Google Hangout is a game changer in synchronous, online collaboration, and I can’t wait to put it through its paces next semester. I’m going to start something completely new to see if students respond. I’m going to open a Google Hangout room with an open invitation for students to come join. I’ll keep it open in my office for a few hours every day, and I’m hoping I’ll see students pop in occasionally and join me. The game changer is that Google Hangout isn’t a communication tool with video like a smart phone with a front facing camera. Instead, think of it as a magic portal that connects your workspace to other workspaces.
Since I tried my first Google Hangout as an exploratory experiment, I’ve used it a dozen times for important communication. Just a few minutes ago, I invited a potential renter to join me via Google Hangout as a first meeting. When it’s important to see each other’s faces and body language for business meetings and first time conversations, Google Hangout has everyone trumped.
Imagine Skype’s video conferencing but with smoother video, and then throw in Google Docs and screen sharing integration. Next, mix in the ability to have public rooms or keep the rooms private and invite-only, and consider that all you need is a link to participate in an open room. That’s a Google Hangout.Having a microphone, speakers, and webcam is pretty necessary for the Google Hangout to work. Mine aren’t stellar, but they’ll get the job done. In order to avoid the microphone picking up the sound coming out of the speakers, I plug in a set of ear buds and speak into the microphone. That way I don’t get any echo. I’ve had three co-workers who use laptops without ear buds and their systems don’t cause echo at all. As long as their Internet signal is strong, the picture comes through startlingly clear.
When I start to play with the possibilities that a free service like Google Hangout affords students, I get really excited. In a blended model with students in the classroom, I would poll my students at the beginning of the year to find out what the parents do for a living. Imagine having a Google Hangout in your classroom with a parent who is willing to talk about his or her job. A teacher could do a weekly career spotlight meeting with parents! What other applications can you think of? Please add your ideas in the comments.
An immediate paradigm shift I had with the Google Hangout is a direct contrast to its Skype counterpart, the video chat. The game changes when, rather than a conversation, you have a room. Consider the role of a Skype chat; it’s just a phone conversation that takes place over your computer. When I’m working with my co-workers across the country, I’m able to chat when I have a question for sure. But I leave the room open for hours and it’s like we’re in some sort of digital open-air office. It’s like we are sharing the same big table in the same building. We can share each other’s desktops to illustrate a point or a question. We can also move our webcams around.
Apply this opened office paradigm shift to education, and I hope you’ll see what I mean and start to get excited. Conceivably, a teacher could create a “Circle” in Google+ of one class’s students and parents. Then, when the class started, that teacher could create a room for that circle. At any given time, the teacher can have parents drop in to see what students are up to and what they are learning. Teachers can make the room secure so that only those in the circle who are invited can see what’s happening in the room. In this way, parents can see their kids in the classroom, they can see what their kids are learning, and they can get more involved.
Consider what this might mean for busy school administrators doing teacher observations or students who are absent for the day. Question: If students are attending via Google Hangout, would a teacher really count them absent? Follow that reasoning a bit further, and you’ll find yourself pushing some pretty long-held beliefs about face-to-face and online learning.
Next semester when I start using this tool regularly, I’m hoping to foster more fellowship amongst my online students. Also, I want to get folks in my Professional Learning Community to join the room occasionally to add an occasional sound bite to our conversations. Would you like to join me in a Google Hangout and practice a bit? Email me at email@example.com. I’d love to Hangout with you!