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Pointers from a Google Hangouts lesson

Posted on: February 13, 2020

Yesterday, I conducted a Google Hangouts (GH) version of my face-to-face module. It was for eight students who had to take a COVID-19 leave-of-absence.

I had to make substantial modifications because the module was optimised for blended learning, not online-only interaction. The changes would take too long to explain here, but I reflect now on the simpler technical and social tips that make the pedagogical path smoother.

Ensure that everyone has a Gmail account first. Everyone being in the Google ecosystem first prevents problems later.

There are several ways to invite participants to GH. For me, the fastest way was to invite everyone was via a Google Calendar update with an automatic Gmail notification.

Do not use the video call option as this limits the number of users to five for those outside the Edu or Enterprise plans. A normal hangout via Calendar or Gmail invitation hosts 25 users and includes the video call anyway.

Google Hangouts screenshot of screen sharing in progress.

GH automatically switches to the user it thinks is speaking. This means that a user’s background noises can switch focus to that user. If you are screen sharing, tell users to mute their microphones. This keeps the focus on your screen share by preventing audio leaks from each user.

Highlight the texting tool at bottom-left corner of the video conference window. This is not normally in view and requires a rollover of the cursor to the bottom-left corner. It is a handy emergency tool should audio or video cut out.

Advise users to wear ear/headphones. For users of laptops, this prevents audio feedback from the speakers to the microphone. If they do not, the entire session can sound echo-y to everyone. If the ear/headphones are noise-cancelling, all the better for reducing ambient sound.

Tell users to find a quiet place with a strong and reliable Internet connection. Duh.

Use laptops, not phones or tablets. Functionality is limited on the latter by design.

I changed my mind. Here is one pedagogical design principle: Simplify the tasks. GH is not a full-blown conferencing system with hand-raising or group discussion spaces. Those features require paid subscriptions to platforms like Zoom or proprietary systems in LMS.

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