Conference PaperPDF Available

An Evaluation of Google Plus Communities as an Active Learning Journal Alternative to Improve Learning Efficacy


Abstract and Figures

Learning journals are a very beneficial learning tool for students across a range of disciplines. The requirement of frequent entries to a journal encourages students to start achieving the learning objectives from the first week of a module. The completed journal serves as a useful revision resource for students preparing for a final exam or even long after the module's completion. The downside to learning journals is that they are passive and the class as a whole does not benefit from the variety of opinions, articles and personal experiences logged in their classmates' journals. If the journal is only handed in at the end a semester, there is no room for feedback for the students on their entries until after the module has completed. In this paper, guidelines for the deployment of an active learning journal alternative, using Google Plus Communities, are presented. A literature review is also included for alternative case studies in using learning journals, weblogs, and wikis for recording and encouraging student learning throughout a module.
Content may be subject to copyright.
An Evaluation of Google Plus Communities as
an Active Learning Journal Alternative to
Improve Learning Efficacy
Mark Scanlon, Brett Becker
{mark.scanlon, brett.becker}
School of Computer Science,
University College Dublin,
Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
Learning journals are a very beneficial learning tool for students
across a range of disciplines. The requirement of frequent entries to a
journal encourages students to start achieving the learning objectives
from the first week of a module. The completed journal serves as
a useful revision resource for students preparing for a final exam or
even long after the module’s completion. The downside to learning
journals is that they are passive and the class as a whole does not
benefit from the variety of opinions, articles and personal experiences
logged in their classmates’ journals. If the journal is only handed in
at the end a semester, there is no room for feedback for the students
on their entries until after the module has completed. In this paper,
guidelines for the deployment of an active learning journal alternative,
using Google Plus Communities, are presented. A literature review
is also included for alternative case studies in using learning journals,
weblogs, and wikis for recording and encouraging student learning
throughout a module.
Keywords— Learning Journal, Weblogs, Active Learning, Stu-
dent Engagement
1 Introduction and Motivation
The motivation for seeking an alternative for learning journals stems from
a popular module currently being taught to undergraduate students. This
module has grown in popularity in recent years and this academic year has
over 120 registered students. The module currently requires students to
maintain a learning journal throughout the semester, which has consistently
received very positive feedback from the end of semester student surveys.
Students are required to create one entry per lecture topic (with allowable
dispensation for absences and missed entries of up to three without penalty).
This learning journal is then submitted at the end of the semester and is
worth 40% of the module. The downsides to the current approach from a
teaching and learning perspective are:
Students do not receive feedback on their entries until the grades are
issued at the end of the semester.
The class as a whole does not benefit from any discussion or engagement
on each others entries.
Intriguing new stories or articles discussed in one student’s journal are
not shared across the class.
Despite numerous reminders, many students leave the journal until the
end of the semester and lose the benefit of continuous learning.
Due to the class size. the workload at the end of the semester for assess-
ment of the learning journals is huge, with many students submitted
20+ page journals.
2 Literature Review
The provision of a choice of learning methods to students can be advant-
ageous to a class as a whole, while suiting each individual’s learning needs.
“Pedagogy 2.0” attempts to bring together the ideas, individuals, communit-
ies and information networks through technology to enable dynamic com-
munities of learning (McLoughlin and Lee, 2007).
2.1 Learning Journals
Learning journals require students to frequently, e.g., weekly, bi-weekly, re-
cord their opinions, personal experiences and reflections relevant to a given
topic discussed as part of a module. These learning journal entries encour-
age students to engage in reflective learning through self-awareness, critical
analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Thorpe, 2004). Learning journals em-
ployed in the teaching of science, engineering and mathematics may not ini-
tially seem suitable due to the foundation of knowledge based on axioms and
demonstrable proof (Langer, 2002). However, Langer found that the use of
learning journals in these fields promotes critical thinking and can provide
an opportunity for expression and development of self-reflection.
2.2 Weblogs
Weblogs (blogs) are used across a wide range of topics on the Internet. Blogs
facilitate authors (bloggers) of any content to post their articles online for
others to read and comment on. This content can take the form of a per-
sonal diary, communication with others, task management, documentation
of processes, reviewing or indeed a learning journal. Despite the topic, they
generally share a number of common features, as outlined by Sim and Hew,
Individual Ownership.
