Google has been quite busy in and around classrooms these days. Google Classrooms and free email archiving, new updates from Google for Education, are just two examples that show Google is serious about education. Another of the Google gems for education is Google Hangouts, which is similar to Skype, but with a great deal more integration and possibilities for school use.
When it comes to video conferencing in the Google vs. Microsoft Office 365 debate, the scales once again tip to Google. While Office 365 includes Skype, it’s not nearly as integrated as the Google solution, Hangouts takes on an aura of science fiction for me. When I use Hangouts – which we do quite a bit at Campus Suite for our remote teams – I feel like I'm on an episode of Star Trek. (I never wear red shirts for Hangout meetings.)
Google is continuously working on new features for schools to use, and Hangouts has the potential to be the cornerstone of collaboration and video communication for districts. [Editor’s note: for my grammarian readers out there, I’m going to consider “Hangouts” a singular subject, (see mathematics, politics, economics) so don’t cry subject-verb agreement foul when I henceforth use it so.]
Part of Google Apps for Education – a subject we addressed in our blog article, 4 Reasons to consider Google Apps for Education, and a Google Apps for Education webinar – Hangouts is consolidated real-time communication that enables not only chats, but video conferencing, video broadcasting, and integration with Google’s growing list of products and services for schools.
Hangouts provides schools with not only real-time messaging and video, but lets you record a session, and download or post the video to YouTube. Hangouts is the perfect option for education, where platforms and access can vary. Hangouts simplifies the process of having to manage multiple apps at school. The price too makes it an easy sell at the school board level – it’s absolutely free.
Hangouts offers VoIP (telephony), SMS, video chat, and instant messaging in a single app. Mac, Windows, and Linux users to take part by accessing a URL. It follows and uses the standard Google login to create, manage, and authenticate users, so all you need is a Google or Youtube account to start a Hangout. Hangouts is extended by apps from Google or third parties and is accessed via your web browser or IOS and Android mobile devices.
At it's core, Hangouts is a web session that enables voice/video/chat around a presentation or discussion, allowing for callers or viewers to listen in, or talk to a group.. Users log into a public or private session via a URL, or an invite via IM to a Hangout session. What you present is up to you. Hangouts can screenshare, letting you show anything on your computer. You can have a group of speakers in front of a camera, stream video from a remote location using a mobile device, and open and edit documents as a group. Hangouts has a native app that offers a virtual whiteboard you can brainstorm on.
An often overlooked feature is the ability to get a Google Voice (link) number. Google Voice can make and receive phone calls from your browser with a permanent number. I feel that Hangouts offers almost all the tools needed for a classroom. With the onset of cameras in almost every laptop, desktop, and phone, the only missing element is being there.
Broadcasting a school Hangout
Hangouts on Air (HoA) is a Hangout with a twist. It allows the presenter to provide a live stream to an unlimited group. A basic Hangout offers a max of 15 video users (first come, first serve) in a session. Note: 15 users is the limit for full access to the Hangouts features, but you can have as many as 100 people participate in a Hangout. They are limited to viewing and instant messaging, but they cannot screen share or contribute via audio.
HoA is setup to broadcast a session with controlled audience participation, allowing an unlimited number of people to watch and take part in a presentation. HoA sessions can be scheduled and shared in advance.
You can broadcast a Hangout on Air, then record it as a Youtube video. You simply click enable Hangouts on Air, then link it to your Youtube channel. You can also stream directly to your school website or other websites by embedding link right where you want it. For help on creating your school Youtube channel, check out this article.
One potential roadblock for HoA is the content-filtering policy your school may have: Youtube and other social media channels are often blocked. If your school blocks YouTube, archiving video for future use is still possible, and Vimeo or other video hosts are a good alternatives that can work with content filters.
Ways to use Google Hangouts for schools
So you can communicate anywhere for free. So what? A tool is only what you make of it. I see several strong cases for using Hangouts to help your district in meaningful ways:
- Remote learning – Bringing students together with resources not be available to your school. Using the time saving features of Hangouts vs. physical presence, you can recruit new people to share knowledge with your students. Colleges, businesses, and thought leaders can connect with your group for meaningful learning. You might not get Stephen Hawking to come visit your school, but, who knows, he might make time for a 30-minute Hangout.
- Content capture – Hangouts records and renders the video of up to an eight-hour session. Your school can capture events, training, lectures, anything that you might reuse. Post your content to Youtube, or keep the video as an offline file. The result is a simple way to capture content for reuse.
- Parent-teacher meetings – In a society where time is at a premium, Hangouts are a potential solution. Early intervention prevents major problems later for students. A video conference allows a busy parent to talk "eye-to-eye" with a teacher. And because Hangouts works on mobile devices, this further opens up a wide range of interaction between parents and teachers. Screen sharing allows a teacher to share anything helpful to the meeting.
- Tutoring – Teachers can offer an open Hangout that students can join to request extra help. Teachers and students can work after school without worrying about student transportation.
- PTA/Board meetings – Making time to attend school meetings can be difficult. Opening up PTA, school board, and any other public meetings to online is a simple way to increase participation. Get a basic camera and mic, plug into your laptop, start a Hangout on Air, and share the link via social media.
It’s time to start hanging out
There are more ideas on how schools can use Hangouts. The key for your school is to develop a proper usage policy with guidelines for your users. Armed with a policy, schools can open up to using virtual meetings to extend the boundaries of your classrooms and resources. Education has been slow to change how it engages stakeholders. Hangouts, an exciting part of the ever-expanding Google Apps for Education offering, is a cost effective, high impact way to increase communication in the learning process.
While you’re looking into Hangouts for your district, check out this video to get you thinking about the limitless applications of using HoA in your school.
Eric's background as a technical CEO with a big-picture focus brings the experience and vision that both gains the respect of technical audiences, and gets the attention of the progressive school leaders and administrators.