April 8, 2015

Google Hangouts–Are You Using Them Yet?

google hangoutClasstime traditionally is a static point in time. Students show up in your room. You teach for 50 minutes (or however long the period is). You may post study guides and homework on a class website, but they don’t make a lot of sense to the student who missed class because s/he was sick or out of town. Those students—you try to meet after school to catch them up, which may or may not work with your schedule or theirs. Or they get notes from friends which also may or may not work.

That has become a dated idea. Let me give you an example. My daughter invited me to participate in one of her MBA classes at the University of Maryland (with instructor permission). I’m in California; she’s in DC. Five years ago, that would have been a show-stopper, but not anymore. She broadcast the class on her iPad with her Google Hangouts (GHO) app, sent me an invite, and that’s it. I saw everything she did. When her professor accessed an internet program, I brought it up on my computer and worked along with him. When he played a TED talk, I listened on my screen. When I had a question, I typed it into the backchannel (a message board that pops up with GHO) and my daughter asked for me (since I was observing, I muted my mic).

There’s no reason you can’t do that for students, parents, colleagues who would like to participate in your classes.

With Google Hangouts, you meet face-to-face with people around the world, share screens, collaborate on documents, even watch videos. One person sends out the invites–exactly as one person must call another–but from that point on, all parties have the same ability to chat, share, and participate.

virtual meetingHow to use GHO in your classroom:

Broadcast your class live and tape it for later viewing or replay. Students who didn’t catch ideas the first time get to watch as many times as they want. The library of videos becomes a great way to review for quizzes and tests.

Use Google Hangouts for parent conferences. It won’t matter if they’re stuck home with a sick child, or out of town for business. GHO goes anywhere the internet does. It’s easy to share student work, even send it to parents for review.

GHO makes team meetings easy. Instead of trying to find a time everyone on your grade-level team is available to plan lessons, discuss a particular student need, or plan an event, do it from the computer. Even if a teacher has students in their classroom or they’re waiting for a late parent, the meeting can go on.

Overall: Google Hangouts is a transformative education tool with a steeper-than-expected learning curve. In fact, the first few GHOs I tried to join or run didn’t work at all. Additionally, the app is considerably different from the computer tool, which differs also from the smartphone version. Each has slight (or major) differences in how you connect and broadcast. For example, it’s easy to tape a Google Hangout from a computer, but not from the iPad or a smartphone. If I could change something, it would be to make the program consistent across all platforms. Then, all I’d have to do is learn one set of rules.

Here are tricks I learned the hard way. I hope they save you some embarrassment:

  1. Users must have Google Plus accounts. Not just a Gmail, but have set up their G+ profile.
  2. If users aren’t on Chrome (say, they’re entering the GHO through Firefox), they have to download a plugin to make the program work.
  3. It’s best to wear headphones to tamp down the feedback. Though, often it works fine without.

In a nutshell, I love this new approach to teaching. My online summer classes will incorporate weekly Google Hangouts–as well as TweetUps. That’s another great topic for a later date.

If you’d like more on Google Hangouts in education, check out this GHO guide for teachers and the amazing Cybraryman’s  GHO page.

More on Google Apps:

8 Google Apps Tricks Every Teacher Should Know

Dear Otto: How do I teach Google Drive to K/1?

Weekend Website 123: Google Gravity

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of dozens of tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, adjunct professor in tech ed, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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