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Hangouts on Air: Connecting Teachers With Content Experts

Jenny Grabiec

DRIVEN Director of Tech at The Fletcher School
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Woman on laptop with inset of another woman she's chatting with

It’s hard to believe that the Google Hangouts (GHOs) feature has only been around since May of 2013! For many innovative K-12 and higher education teachers, GHOs have become a tool that we can't live without. They allow us to connect with others around the world for impromptu meetings, live podcasts, global edcamps, and school-wide professional development.

Google Hangouts are highly utilized in the edtech community, but Hangouts on Air have increased in popularity due to their ability to broadcast live discussions publicly on YouTube. Hangouts on Air can be recorded and automatically saved on the host's YouTube channel for future access. Up to ten people can participate in a Hangout on Air, but the number of viewers who can watch the live Hangout is unlimited. With school budgets dwindling each day, Hangouts on Air have allowed educators to grow professionally by connecting to experts from anywhere in the world -- with no travel costs required.

Edcamp Home and Math Hangouts

I have used Google Hangouts since the tool was first released, but my initial exposure to a Hangout on Air was during edcamp Home. Edcamps are typically held on school campuses, but edcamp Home allows you to connect with great minds in education from the comfort of your own home -- PD in your PJs! The organizers of edcamp Home completed their third event in July 2014. They work extremely hard to put this fabulous event together, an event that wouldn't be possible without Hangouts on Air and Google Docs for brainstorming sessions and scheduling. Having attended traditional edcamps in the past, what I love most about the "Home" option is that I don't feel as bad about popping in and out of sessions as I do in person. Even though you're encouraged to leave a room if you aren't "feeling" it, I still find it uncomfortable to up and leave in the middle of a face-to-face discussion. Edcamp Home eliminates this feeling of guilt because no one really notices when you pop in and out.

When I began planning my school’s 1:1 iPad and Mac deployment last year, it spurred me to first create a professional development plan with my team. Focusing on SAMR and TPACK, our PD options have included face-to-face Tech Tuesday sessions and virtual options found in our iTunes U course, "iInnovate: Teaching and Learning with Tech." The PD options met most of our teachers' needs, but our math teachers needed something more. I'd taught third grade math for many years and could provide tech tools for math instruction, but I couldn’t give high-level examples other than what I had observed from colleagues in the field. So I contacted my friend Anthony DiLaura, a colleague from the Apple Distinguished Educators program and an innovative, globally-recognized math educator who uses 1:1 iPads with his students at Zeeland East High School in Zeeland, Michigan. I asked Anthony if he'd be interested in supporting my math teachers in their professional learning goals by offering them an alternative to our Tech Tuesday sessions. Tony, being the amazingly kind and collaborative educator he is, agreed to host monthly "Math Hangouts on Air" so that my math teachers could join a PD session any time, anywhere and focus on professional learning that met their needs. These Hangouts have been highly successful and wouldn't be possible without the free Google Hangouts on Air tool.

PD on Snow Days

Last year, I came across another innovative idea for using GHOs on Air. Google Certified Teacher Tara Linney used the tool last school year when winter storms caused her faculty and staff to miss four academic days. I came across Tara’s "Snow PD Day" when I watched her application for Google Teacher Academy in 2014 and reached out to her for some insight. Tara kindly shared her idea with me in this Q & A session:

Jenny: When did you hold your first Snow PD Day on Air?
Tara: Our first Snow PD Day on Air occurred in January, a couple of weeks after returning from Winter Break.
Jenny: How did you get teachers to participate? Was it mandatory?
Tara: The Snow PD Day on Air was mandatory, as we had already missed four academic days, and our administration wanted to ensure that the communication with and development of the staff was being sustained. I had met virtually with our instructional coaches to guide them through the setup of the Google Hangout that they would have with their respective grade-levels. In turn, the coaches were able to walk their teachers through this process the evening before the Snow PD Day on Air.
Jenny: What was the agenda covered?
Tara: With high-stakes testing coming up, the majority of the agenda was focused on evaluating the data gained from previous tests. During the Snow PD Day on Air, teachers were able to develop shared plans and strategies to use in their classrooms, as a way to support their varied learners.
Jenny: How have the teachers responded to this PD option?
Tara: Teachers found more comfort in this form of PD than in the physical, sit-and-get form. Interacting with coaches in an informal, virtual setting helped teachers to feel comfortable in asking questions, as they could post a question in the chat box to have a backchannel going on during the presentation. The presenter can also see this chat backchannel, which makes it easier to clarify any misunderstandings. One of the best features of our Snow PD Day on Air was the ability to share one's screen with the group. Also, with the ability to collaborate on files that live in Drive, teachers found that they were able to get much more group work done virtually than they would had they worked on an activity in person.
Jenny: Has the trend continued with success?
Tara: This Snow PD Day on Air trend has continued with great success since its inception. Now, teachers use Google Hangouts to collaborate virtually even on the regular old snow days. With Google Hangouts, these virtual connections have become a natural part of many of our teachers' PD.