Hyperlinked post structure.
Updated displayed in reverse chronological order.
Archival of postings.
Blogs are used across almost every discipline in higher education (Willi-
ams and Jacobs, 2004). They can be used for instructor content distribution
or as a means of student assessment or critical reflection (Yang, 2009). Us-
ing blogs for a record of learning creates a publicly accessible record of the
student’s learning throughout a course of study. Making individual student’s
blogs accessible to a class can encourage student engagement and create a
sense of community outside of the classroom, further enhanced by both stu-
dent and teacher interaction via the blog (Halic, Lee, Paulus and Spence,
One issue that might become apparent in the sharing of student’s content
is the privacy concerns of the individual. However, the literature does not
support this issue. In 2004, Armstrong et al. trialled a blog-based learning
journal activity for a number of students from a range of Arts backgrounds
(Armstrong, Berry and Lamshed, 2004). She found that the students’ views
on the blogs were “overwhelmingly positive” and that they found the blog
enhanced their learning process. The students felt that their journalling on
the blog was personal, yet had no problems with others being able to view
their work.
The public nature of blogs may be viewed as a barrier to reflective learning
as an individual may not fully or naturally express themselves in a public
forum, however it has been shown that blogs offer comparable and additional
benefits to predecessors such as learning journals, specifically designed for
reflective engagement (Hall and Davison, 2007).
2.3 Wikis
Wikis offer an online space for collaborative authorship and writing. Using a
wiki helps to build a community driven knowledge base on a number of topics.
However, wikis do not offer a suitable means of individual assessment and as
a result, are more suited to the communal building and sharing of knowledge.
Individual wikis could be used by students to record their learning, however
wikis do not encourage active commenting or discussion on the topic and are
more focused towards easily creating websites with linking and bibliographic
references (Duffy and Bruns, 2006).
2.4 Google+ Communities
The gathering of students into communities can enable the creation of a col-
lective intelligence or a “wisdom of crowds” Surowiecki and Silverman, 2007.
This community can benefit from each other’s contributions and discussion
and the knowledge of the community can increase at a much faster speed
than an individual attempting to learn on his own. G+ Communities can
facilitate this community collective intelligence in an online, easy to access
and use service.
Google+ Communities is built on the Google+ platform. A distinguish-
ing characteristic of G+ communities is that each has a leader (such as a
module lecturer) who specifies if the community is public or private. Public
communities are visible to everyone while the contents of private communities
are only shown to members (Brzozowski, Adams and Chi, 2015). In addition
to posting comments, photos and links. Additional functions are chat, recor-
ded or unrecorded multiple participant video-conferencing (Hangouts) and a
drive where documents can be co-edited (Ackland and Swinney, 2015).
Google+ Communities are a natural vehicle for communities of prac-
tice, where a common goal is shared in addition to topical interest. These
factors combined with the fact that many universities are turning to Google
to provide their services make Google+ communities an attractive option
compared to other platforms previously mentioned.
Google+ Communities provide more interaction and collaboration mech-
anisms than blogs. As blogs have been shown to provide additional benefits
for reflective engagement compared to learning journals, it is argued that
Google+ Communities provide even more. The contributions, comments
Figure 1: Combination of Functionalities Available through G+ Communit-
and interactions provided by these additional mechanisms could enhance re-
flective learning in the Gibbs Reflective Cycle (Gibbs and Unit, 1988), and
particularly that of Sch¨on, 1983, where reflection-on-action (after the task)
is emphasised along with reflection-in-action (during the task).
3 Methodology - Evaluating G+ Communit-
ies as an Active Learning Journal Altern-
Google Plus Communities has provided a visually powerful way
of framing the various groups of participants’ interactions as a
community of practice, and provides a tangible and simple way
for lecturers to broker this concept to their students” (Cochrane,
G+ Communities facilitate the grouping of users into public or private on-
line groups for the purposes of social networking, sharing content, discussion
Figure 2: Profiling of Various Semester Long Assessment Types.
and commenting on a specific topic. The use of G+ Communities as an al-
ternative to the traditional learning journal is more akin to a hybrid between
using a wiki, a weblog and a social network, as portrayed in Figure 1. This
hybrid approach can keep the benefits of each of the aforementioned Internet
services, while focusing student effort and engagement on a single service.
