Previewing the New Google Groups - Why Teachers and Students Will Love the Changes

Perhaps, it's because I use Groups mostly through our school domain, which is not currently set for pre-release features, or perhaps, it's because I've been so consumed with other work, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the new Google Groups features when logging into my personal Gmail account this morning. Apparently, users were given opt-in options starting late last year, but I swear the link only popped into my account recently. Anyways, here's three reasons why educators may be particularly interested in the new Groups.

Improved user interface
Visually, one of the first things you'll notice is the newer interface. Compared with the original look and feel of Google Groups, the new features resemble Google Reader in a good way, with users able to see descriptions of the groups, number of topics, and a snippet of the last post. Also, though not shown below, there's a left sidebar which similar to Reader, allows you to quickly reference recently viewed groups, previous searches, and favorite groups.

Rich Text Editing
I think the best improvements are found in the message editor mode. As seen below, users now have access to a rich text editor, with the most important features being the image upload, hyperlink, and attachments. We have several Google Groups at school where students need to cite resources, share documents, and peer edit essays/reviews. The ability to include hyperlinks, share pictures, and attach their files is a huge step forward in making the Group more functional for classes.

A Better and More Powerful Search
I was excited to see a revamped search bar, and my first few searches revealed fast and accurate results. I was able to search within all of my groups, a particular group, and even drilled down to a single topic, all notable improvements over the older interface. However, during my testing, I ran into some problems as I looked for terms that I knew existed in posts, but they were not coming up in results. Assuming this gets fixed (and since search is what Google is known for, it's a safe bet that it will get fixed), students and teachers will find it a lot more efficient to search for and find posts.

Google claims that this is the first of a series of updates to Groups, and all of the admin features are still accessible only in the older interface. Still, there's lots to be excited about with the new Google Groups. Specifically for educational use, the tool has the potential to give every student a voice in class discussions, as well as offer a safe and accountable tool for teachers to use in administering online assignments.

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