10 Reasons You Should Use Google+ Instead of Email

10 Reasons You Should Use Google+ Instead of Email

During this semester, I’m trying something new. I’m asking students to NOT send me emails. Yes, you read that right–no emails, please. Instead of composing an email, sending it, waiting for me to read it, think about it, then respond, I’m asking my students to communicate with me using Google+.

If you have not used Google+, you should. It’s a powerful communication, collaboration, and publication tool that can not only increase your productivity, but can save you from the email monster.

You can think of Google+ as a communication tool, like email, but much more convenient and with added value and features. Here are just a few reasons I think it’s better than email:

1. You can send messages to one person or groups of people in your custom G+ circles

message google+

Want to send a message to a group of people, but have not created a group (remember we used to call these “distribution lists”)? Send a message through G+ and select one person or circles you have created to send messages. (If you are concerned some of these people are not checking their G+ notifications, you always have the option of also checking “Also send an email.”)

2. You can view your new notifications in Google+ and respond to them quickly and efficiently.

google+ notifications

I find this particularly helpful in staying on track and up-to-date with messages and responses.

3. You can edit your messages.

For an English major, this is indispensable. I can’t tell you how many times I cringe when I’ve viewed an email I’ve sent with spelling errors. With G+, you can always edit your messages, add more content, whatever. Instead of sending yet another email with information you forgot to include, you can edit your original G+ post. How handy.

4. You can delete messages.

Let’s say you realized you didn’t need to send a message. You can delete it in G+. That’s it. Easy.

5. You can mention someone in your posts.

Google+ allows you to add a person’s G+ name (you enter it with a + in front of it) in a post, which isn’t sent directly to them, but alerts them they are mentioned. Perhaps you are referring to a person’s post and want them to know how you feel about it. I guess the email equivalent of this would be to copy someone.

6. You can re-share posts to other people, circles, and/or communities.

Let’s say you just read an interesting post and wanted to re-share it with your faculty group or class community. It’s easy to do that in G+. Try doing that in email (which would be the equivalent of forwarding an email.) Unless you already had groups set up, you would need to enter each email address. Kind of inefficient, isn’t it?

7. You can disable re-shares of posts.

This allows you to not allow re-sharing of your posts. Perhaps you sent a private message and do not want that person to re-share that message. Of course, he or she could easily copy and paste your message and whirl that around the Internet, but this would be unethical and inappropriate.

8. You can analyze your activity in Google+.

Using a tool called “CircleCount,” you can view all sorts of statistics on your G+ activity–what was your most read post, days and times people commented on your posts, the number of re-shares, and other valuable data. In my case, I use this information to plan and implement better communication tactics. For instance, I’ve discovered that most of my students comment on posts during Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with Sundays by far being the most comments. This is not a surprising fact, since most of my students are working teachers who use Sundays and weekends to complete their work.

Another tool called Allmyplus provides additional statistics that help you analyze your activity and identify best practices for sharing.

9. Threaded conversations are easier to follow than email.

Let’s face it–email that contains multiple threads and different people you’ve copied can be confusing and messy. G+ posts are easy to follow and track, and searching within Google+ provides you with more valuable information than searching your email inbox.

10. Email resides in your inbox–Google+ is about reading, writing, sharing, publishing.

Email is contained in isolated spaces–your email inbox. Google+ posts can be private, of course, but can be re-shared and also shared with your custom circles or the entire public–the choice is yours. By using Google+, you are participating in a more varied and dynamic environment–you aren’t working in isolation. People comment on your posts, they re-share them, and you become part of a growing, robust community of people who want to share knowledge.

What are your thoughts? Are you using Google+ on a regular basis? Do you still use email as your sole communication tool? Please post your comments–I’d love to hear from you.

Google Hangouts: Live Interpreter App

Google Hangouts: Live Interpreter App

I am learning a lot about what it’s like to be born deaf. I have one of these students currently enrolled in my Introduction to Educational Technology course and have been researching ways to seamlessly include her in various learning environments. We tested Google Hangout Captions App last week, and it worked very well. I used Dragon Dictate to enter the text automatically in the captioning pane (well, sometimes the text was not perfect, but it always offers us a chance to laugh!)

Now, I have discovered Hangouts Interpreter App, which allows you to assign someone to interpret using ASL. The video appears in the upper-right of the screen. I haven’t seen this in action, but it appears that when the interpreter is signing, (s)he is in the active screen too.