Figure 2 shows a comparison of the characteristics of the various assess-
ment types compared with G+ Communities. As portrayed, G+ Communit-
ies encourage a more collaborative, community driving learning experience in
a familiar social media context for students. As a result of the social media
aspect to G+ Communities, students will be encouraged to engage with the
content more frequently and should find the overall process more interactive
when compared with the alternatives.
3.1 Guidelines
Guidelines for the implementation of a G+ Community to encourage active
learning are outlined below:
The G+ Community must be setup as a private community. This is
to ensure that third party G+ users do not interfere with the learning
Students must be invited to join the community manually, although
this is as simple and copying and pasting the class email list into G+.
Categories must be created for students to post their weekly entries.
This aids in the organisation of the community’s focus.
An admin category should be created for module coordinators and
teaching assistants to post useful information and news articles dis-
covered throughout the semester. This potentially encourages engage-
ment on topics further than those discussed in class.
The regular guidelines provided for what the learning journal entries
should contain should be provided. These guidelines provided to stu-
dents will likely be similar to those provided for an offline journal, with
the addition of encouragement to link to online content, e.g., videos,
academic articles, blog posts, etc.
3.2 Assessment
Assessing an online community as part of a module can quickly become
a full-time job. Encouraging students to engage with the community will
likely fall on deaf ears for many in the class if there is no GPA advantage
to taking part. Measuring student engagement with the G+ community is
made possible through two automated online tools, and Figure 3 represents a sample of the statistics available from
the service for your G+ community. The service reports on the interactions
Figure 3: Statistics Available from for Google Plus Com-
on a member by member basis including posts, “+1s”, comments, links,
videos, photos and polls created or answered.
However, relying on the reporting of a third party tool for assessment may
not be a reliable option as the system might go offline, students may figure
out how to dupe the system, its statistics may not be 100% accurate, etc.
Instead, a reflective report on each student’s contribution and learning from
the G+ Community should be submitted towards the end of the semester.
This report will give students the opportunity to reflect on their learning
thought the semester and will hopefully show a benefit from the discussion
of the weekly topics covered in lectures. The grade for the learning journal
component of the module will consider both the community engagement and
the reflective report.
3.3 Example Implementation
Figure 4: Example Google Plus Community for aforementioned module
[Identifying information redacted for anonymous review]
An example implementation has been created for the 2015/16 academic
year for the module outlined in Section 1, as can be seen in Figure 4. For-
tunately within UCD, each staff member and student automatically has a
Google account, which is all that is required to access G+ Communities. For
this implementation, weekly categories are created within the G+ community
– into which students must organise their weekly entries. In 2015/16, it is
intended that this G+ Community will run with the entire class in a single
community. The benefits of this are that the best articles and entries will
rise to the top of the list (with ‘best’ determined by the number of interac-
tions each entry receives). Having the class in a single community may also
have its drawbacks in terms of student’s entries getting lost in the volume of
activity in the community. This solution to this is to create multiple smaller
communities, but this comes at the loss of discussions being visible to the
entire class. Without trialling, it is difficult to say which approach might be
4 Conclusions and Future Work
Employing a G+ Community as an active learning journal alternative should
prove beneficial for students and encourage class discussion and social learn-
ing. Each of the downsides presented in Section 1 are overcome through the
use of a G+ community alongside a number of additional benefits including
peer learning, social learning, ability to include multimedia content, ability to
link to articles, etc. It is planned to roll out a trial of the service as an active
learning journal in the upcoming delivery of the module outlined previously.
From an assessment perspective, the aforementioned G+ Community auto-
mated statistical reporting tools can be used to measure student engagement
and could influence the grades allocated for the learning journal alternative.
There are a number of potential benefits for both the teacher and the learner
in rolling out a G+ Community as an alternative, active learning journal,
but the measurable benefits will depend on a large number of variables in an
individual educational setting.
