Thoughts on Google+ and the "Google LMS"

I’ve been on Google+ for about a week now, and I want to document my thoughts on it.  I also want to consider what Google+ might do to my consideration of using only Google products to run a course. Like the first post, this is mostly a thought experiment about what goes into a ‘course’ and what sorts of products and services might be cobbled together. It also gives me a concrete model to compare features and helps me think about what else I might do with something like Plus. (And if Google would like to take any of this as a suggestion, I’m happy to be of service.)

Overall, I like it. Having Circles be so prominent (as opposed to Facebook lists) really does help. I also like that following does not have to be mutual (though I’ve noticed a tendency for most people to follow everyone who follows them–I suspect this will wear off.) The privacy features do seem to be more self-explanatory–which, after all, is Google’s biggest point against Facebook. I’ve seen some excellent cautionary postings about the intellectual property dangers, but those are inherent in any social network, not just Google+.

I see the main failings at the moment (and remember, Plus is still in very early development) as a lack of groups, a lack of easy posting, and a lack of something that no social network so far has really had: history.

Circles, while being marvelous in terms of communication management, are individual. A Circle is not like a Facebook Page or a Google Group, which exists beyond an individual. (This was initially confusing, as I was invited through someone’s eduMOOC Circle, who was in someone else’s eduMOOC Circle, etc.) Circles are like Facebook Lists or a personal email distribution list. So if I create a Circle for a class, I can broadcast to the Circle, but classmates can’t broadcast to the class unless they also create Circles with all classmates in them, and we can’t even check to see if everyone in my circle is in someone else’s. You just know that someone is going to leave someone out, accidentally or on purpose. Perhaps Google will integrate Groups into Plus at some point–it would be a good pairing. I also like the suggestion I saw somewhere for Circles within Circles–so, for instance, I could have a Reference Department Circle within my Work Circle, so that everyone in Ref is automatically part of Work, without me having to remember to add them to both. It’s not crucial (it’s not that hard to add someone to two circles) but it would be an even better model of how social groups really work.

I’m now constantly frustrated at the difficulty of getting content into Plus. The only ‘Add to Google+” feature that I’ve found so far is a 3rd party add-on to Google’s Chrome browser, called Surplus. It shows me my notifications, and has a Share button that will post the URL of the page I’m on and whatever comments I’d like to make. It works great, except that I’m not in Chrome all the time. A simple bookmarklet would be fine! But until I can get content into Plus as easily as I can into Facebook or Twitter, Plus is going to have a distinct disadvantage. I expect this will be solved quickly, but it’s frustrating at the moment.

I thought at first that I might be able to use Google’s +1 (their ‘like’ button), but there doesn’t seem to be a way of sharing the things I +1 to my Google+ stream.

The history issue is a problem I have with Facebook and Twitter, too. Sometimes I can’t find my own old posted links! In some circumstances you could +1 pages (did I say I really want a Plus bookmarklet!), and see them in your profile, but you can’t organize them there (at least not yet). Something like the Notes feature in the Google Reader would work–you can tag and share (or not), so you could save links to articles, blog posts, files, etc. Just a tagging feature on +1 would be great or the ability to save to Reader right in Plus. Right now, I’d do something like: see an interesting link in Plus, go there and save to a Reader Note (actually I save to Delicious or Evernote, mostly, but this is a Google post).

To sum up the previous post about Google as courseware: Sites for a course page, Calendar for due dates and scheduling, Docs and possibly Books and Scholar for readings, Blogger for student blogs and journals, YouTube for video lectures and class projects, Docs for papers and presentations, Docs spreadsheet for grading, GTalk/Chat for office hours and study groups, Groups for discussions, Gmail for individual communications and announcements, iGoogle for students’ personal learning organizers/networks. This was based on a traditional course model, with grades and office hours and all, so obviously if you’re doing something less formal, you could use less–and there definitely are better, non-Google tools for much of this. But still, it’s a pretty impressive inventory.

So what does Google Plus add to the ‘courseware’ mix? Mostly networking and communication convenience. Students can easily self-organize into study groups. It’s easy to share something with one or more Circles, or just one person. Plus currently has photos (Picassa) built in, and I bet videos from YouTube and files from Docs will get added at some point. Office hours can use the video chat in a Hangout or the Google Chat. You could even do small lectures in a Hangout (I think the limit is 10 people at a time).

The Sparks feature seems a bit like Google Alerts, so that could make a nice addition to a learning network. Students could also follow people outside of the class doing work related to their courses, and since you can create as many circles as you need, creating ‘Follow’ circles for different subjects would be easy, so you don’t get your history mixed up with your English lit. If Plus takes off, and once Google allows institutions to create Plus accounts, there should be all sorts of interesting things to follow.

So, it’s early yet, but Google+ has a lot of potential. Like any social network, the value to the user is in the network. So, please feel free to ‘circle’ me!

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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