To learn more about broadcasting a GHO, Alice Keeler has provided directions. For more GHO ideas, check out Mary Beth Hertz' How Educators and Schools Can Make the Most of Google Hangouts.

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Clara Galan's picture
Clara Galan
Former Social Media Marketing Assistant for Edutopia

Love these ideas for Google Hangouts! It's incredible how they can connect educators and classrooms around the world. I've also been interviewing teachers each week to share PD tips on Teacher Tip Tuesday: Great to tune in, connect, and join the conversation each week!

Nicol R. Howard, PhD's picture
Nicol R. Howard, PhD
Educator, Researcher, and Tech Enthusiast

Excellent to hear Tara's "Snow PD Day on Air" (on GHO) worked well. What would you say was the key to success?

taja_tt's picture
TAJA TT® a paradigm changing teaching system

well, look at us, even the teachers prefer the tech to the in-person contact! that is the way of the world. can anybody say "Wall-E"

It's a global mental, psychological and behavioral change that's taking place, where tech influences the change itself, and influences people to connect more with others via tech than in person, and with today's teachers increasingly going this imagine the degree the students now and in the future are going in this direction!!!!

No wonder ed tech is more and more common in the classroom.

YET, It's not just because of it's arguable educational value, nor just because of the corporate interests co-opting the educational process via new edu tech to turn a profit "for the sake of the kids"(OK OK, there must be some doing it truly for the kids, but don't be fooled by TPTB),

NO, it's because technology in the classroom is the only way to keep the kids anywhere near to attentive in the classroom. And it's no wonder!! in 2015, we as schools and teachers are still using a fossil of a teaching system--one teacher in one classroom--an ancient and out of touch teaching paradigm! after all this time!!

a one-teacher one-classroom teaching paradigm cannot compete at all with the way content is offered to and absorbed by kids this day in age....a one-teacher one classroom environment simply doesn't fit the kids learning styles, like putting a big square block where the round block should go!

edu tech is filling that gap that the teachers are not filling. I accept this, we at TAJA TT(r) accept this. I am a teacher and am passionate about the ART OF TEACHING, the dance of teaching and of course the power it has to empower and inSPIRE....emPOWER and inspire students, in a way only a human being can do.

So we have a solution on our website for the teachers, it's called T2(r), two teachers in one classroom teaching system, check out our website, because in this day in age, 2 do better than one, and if the teachers don't do it better then edu robots will step in sooner rather than later on a large scale.....i mean they are already on the way, they call them ipads.

Brandon Zoras's picture
Brandon Zoras
Science Teacher in Toronto, Canada

Awesome!!! These are such great ideas. I use a free program that has a database of STEM scientists and researchers and you can find the area you want to speak to someone in and then you just call! We spoke to STEM cell researchers, to engineers to ER room doctors.

Jenny Grabiec's picture
Jenny Grabiec
DRIVEN Director of Tech at The Fletcher School

I think that Tara's Snow PD Day on Air was successful because the time the teachers spent interacting with one another was applied towards their PD credits. The PD Day on Air was taken seriously by administrators and considered valuable and effective for professional growth.

taja_tt's picture
TAJA TT® a paradigm changing teaching system

i just wonder, how do teachers feel who are ushering out the human teacher and ushering in the robot teacher? I'm not criticizing, just curious about the level of awareness. ipads and little robot helpers that children engage in teach-to-learn methods, just small examples of bigger things to come. Do teachers even know it is happening, And if they do, does that alarm them? The irony is so thick, the more teachers use technology the closer human teachers are to being obsolete! What will be for the human teacher in the future? As robots increase obviously humans will decrease in the classroom, so what will be left for human teachers to do? And are they preparing themselves for those days? Are they developing their uniquely human traits that no robot can imitate or co-opt? Are they preparing themselves to be an exemplary and relevant human teacher so as to be one of the few that remain within the school after the robots come? Gosh, I wonder if any of them are awake?

btw, for those teachers interested in preserving and evolving the human teacher profession as well as powerfully develop that art, check out T2 on my website in my profile

those interested in the future of robots in the classroom check out T3 on the same website.

wishing teachers an early and gentler awakening to the future of robots in the classroom


taja_tt's picture
TAJA TT® a paradigm changing teaching system

All teachers deserve creative space and license, control over curricula, content and assessment and to be paid according to the value they give society and mankind. You all deserve the best. Peace, Harmony and Prosperity

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