Google Hangouts and the Classroom

We have been conducting trials with Google Hangouts and Google Drive in the classroom for several months now, with some fantastic success stories.

Initial experiments with Facebook, WordPress.com, BuddyPress and other social media tools proved too cumbersome. The intention was to make the virtual classroom mimic the real classroom as much as possible. This meant that two way video communication between teacher and student was an absolute requirement, and well as ease of use and having all tools integrated into one suite.

Once Google released Hangouts, the technical problems were largely solved and we were able to concentrate on the pedagogical aspects of the project.

Hangouts combine:

  • Two way video chat for up to 10 people
  • Screen sharing
  • Shared documents (with Google Drive)
  • Integration with YouTube
  • Ability to take photos during a video call
  • Text chat

With most participants being located at the end of an Internet connection, we did not want a solution that was going to require any support. Users should be able to click on a link and jump straight into their class. Also the Google interface makes it pretty easy to use their tools, and support is readily available in the Internet.

The major problem with all other social media solutions was finding an integrated solution that was easy to use (we expected our teachers to teach, not to have to spend time installing and configuring software).

  • In general teachers (even those with very limited technical skills) were pretty happy with the Google platform and able to use it with minimal training.
  • Students had even fewer problems. As a younger demographic, they were already pretty familiar with ICT in general and far less inclined to “shy away” from new technologies.
  • Teachers adapted quite quickly to not being present with the students. As one teacher put it: “You forget pretty quickly that you are not in a classroom.”
  • The practical maximum for a class was 6 pupils.
  • Students with an English level from Elementary (A2) were able to participate.
  • The broadband requirements of 1 Mbps up and 2 Mbps down was difficult to meet for people in very remote locations. (We did have several people join using 3G mobile phone connections which worked surprisingly well.)

Resources

Google Drive materials:

YouTube videos of live classes:

(These are recordings of the video only. Any screen shares, shared web browsing and chats are not recorded.)

Work with Google Hangouts will continue at the Dublin School of English. Contact us at www.dse.ie if you want to learn more.

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