Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The easiest way to get your students to join your Google+ community

One of the most common questions educators ask me about Google+ Communities is “what’s the best way to get my students to join my community?”. Usually they’ve tried using the Invite people feature and had trouble locating all of their students, or received errors when trying to add students using their email addresses.

Part of the problem is that your students need to have Google+ profiles before they can be invited to join your community. Hence, the Invite People feature is only useful if you can be sure your students are already Google+ users. If you attempt to invite them to join prior to them signing up to Google+, you’ll receive an error message. Further, unless you’ve already got all your students in a Circle (which can be a mission in itself!) or your Gmail contact list, it can be time consuming trying to find and add everyone. This is particularly the case for tertiary educators who often have large cohorts.

In this post I’ll share my answer to the “what’s the best way to get my students to join my community?” question with you. If you follow the steps below, I guarantee getting your students into your community will be much easier and quicker!

Step 1: Configure your community with the 'ask to join' setting

Note: In the new Google+ interface, this setting has been renamed to ‘Visible on search’ and can be toggled on or off. The instructions below are applicable to the old Google+ interface (I’ll continue writing for this interface until the new one becomes default), however the process is mostly the same for the new interface.

This is the secret to making your community easy for your students to join. Every community has a ‘Who can join’ setting which controls the visibility of your community in search results and determines if people can request to join or need to be invited. There are two choices for this setting:

No, hide it from searches: If you select this setting, you must individually invite each student to your community. This is the setting that most educators choose, but it actually makes the joining process harder!

Yes, people can find it and ask to join: If you select this setting, people who know about your community can request to join it. You can then accept or reject your requests. This is the setting I suggest you select!

Won’t this setting make my community less secure? I hear you asking….
No. Selecting this setting does not expose any of your community’s content to non-members. It will only show non-members the community’s name and cover photo. No-one can access your community until you have accepted their join request.

Tip: If you find you end up getting join requests from strangers (I’ve had this happen before), you can always change this setting back to ‘No, hide it from searches’ after your students have all joined.

To configure this setting:

On an existing community
1. Open your community.
2. Click the Cog button underneath the community name. Select Edit community.
3. Scroll to the bottom of the settings pane and find the Ask to join setting:

- if the setting currently says ‘Anyone can ask to join’ - great! You’ve already got your community configured for your students to ask to join. Simply click Save (top right corner) and move on to the next section.

- if the setting currently says ‘This community is invite-only’, click the change link. Change the setting to Yes, people can find it and ask to join and click Confirm change. Now click Save (top right corner) and move on to the next section.

When creating a new community
When creating a new community, be sure to set the Can people search for your community? setting to Yes, people can find it and ask to join.

Step 2: Get join requests from your students

Now that your community is configured to allow join requests, you actually need to get your students to request to join!

The quickest and easiest way to get all your students in to your community is to give them a set of instructions guiding them through joining Google+ and then your Community. You could do this in class-time or as homework, via a paper handout, an email, your LMS or a shared Google Doc. The key is to include the URL to your community in the instructions (more on this below).

This approach will minimise issues and help ensure your students have a smooth introduction to Google+ Communities.

Here’s a suggested format for the instructions:
- Explain what Google+ Communities are and how they will be used during your class/course.
- Ask students to join Google+ using the instructions provided.
- Ask students to request to join your community after signing up to Google+. 
To do this:
a. Provide your students with the URL to your community (more on this below).
b. Ask them to visit the community and click the Ask to join button.
c. Advise students that you’ll then accept their invitation request and they can begin using the community.

Some tips for sharing the URL to your community

You can get the URL for your community from the address bar when you have your community open in a web browser.

If you’re going to put the URL in a print handout or display it in your slides, it’s a good idea to use a URL shortener like or to make your URL nice and easy for your students to type in correctly!

Step 3: Accept your students’ join requests

You’ll get an email when a student asks to join your community. You can accept or reject their request from within the email. 

You can also see and manage request on mass in the community itself. To do so:
1. Open your community.
2. Click the Cog button underneath the community name. Select Manage members.
3. Accept or reject requests as appropriate. You can also eject community members from this interface.


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