Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Exploring the potential use of Google Hangouts for teaching, learning and assessment.

Until recently the Elevate Team supported GoTo Meeting and GoTo Webinar for audio and video conferencing at UCS to aid in distance personal tutorial support, UCS’s Monthly open webinars (OWLET) and supporting academics who wanted to share the lecture space with external individuals or institutions.

However due to recent budget pressures and weighing up the cost against current usage, the Elevate Team have had to shift their support for web conferencing from GoTo Meeting to Google Hangouts.

The selection of Google Hangouts was not solely driven by costs. Other factors include the wide range of available features, intuitive interface and widespread adoption of Google software within the institution.

So what is Google Hangouts?

Google Hangouts is an audio and video conferencing tool available to anyone who has a Google account. If you have a Gmail, Youtube or Blogger account you will already have access to use hangouts.

Google Hangouts is split into a number of elements, including,

  • Google Hangouts - Video Call
  • Google Hangouts - On Air

Google Hangouts - Video Call

A Google Hangout is a private area where up to 10 people can come together, the people can all talk and see each other, while sharing desktops, collaborate on Google Drive documents and/or watching YouTube videos.

The creation of the Hangout (web conference) is easy to set-up and can be used on the majority of modern mobile devices meaning you could participate in a Google Hangout using an iPad, iPhone or any other compatible mobile device.

The use of Google Hangouts - Video Call is perfect for group work.

Google Hangouts - On Air

Google Hangouts On Air allows all of the features within Google’s Video Call, however, it is broadcast live to the public meaning anyone can search for and find the video of the hangout. Although, members of the public can’t participate in the hangout. They have a view only experience.

Only invited users can join a hangout. One feature on the On Air version is the the fact the whole video is archived directly to YouTube once the hangout has finished. Therefore, it can be accessed for future reference.

An obvious use of Hangouts on Air is the delivery of lectures and seminars.

You can read more about this in a separate post.

How is Google Hangouts being used elsewhere?

Google Hangouts is being used in a variety of ways in the UK HE sector. For instance;

Distance Lectures

Professor David Gill, Head of the Division of Humanities and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at UCS has used the standard Google Hangouts tool to lecture to a cohort of students at University of Swansea. David was keen to use this system as he’d used it previously. He was able to present his presentation by sharing his laptop screen sitting in his office.

Capturing Seminars

Dr Sara Perry, a Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Management at the University of York decided to use Google Hangouts On Air to break out of the walls of the classroom and broadcast their seminars publicly to the world. Sara was keen to do this to help promote the work of the archeology department but also to make available lectures and seminars for students who couldn’t make it. One important facet that Sara was keen to push was making sure the process was using a minimal tech intervention so reducing barriers for non tech savvy academics.

This basically entailed using a single laptop which had built in webcam and microphone, thus not having any extra ‘set-up’ procedures or extra kit to think about, the laptop was simply placed close to the podium where it could capture an upper torso view of the presenter and what they were saying. Most laptops, phones and tablet form factors all have the webcam and microphone built in.

Even though the video does have an institution branded intro slide, Sara states that she was keen to make sure this minimal tech intervention meant no post-editing. Essentially empowering non technically minded academics with no need for support teams. to use a very simple process to capture and archive (YouTube) these seminars and/or lectures.

You can find out more about Dr Sara Perry’s use of Google Hangouts by clicking the link here → https://sites.google.com/a/york.ac.uk/using-hangouts-to-share-a-seminar/


The Elevate Team at UCS are using Google Hangouts within their current staff and student support model.

Firstly, as an on air (live) virtual office for members of UCS to ask questions. Secondly, as a means of quickly generating playlists of video guides.

What are the considerations if someone wanted to use Google Hangouts in their teaching and learning?

The power of using the Google Hangouts On Air in this manner is that they can be reviewed at any point as the videos are archived straight into YouTube, not only that but any questions that were asked and ultimately answered can be used as a video knowledge base post production with very little administration.

There are two key requirements;

  1. To host or join a Google Hangout you need to have a Google account.
  2. A small plugin is required use Google Hangouts.

Although the two main points can be off-putting, they are very easily overcome. For members of UCS, simply email the Elevate Team (elevate@ucs.ac.uk) to discuss your requirements.

Conclusion and Recommendations

You can infer from the above that Google Hangouts has been proved to be used effectively in both the educational and support spaces. With no subscription or purchasing costs and the ability to use already available hardware (Phones, Laptops etc), using Google Hangouts as a primary communication tool, not just for cross-institution, but globally would be an incredibly efficient and cost effective move.

We would recommend contacting the Elevate team if you wish to further explore the options in using Google Hangouts in teaching, learning and assessment. The Elevate team will be able to support it’s effective use and training using the system.

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