This would allow a student who is deaf to actively participate in a Google Hangout (of course you need to schedule an ASL interpreter to join the meeting) and then communicate to the group using the chat feature. Or, the student who is deaf could sign to the interpreter, who could then provide the communication back to the group.

Of course, a person who is deaf could easily use Google Hangouts to communicate with another person who is deaf, both using their webcams and ASL. They no longer need to be in the same room.

The world is really changing and offering many more options for people with special needs, due to rapidly evolving technologies. I am hoping to test these tools and am excited about the prospects for the future.

For more information about accessibility in Google Hangouts, please read this G+ post:

https://plus.google.com/117291608766433950060/posts/Z1PV8ng3HxU

Using Gmail Chat in an online course

Image representing Gmail as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I like to make my courses personal and myself easily accessible to my students. One really easy way to do this is to encourage or rather force your students to use Gmail Chat to contact you. If you are an online instructor, then you spend a lot of time online. Also with the availability of mobile devices, you can be accessible almost anywhere, anytime for your students.

This does not mean that you should have no time of your own! You can decide when to answer Gmail chat inquiries from your students. And most students will understand you are not available 24 hours 7 days a week.

However using Gmail chat can be of great benefit to your students and yourself in answering quick questions and moving forward. The last thing I want to see is a pile of emails in my inbox that I need to read and then answer. I’d rather have a student contact me instantly, ask the question, and get on with our lives.

It is essential that you have your students add your email to their Gmail contact list. You will receive a notification that someone has invited you and all you have to do is accept.

From here on out that student will be able to contact you synchronously using Gmail chat.

Provide tutorial links to your students so that they know how to add you to their contact list and also how to access gmail chat. You might also tell them about the various mobile apps that will enable them to chat with you when they are on the move with their mobile devices.

Here are Google links that will provide this information:

How to add a contact in Gmail: http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=8933

How to use Gmail chat: http://support.google.com/chat/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=161934

How to install the Google Voice video plugin: http://support.google.com/chat/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=161993

Gmail chat also offers you the ability to send text messages, so your students could send a text message to your mobile number without incurring any additional charges on their own mobile device. Plus if they don’t have a mobile device they can still send you text messages this way. I highly recommend setting up a Google Voice account and using this number as your cell phone number. That way you won’t have to give out your personal cell phone number to your students.

Also tell your students if they have an android mobile device they can use the Google Talk app, which will allow them to communicate with you via gmail chat. If they are using an iPhone, they can use very if third party apps. IMO is a nice iPhone app.

So stay current with your students, create a personal atmosphere– a dynamic community of learners that will appreciate your immediate support and the free flow of communication.

A Google Chat App for Your iPhone: Monal IM

I use Gmail chat on my computer extensively to talk with students, answering quick questions, and troubleshooting issues they might have. I’ve convinced them that using this method is far faster and easier than writing, sending, reading, and responding to multiple emails. However, I’m not always on my computer and want to be able to remain connected as much as possible when I’m mobile. Thus, the need to use my iPhone to connect to Gmail Chat.

It should be easy, right? Well, if you are an iPhone user, you probably already know that Google does not offer a decent mobile app for their Gmail Chat service. I’ve tried going to http://google.com/talk on my iPhone using Safari browser and am redirected to a help page for Google Chat. Hm . . .

How about using the Google+ app on the iPhone? Problem with this is you can only chat using their Messenger feature, which means you can only chat with your Google+ circles Again, not very useful. 😦

Up until this point, I’ve been using Meebo on my iPhone and iPad, which has worked ok, but I really dislike their interface and colors. Guess I’ve been using Apple products to long! Then, I read that Google purchased Meebo (http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405581,00.asp), which is shutting down on July 11, so it’s time to delete yet another app.

Today, I read a great blog post “Getting Google Talk on the iPhone” http://www.felocity.com/article/getting_google_talk_on_the_iphone and experimented with some of the tools suggested.

I’ve decided to try using Monal IM (http://monal.im/) for several reasons:

  1. It works.
  2. It’s free.
  3. Interface is clean and simple to use.
  4. NO ADS! This is a huge plus for me–I just cannot stand those ads that hide part of my screen.
  5. Connects directly using XMPP, a protocol that is supposed to offer better security, real-time push notification, and was designed for online chatting. For more about XMPP, read this: http://onesocialweb.org/developers-xmpp.html
  6. And probably the best reason of all with the new iPhone’s voice to text feature: YOU CAN SEND YOUR MESSAGES BY TALKING. I’m probably going to be using my iPhone even when I’m on the computer, since voice to text is so much faster than typing.

