Since I started in education, I have been trying to find ways to connect students' learning beyond the classroom walls. Initially, the task presented many hurdles. Infrastructure was limited, devices were bulky and slow, and the access was not quite available. In order to connect students with the outside world, a permission slip and a school bus were needed. Today, many of those hurdles have been overcome, and connecting students beyond the classroom is a viable option. To make those connections, I use Google Hangouts.
Hangouts, the social media feature of the Google+ platform, are online spaces offering teachers and students a great forum to connect with one or many participants and engage in a real-time dialogue. If you are a school that uses Google apps for education, then all of your teachers have the ability to set up their own Google+ page and use the Hangout feature. I have seen examples of department meetings taking place via Google Hangouts and noticed a growing number of online presentations happening via this forum.
Reasons to Hang Out
One of many reasons I like Google Hangouts is for the ability to broadcast a talk live and then archive that broadcast. My students and I have been asked to present our help desk course at several conferences, as well as participate in interviews through this feature. Most recently my students connected with the ACTEM conference in Maine. While we would have enjoyed attending this conference in person, there were too many scheduling conflicts. So I connected with Alice Barr and we set up a Google Hangout. When I presented with my students, we broadcast the Hangout so that everyone sitting at the conference could see and hear us, and we also connected with those who were simply browsing their G+ page or Twitter. Additionally, we were able to archive the presentation to share with others.
Besides having the option to incorporate a pirate hat and a monocle while video conferencing via a Google Hangout, participants have the ability to quickly share screens for demonstrations, incorporate the Google Drive suite of apps for collaborative work, and collaboratively watch and discuss a YouTube video through the Google Hangout box. Again, all of these talks can be archived and saved directly to your YouTube account for future reference.
Possibilities and Opportunities
I see many opportunities for students and teachers using Google Hangouts in the classroom. Recently, my help desk students presented their TED Talk research projects via a Google Hangout. This gave us the ability to broadcast and archive student presentations while sharing them with a wide audience. Students were not only receiving feedback from one person, but also had the ability to reach many. This spring, my help desk students will be presenting bi-monthly Google Hangout talks on education technology and how it affects student learning. Students will be creating scripts, configuring a small set, and working with camera angles to bring their shows to life. Each student will pitch a show to his or her team, write a script for that ten-minute show, and then film it live via a Google Hangout. They hope to reach many viewers and connect with students and teachers globally to share their ideas and make meaningful connections through this medium.
With Google Hangouts, the possibilities for classroom integration are infinite. Once teachers discover the simplicity of this application, they will begin to see the opportunity and value it has for classroom engagement. Professionally, I see it as a great opportunity to connect and share my ideas with a vast audience. This summer, Burlington Public Schools will begin offering weekly Google Hangouts for our Tuesday Free professional development sessions. Over the past two years we have opened our doors to anyone who wanted to visit and learn about anything related to education and edtech integration. Initially, we had many of our own staff members show up from 9:00 to 12:00 every Tuesday. Last summer we connected with Abbie Waldron and her EdCamp Summer crew at Wamogo Regional High School via Skype. And this summer we will open our own doors a little wider to expand our reach and to create more meaningful conversations and connections.
When it comes to technology and education, I feel the message is quite simple: technology gives us the ability to connect, share and learn like never before. Google Hangouts bring all of these verbs together and provide teachers and students a simple, free learning space. If you are using Google Hangouts in the classroom, please share your examples or ideas in the comments section below.