T his fall, the University of Colorado's Meaning of IT course became one of the first in the nation to make use of Google+ for educational impact.

The class, a hybrid ATLAS and engineering course of about 90 undergraduates, was the first known academic group to top Google's trending topics on its social network site early this semester.

After the spike, Diane Sieber, professor and associate dean of the Engineering School, said Google contacted her, asking how the class was using the network after international interest pushed the class hashtag (#MeaningofIT) to No. 5 on the hot trends list.

"I understand the site's algorithm, so I thought if I had them post publicly and use the hashtag it might push the class into the trending list," Sieber said. "What was really interesting was that it caught on around 11 p.m. that night in other time zones and really picked up."

Sieber said she hoped the assignment -- in which students would post and comment on altered photographs -- would make the trending topics list grab the attention of her students and start a worldwide discussion about the social impact of Photoshopped images.

"The students started a wave, like in a stadium, and got to see it happen," Sieber said.

CU junior Will Derryberry said Sieber's tactics worked, making the class one of the most memorable he's ever taken.

"It was pretty cool that we made the trending topics," Derryberry said. "The class has been really interesting.



CU sophomore Ashley Herbertson said Sieber's use of technology in the classroom has made it easy for her to apply the knowledge to her daily life.

"When I'm online now, I'm thinking about things we've talked about in class and how it applies to what I'm doing," Herbertson said. "She's really being innovative in the way she's running the classroom and that's not something I've seen before, not like this."

Sieber said she strays from using Facebook in class because it doesn't provide enough privacy to her students, whereas Google+ gives students more control.

As the Boulder campus prepares to adopt Google Apps for Education as a supplemental learning tool to the current Desire2Learn system, Sieber's class is acting as the guinea pig, experimenting with the technology before it's launched across campus.