Several teachers recently tried using Google Groups to facilitate online discussions. Over the past few years, I have worked with a 6th grade language arts teacher to move literature circle discussions online. We tried blogs and VoiceThread, but it felt like we were trying to force the technology to do something it wasn't meant to do. This fall I suggested we try Google Groups. Google Groups after all is designed to manage online discussions. While it isn't as flashy as a blog or as "multimedia" as VoiceThread, we found it does just what we need it to do. Students were engaging in conversations in the cloud about books and instead of the teacher only hearing bits and pieces of conversations, she can be a part of all of the conversations.
Since that 6th grade class paved the way, two other teachers have implemented Google Groups into their classroom. In both instances students are discussing a novel being read in class and making connections between the novel and the course content. Google Groups allows the discussion to continue outside of class as well as allow students in all classes to read the thoughts and opinions of those not in their class. Google Groups is a great tool to use to help students practice communicating online.