I can see only one drawback–since it uses no third-party service to connect, you need to have the app open on your mobile device for it to work. I’ll keep experimenting with various mobile apps to use IM to communicate, but so far, this looks like an app I won’t be deleting soon.

What are you using for an IM client on your iPhone? I’d love to hear some of your experiences and recommendations.

4 Technology Habits We Can Kick

Habits are hard to break–especially technology habits. For instance, email took some time for widespread adoption, but now we tend to use it for almost everything.

Well, I’d like to change that, along with some other habits we still cling to.

So, here’s my list of four technology habits that we need to say goodbye to:

1. Using email to schedule meetings

schedule once

This is something that is totally unnecessary with our current tools. If you are trying to schedule a meeting with a group of more than 2 people, please don’t send an email with a list of dates available and then ask the recipients to send you their preferences. The result will be a flurry of emails that you’ll need to sort and figure out. Why go through this aggravation, when scheduling software will do this for you?

ScheduleOnce: http://www.scheduleonce.com

There are many great scheduling tools out there, but one of the simplest is ScheduleOnce, an add-on in Google Apps that allows you to select various time slots and invitees. You can use the free personal edition and use it right within your Google Gmail and/or Calendar. You can work directly in your Google calendar, viewing available times for your invitees, and then select various time slots to propose. You get a URL to send to your invitees and the program will return a date and time that works for everyone. Once you decide, send them a final date and it’s done.

To install the free Firefox browser add-in, go to ScheduleOnce http://www.scheduleonce.com and click “Download Add-on.” Then, when you restart your browser, you will see a widget for ScheduleOnce in your Gmail and/or Google Calendar.

Tungle: http://tungle.me

Another excellent scheduling tool I’ve used is Tungle (http://tungle.me). They have a mobile app, too, so you can use it with multiple devices. You sign up for a free Tungle account and then start scheduling. This tool can help you organize meetings quickly and easily.

Of course, we will continue to move beyond our current system of digital calendars and scheduling. We now have apps that allow us to tell others where we are, such as FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, Google Latitude, Plancast, and other social applications. Location-based services in the future will most likely work together even better and maybe even help us decide what we should do, but for now we at least have a way to schedule meetings beyond sending an email query to several people. Get more accomplished and optimize scheduling meetings. Do it the next time you need to schedule a meeting. And keep doing it.

2. Still searching with your keyboard

Google Mobile App: http://www.google.com/mobile/google-mobile-app/

Okay, this is something that is difficult to change, but once you get the hang of it, you will never go back. If you haven’t installed mobile Google Apps on your smartphone or Internet-enabled mobile device, do it now. Then, click the Voice Search button and search using your voice. Try it. It works very well.

voice control

iPhone Voice Control: http://www.apple.com/ipodtouch/features/voice-control.html

Then, use your voice for all kinds of actions you’ve been doing by hand–such as searching for songs on your iPhone or iPod Touch. If you hold down the Home button on your iPhone or iPod Touch, Voice Control pops up. Say “Play Brian Culbertson,” and your iPhone will search your iTunes collection for music by that artist. You will get an audio confirmation from iTunes of playing that artist.

Or, instead of manually dialing a number or clicking a contact’s name, hold down the Home button and say, “Dial home.” Your iPhone will comply. You can even ask your iPhone to tell you the time of day. Try it. Do it.

3. Waiting in line to get your boarding pass

QR Codes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code

Most people know you can (and should) check in online for a flight at least 24 hours ahead of the departure and print your boarding pass.

However, many airlines now have mobile sites where you can download or copy an image of a QR code and place this in your camera roll. Search for a mobile check in link on your airline’s website and you should find this feature.

When you get to the security checkpoint, display the QR code on your phone or mobile device and enjoy the look of surprise on the TSA agent’s face. When you get to the gate to get on the plane, use your phone again and try not to look too smug. Only thing you need to make sure is that your phone doesn’t run out of power!

4. Handwriting notes

Dragon Dictation for Mobile: http://www.nuance.com/dragonmobileapps/

Okay, I still write my grocery lists on pieces of paper, and I need to stop doing this. Invariably I forget to take my grocery list with me or update it. If I would just record my list using Dragon Dictation (a free app) to my smartphone and then access the transcribed list, I could save time both writing and not forgetting my list. After all, my phone usually takes precedence over a scrap of paper.

