Students “Hangout” as They Study

While Google+ is still in its infancy, the potential for its use in education is great. Recently, edSocialMedia contributors shared their thoughts on this new social media tool, so I won’t rehash them here.

What fascinates me, however, is the Hangout feature and how it was conceived. Briefly, Google+ Hangouts are video chats in which up to ten people can participate. The main video window automatically switches to whomever is speaking, so there is no need for users to click on thumbnail images to view the speaker in full-screen.

 

The Googler who created Hangouts, Chee Chewtold photographer Trey Ratcliff that the idea for Hangout’s format came from an article he read about how teenagers would have a video chat window running all evening as they did their homework. They were not really chatting; they were just “hanging out.”

While many may think that video chats and open IM windows would be a distraction while studying, some parents have seen differently:

I was skeptical, too, about how much homework my 14-year-old gets done when her laptop’s video chat and instant messaging functions are switched on—which they usually are. Then one day, the night before her big bio test, I brazenly looked at her screen while she was in mid-IM: And there it was, a lengthy IM string about DNAs, and RNAs, and cell division.

She was in a study group, all right. Just not the sort I’m used to.

The ability to have someone on the other end of a video chat window — be it a teacher or a peer — to quickly confer with when a question arises is a powerful idea.

 

And while being connected with one person is great, imagine what can happen when an entire study group can connect online or a teacher holds an online review session and is not limited to just chatting with one student.

 

Other ideas come to mind when thinking of how Hangouts can be used in school administration: a school’s technology help desk can leave a Hangout open all day to allow teachers and students to jump in and out as needed with questions, and an admissions office can offer online panel discussions for perspective parents and students (especially good for boarding schools where families may not be local).

 

As Google+ continues to grow, so will the ideas for using Hangouts. In fact, Chew is looking into ways that Hangouts can be used in the deaf community. Since there would be no audio cue to determine which person was speaking in order to focus the video on that person, Chew is investigating sign language as a way to provide visual cues to help identify who has the floor in a Hangout. He’s seeking help from the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in this endeavour.

 

Once Google+ is available without an invitation and is opened up to Google Apps accounts, it will be interesting to watch how teachers and students use Hangouts. Educators have a habit of finding innovative uses for new tech tools that the designers of them never imagined.

I would think Chee Chew would be happy about that.

 

On a side note (and to be fair): Skype also offers group video chats of up to 10 people, but at least one user in a chat must have a premium account ($53.94 for a yearly subscription). Google+ is free and has many other features potentially useful to educators.

Matthew Clobridge

Webmaster at Durham County Library

http://mclobridge