum, start by creating a new post in the Group. Every post has it's own unique URL. Copy the URL of the post and paste it as a link into a new Google Classroom Assignment. Student can then click on the link from the Assignment to participate in the conversation.

A few more reasons for using a Google Group web forum are:

  • The Google Group can be kept private, so only the teacher and students have access.
  • The teacher can directly add members to the Group, rather than using invitations. This is the quickest and easiest way to get students into the Group.
  • The teacher and students can subscribe to a post, which will send them an email notification every time there is a new comment on a post.
  • The teacher and students can receive a daily digest of all new activity in the Group via an email notification.

Sample of an online discussion with a Google Group web forum.

Link to a Google+ Community Post

If your students are over the age of 13, they are allowed to use Google+, a social network created by Google. As the teacher, you can create a private Google+ Community for you and your students to have online discussions and share resources. The community can be used in the same way as a Google Group web forum. You can pose a topic or question for discussion in a new post in the community, and the students can add comments to participate in the discussion.

Click on the down arrow in the top right corner
of a post and choose Link to post and copy the post URL.

Every Google+ post in the community comes with it's own unique URL. To access that URL, click on the down arrow in the top right corner of the post to access the menu, then choose Link to post. You can then copy the URL of the post, and paste it as a link into a new Google Classroom Assignment. Students can click on the link to easily access the post.

Some more reasons for using a Google+ Community are:
  • Download the Google+ app (iOS & Android) to access the community on the go.
  • The teacher and the students can mention each other in posts and comments. A mention will create a Google+ notification.
  • When students are finished, they can return to the Google Classroom Assignment to click the "Mark as Done" button. The teacher can then assign a grade.

Sample online discussion using a Google+ Community post.

Which ever option you choose, consider the benefits of providing your students a venue for online discussions. You're promoting and helping students hone their communication and collaboration skills and encouraging positive digital citizenship. You're allowing them an extra space to express their opinions, ask their questions, and extend their learning. We often miss out on opportunities for deeper conversations in class because of a lack of time. But using an online space to continue these conversations can be powerful and beneficial to student learning.

Also, consider the added benefits of opening up your online space, (whether it's a Google Group or a Google+ community), to others beyond the class. Invite another class from somewhere else in the world to participate in the discussion, or invite the author or an expert to participate. Connecting your students to the world around them can redefine teaching and learning.