Of course, you can also type the list using the Notes or other app on your smartphone. Whatever works for you, but lists on pieces of paper are another habit we need to break.

cake

Epicurious App: http://itunes.apple.com/app/epicurious-recipes-shopping/id312101965?mt=8

And what if you are grocery shopping and get hungry for a certain recipe, but are not certain about all of the ingredients (say, for instance a pineapple upside-down cake). Just use the Epicurious app you downloaded on your phone, search for it, and buy the ingredients on the list. Then, go home, bake a cake, and make your family happy. Unless they don’t like pineapple. Then you’ll have to eat it.

What technology old-fashioned habits are you trying to break or have noticed? Send me your comments below and have a great technology day!

Synchronize your Google Apps Calendar with CalDEV

I love it when I think I’ve figured something out and it actually works the way I thought it would! I’ve been using Thunderbird (remember, the email client I keep nagging you about!) for a few months now and really love it. It’s a well-designed and powerful email client, which makes it super-handy for me to read and respond to all of my email accounts in one place.

I’ve also been delighted with Lightning, the calendar add-on to Thunderbird, and Provider, which provides bi-directional support for Google Calendar and Lightning. What that means is whatever system I use to post an event to (Google calendar or Lightning), that event is reflected on both systems. But of course, I’m not totally satisfied until I can also synchronize my mobile device (iPhone) calendar as well. For this syncing, I found NeuvaSync, a server that works with my iPhone, pulling and putting data from and to my Google calendar. So, again, whatever system/device I use . . . gCalendar, iPhone calendar, or Lightning, everything is synchronized. I can enter an event on my iPhone and within seconds that event is put on my Google calendar and Lightning calendar. And needless to say, it works on ANY computer. (One of the technologies that makes this possible is IMAP, an email protocol that Gmail offers.)

But I’m always trying to improve the system! It’s pretty easy to set up a calendar in Lightning using a Gmail address for your calendar. But when I tried to set up my Boise State Google Apps account (which ends in a boisestate.edu domain), Lightning wouldn’t recognize it as a Gmail account. Since Boise State will be migrating to Google Apps totally by the end of this year, I really wanted to use my Boise State email account and calendar.

Now, I’ve accomplished this feat with another protocol called CalDEV, a protocol that’s been around for a while, but is still evolving. So, when you migrate over to Google Apps at Boise State or any other Google Apps domain account, you can use the CalDEV protocol to synchronize your Google Calendar with Lightning, Microsoft Outlook, and I’m sure other programs as well. Here’s the info on how to create a new calendar in Lightning (click the “Enable Google Calendar in Mozilla Sunbird” link) and the NeuvaSync website to enable syncing on your mobile device. So the need for Provider is now no longer necessary. Just create a new calendar and put in the CalDEV URL from your Google Calendar, sync it with NeuvaSync on your mobile device and you’re good to go.

Take the time to set this up and you will reap the benefits of increased efficiency when it comes to scheduling. Hey, more time for playing. 🙂

How I find answers to tech problems: Google of course

As you know, I teach for the Department of Educational Technology at Boise State. When I’m not trying to create fun, innovative, and interactive ways of learning, I endeavor to solve problems. Yes, folks, taking on the role of teaching technology involves also taking on the role of chief troubleshooter.

And just how do I find answers to the myriad of problems that present themselves to me everyday? If the problem involves a specific software program, I open the program and start from there. If I still can’t figure it out, I consult the program’s Help menu. However, as many of you know, a program’s help menu is only as good as your search terms. And your search terms may not match the search terms of the program. That’s when I use Google search instead of the program’s Help menu.

One of the most amazing things about the Internet now is that it is so accessible and can answer just about any question you put out there. For instance, I was troubleshooting a problem with PowerPoint on linked and embedded audio files. I thought I knew the answer, but I wanted to check it out somewhere else, get someone else’s spin on it. Within seconds of entering “embed audio PPT” I had my answer. And I found out more that I didn’t know about. And I could send that info to my student.

But I realized there was more I needed to do. I needed to make sure my student knew that this is how an “expert” technology teacher learns too. In this way, I empower my student and help her grow toward being an “expert.” That’s an important part of what I do.

(To use Google Search effectively, you should know HOW to enter your searches. Go to the Basic Search information on Google to get started. Make sure you know how to format your searches, or you’ll waste a lot of your valuable time.)