Ackland, A. & Swinney, A. (2015). Material matters for learning in virtual
networks: a case study of a professional learning programme hosted in
a google+ online community. Research in Learning Technology,23.
Armstrong, L., Berry, M. & Lamshed, R. (2004). Blogs as electronic learn-
ing journals. E-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology,7(1),
Brzozowski, M. J., Adams, P. & Chi, E. H. (2015). Google+ communities
as plazas and topic boards. In Proceedings of the 33rd annual acm
conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 3779–3788).
Cochrane, T. (2014). Mobile social media as a catalyst for pedagogical change.
In World conference on educational multimedia, hypermedia and tele-
communications (Vol. 2014, 1, pp. 2187–2200).
Duffy, P. D. & Bruns, A. (2006). The use of blogs, wikis and rss in education:
a conversation of possibilities.
Gibbs, G. & Unit, F. E. (1988). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and
learning methods. Further Education Unit.
Halic, O., Lee, D., Paulus, T. & Spence, M. (2010). To blog or not to blog:
student perceptions of blog effectiveness for learning in a college-level
course. The Internet and higher education,13 (4), 206–213.
Hall, H. & Davison, B. (2007). Social software as support in hybrid learning
environments: the value of the blog as a tool for reflective learning and
peer support. Library & information science research,29 (2), 163–187.
Langer, A. M. (2002). Reflecting on practice: using learning journals in higher
and continuing education. Teaching in higher education,7(3), 337–351.
McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M. J. (2007). Social software and participatory learn-
ing: pedagogical choices with technology affordances in the web 2.0 era.
In Ict: providing choices for learners and learning. proceedings ascilite
singapore 2007 (pp. 664–675).
Sch¨on, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in
action. Basic books.
Sim, J. W. S. & Hew, K. F. (2010). The use of weblogs in higher education
settings: a review of empirical research. Educational Research Review,
5(2), 151–163.
Surowiecki, J., Silverman, M. P. et al. (2007). The wisdom of crowds. Amer-
ican Journal of Physics,75 (2), 190–192.
Thorpe, K. (2004). Reflective learning journals: from concept to practice.
Reflective practice,5(3), 327–343.
Williams, J. B. & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning
spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian journal of educa-
tional technology,20 (2).
Yang, S.-H. (2009). Using blogs to enhance critical reflection and community
of practice. Educational Technology & Society,12 (2), 11–21.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Researchers have recently been focusing on understanding online communities in social networks that offer easy access to new audiences. How do online communities function within these social networks? In this work, we conducted a mixed-method study of public Google+ Communities and found two major types evident in both how users talk about them and how they appear to use them: plazas to meet new people, and topic boards to discuss common interests. This reflects two common motivations users cite in describing Communities: "meeting like minded people" and "finding great content". We characterize these two types of Communities within Google+ using mixed methods including surveys, interviews, and quantitative analytics, and expose differences in user behaviors between them.
Full-text available
In this paper, we draw on ActorNetwork Theories (ANT) to explore how material components functioned to create gateways and barriers to a virtual learning network in the context of a professional development module in higher education. Students were practitioners engaged in family learning in different professional roles and contexts. The data comprised postings in the Google+community, email correspondence, meeting notes, feedback submitted at the final workshop and post-module evaluation forms. Our analysis revealed a complex set of interactions, and suggests multiple ways human actors story their encounters with non-human components and the effects these have on the learning experience. The aim of this paper is to contribute to a more holistic understanding of the components and dynamics of social learning networks in the virtual world and consider the implications for the design of online learning for continuous professional development (CPD).
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The ubiquitous ownership and connectivity of mobile devices (smartphones and touch-screen tablets) coupled with the collaborative affordances of social media and the contextual awareness of geolocative augmented reality provide a rich platform for creative student-directed learning experiences. However lecturers invariably default to using these new technologies within established teaching paradigms that are predominantly teacher-directed and focus upon content delivery. However, based upon our experiences of implementing over 45 mobile learning projects 2007-2013, we have developed a framework for creative pedagogies enabled by mobile social media. The framework focuses upon collaborative curriculum redesign strategies and maps the pedagogy-andragogy-heutagogy continuum onto a mashup of new pedagogical frameworks including the SAMR technology adoption framework, three levels of creativity, and ontological pedagogies focusing upon conceptual change.
