Wanna Hangout? Google Hangouts in Education

Brandon and April test out Google Hangout in the Technology Integration Center

Brandon and I test out Google Hangout in the Technology Integration Center.

We’ve been hanging out quite a bit recently in the School of Education.  Google Hangout enables users to conduct free Web-based video calls for up to ten participants.  Hangout is a feature of Google+ (the Google version of Facebook).  All William & Mary students have access to Google+ and Google Hangout through their free WMApps accounts.

Recently, some of the folks in the School of Education have been utilizing Google Hangout to support discussions in various ways:

  • Kevin Goff, PhD student in Curriculum Leadership, recently used Google Hangout within a face-to-face classroom to host a virtual panel discussion between recent School of Education graduates (who were at their homes) and a class of student teachers (who were in class).
  • As part of the interview process, students in the Executive EdD Program recently used Google Hangout to participate in conversations with candidates for the Director of the Executive EdD program position.
  • A group of graduate students used Google Hangout during the Spring Semester to facilitate group work.
  • Jim Barber, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, utilized Hangout to support the summer internship experience.

I asked Jim Barber about his experience using Google Hangout, and here is what he said about how he uses it:

Students do internships all over the country and I know that being at an internship site can be a somewhat isolating experience — whether students are across the country or across campus in a new office. To provide an opportunity to connect with each other and debrief some of the positive experiences and challenges, I organize several times for conference calls to check in and catch up.  Worked well last year and I’ll do it again this summer!

How Do I Get Started?

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Look for this icon when you want to start a hangout.

In order to get access to Google Hangout, you’ll need to sign up for a Google+ account.  You can do this through a regular Google or Gmail account, or you can request a WMApp account by contacting support@wm.edu. The nice thing about having an account through WMApps is that you can keep your William & Mary circles and contacts separate from the family and friends contacts you might have in your regular Google account.

Once you’ve signed up for Google+, which takes all of 30 seconds, you’ll have access to Google Hangout.  You can access and create a hangout from multiple locations — a camera in chat box icon near your list of contacts is in your Gmail or W&M email page.  Clicking this icon will initiate a hangout.  Additionally, you can schedule a hangout in your Google Calendar.  This may be a better way to create an instructional event, since the scheduler provides a set time, a link to the hangout, and options to send invitations and reminders to participants.

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This is what it looks like when you schedule a Google Hangout via the calendar.

So far within the School of Education we’ve been using Google Hangout primarily for Web-based video conferencing.  However, Google Hangout also provides tools for desktop screen sharing, text chatting, and even collaborating on documents via Google Drive.  Additionally, the Google on Air feature allows you to create public Web-based events that can be streamed and then stored through an affiliated YouTube account. For example, this video is a short reel from a Google Hangout on Air by Stanford professor Noah Diffenbaugh who led a conversation about climate change and extreme weather.   Some of you might recall from John’s post on eLearning According to Time Magazine a Google Hangout on Air panel discussion on the impact of MOOCS on higher education.  You can even peruse a schedule of upcoming public Google Hangouts on Air.

Pros and Cons

I’m not a huge fan of the social networking aspect of Google+ (who has time to Facebook, Tweet, be LinkedIn, and Google+ all at the same time?).  However, many of the folks in the School of Education who are using the Google+ collaborative tools in WMApps seem to be here for the tools rather than for the socializing.  In other words, you can sign up for Google+ and get the free collaboration tools (like Hangout and Drive) without having to post status updates or pictures.  Just last week, Wired acknowledged the tepid reception of Google+, qualified with the increasing popularity of Hangouts in education.

One interesting feature of Google Hangout is that the active speaker becomes the front and center display during a conversation.  This means that whoever is talking at the moment is the largest talking head on the screen.  The shifting display between active speakers actually works to keep the conversation visually dynamic.  However, I have noticed that when folks cough or sneeze, they momentarily become the large talking head.  So, be mindful of your audio input during a Hangout session.

So far, we’ve found Google Hangouts to be super user friendly.  The technology is pretty much DIY, with no licensing or special equipment needed (as long as your device has a built-in camera and mic).  You can access Hangout from a computer, iPad, or smartphone.  We have not yet encountered the audio echo issues that we’ve noticed in other Web-based conferencing solutions like Adobe Connect.  Additionally, since all W&M students already have access to Google Hangout through their WMApps, it can be a great tool for supporting collaborative projects and group work that requires minimal instructor setup.  I do, though, recommend completing a couple of test calls before you plunge in (as is best practice with any Web-based conferencing tool).

We’d love to learn how others have used or are considering using Hangouts to support teaching and learning at William & Mary and other institutions.  Let us know what you think!

About April Lawrence

April Lawrence is the Academic Technologist for the School of Education. A high school English teacher for ten years, April also worked in online course design and development before joining the AIS staff. April is a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership at William & Mary. Her research interests include exploring the intersections of culture, technology integration, and learning.