Full-text available
The two-way Web has arrived, accompanied by a raft of affordances that expand how we teach, communicate, learn and create knowledge. New trends are emerging in the way information is distributed and consumed. Emerging "Web 2.0" services such as blogs, wikis and social bookmarking applications, as well as social networking sites like MySpace, Friendster and Facebook, are seen as more social and personal, and based on "microcontent", i.e., digital content in small fragments that may be combined and recombined by individuals to produce new patterns, images and interpretations. This paper investigates the affordances of Web 2.0 and social software and the choices and constraints they offer to tertiary teachers and learners. A discussion of emerging pedagogical models is presented to demonstrate that we now have access to an enabling suite of tools to support greater learner choice and self-direction.
The purpose of this study is to report on the use of learning journals as vehicles for encouraging critical reflection among non-traditional students and to compare variances with studies among traditional students. An objective of the study was to understand how adult students in a 'technical' computer class responded to the requirement for learning journals. Qualitative research focused on whether learning journals prove to be an effective teaching tool in science-based, adult learning. The study was conducted at Columbia University's Computer Technology programme in Continuing Education. Results suggest that non-traditional students are more skeptical than traditional students about using learning journals and more likely to use them as study tools. An implication of this study is that student perception and skepticism of the assignment can affect the objective of developing reflective thinking. This implication stresses the need to account for student perception in studies on learning journals and critical reflection.
Reflective learning journals are recognized as a significant tool in promoting active learning among nursing students. Essentially, nurse educators strive to encourage students to think about past experiences, current situations, and expected outcomes of their actions so that they can explain what they do in the clinical setting and why. In other words, nurse educators seek to promote professional practice that is reflective rather than routine. The purposes in this paper are to discuss the application of two models of reflection to a set of reflective learning journals and to offer some recommendations for educators, researchers, and students. Using a three stage model of reflection (Scanlon & Chernomas, 1997), 52 nursing students explored managerial concepts. The major findings indicated that students may be categorized, according to Kember et al. (1999), as nonreflectors (i.e., lack evidence of deliberate appraisal), reflectors (i.e., demonstrate insight through analysis, discrimination, and evaluation), and critical reflectors (i.e., indicate a transformation from initial perspective).
Blogs have the potential to increase reflection, sense of community and collaboration in undergraduate classrooms. Studies of their effectiveness are still limited. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the use of blogs in a large lecture class would enhance students' perceived learning. Students in an undergraduate nutrition course were required to engage in blog conversations over the course of the semester to promote reflective learning. Sixty-seven undergraduates responded to a survey with dimensions on perceived learning and sense of community. Sense of community and computer expertise were identified as significant predictors of perceived learning, when controlled for age, gender, and previous blogging experience. While a majority of the students reported that blogging enhanced their learning and led them to think about course concepts outside the classroom, fewer perceived value in peer comments. Implications for integrating blogging into undergraduate classrooms are discussed.
This article reports on an investigation of blog technology's potential for encouraging interaction between students, and its consequences in terms of peer learning and peer support, on a module of an accredited library and information science (LIS) degree program. The findings consider the treatment of blogs in the domain of LIS with particular reference to educational settings. Content analysis revealed that blogs offer comparable and additional benefits to other projects designed to encourage reflective engagement with teaching material, such as learning journals. Most notable is the level of shared peer support evident in the online discussions between class members. The findings of this study are of particular interest to LIS educators who seek to develop their consideration of blogs in the classroom; blogs may be seen as learning tools in their own right and not simply an option for providing information online.
“Weblogs” or “blogs” are increasingly visible in higher education settings. Some scholars suggest that blogs are useful because of their reflective nature. However, as this review indicates the research regarding blogs is largely self-report data (surveys, interviews) or content analyses. This review summarizes results of this existing research on weblogs in higher education settings. Limitations of existing empirical studies are discussed and some directions for future research related to the use of blogs in higher education settings are suggested.