Hanging out with Google
Interacting with Distance Learners using Google Hangouts
Helge Janicke’s use of Google Hangouts as a live synchronous classroom to engage with up to nine Distance Learning students allows Helge to interact with those students and for them to feel part of the course.

This case study details the need for an inexpensive or free platform for engaging with a small number of Distance Learners, how Helge uses Google Hangouts to address this need and the technical issues that need to be considered both by staff and students when replicating this practice.

Project Lead

Helge Janicke

Senior Lecturer, Computer Security

Objectives and Approach
The main need as identified by Helge was that as the number of Distance Learners being enrolled increased Helge became aware that they could become dis-connected from the attending students and he sought to find a solution to enable the Distance Learners to participate and interact in classes.

Helge trialled a number of software solutions and based on student feedback he settled on using Google Hangouts.

Using the screen share capabilities of Google Hangouts, a graphics tablet and a microphone, Helge creates a Hangout for each session via which he broadcasts his screen and audio and he is also able to annotate his slides using the graphics tablet. Only students who are invited to join the Hangout can do so and therefore a level of security is present.

Each of the Distance Learners will join the Hangout at the beginning of class and they will see Helge’s screen along with the annotations in real-time and hear his audio.

Students are also able, if Helge enables the feature, to talk to the class using their microphone and webcam. This feature is sometimes used for student presentations but Helge tends to mute the student microphones centrally and the students can then ask questions and interact using the Instant Message functionality that is built into Google Hangouts.

This use of technology has involved some students being required to set up a Google account in order to take part but such accounts are free and the students have fed back in a positive manner about the use of Google Hangouts. This is demonstrated in that students now initiate their own Google Hangouts outside of class in order to collaborate and support each other.

By using Google Hangouts, Helge has achieved his goal of enabling the Distance Learners to participate in class. Students have fed back positively about joining Hangouts in order to see, live, what is going on in classes.

Helge also extended his use of Google Hangouts into the area of student presentations and he now expects the Distance Learners to present over the web to their attending peers via the Hangout. This helps Helge to overcome issues relating to authenticity when assessing student presentations.

Future Developments
Looking forward, the only real inhibitor to Helge’s use of Google Hangouts will come if more than nine Distance Learners are enrolled as Google Hangouts can only allow nine participants to interact simultaneously.

For staff members wishing to replicate this good practice, there are a number of technical hurdles that may need to be overcome for both staff and students. These are included in the accompanying video and are outlined below.

To enable students to join a Google Hangout:

  • Students must have a Google account and must be in receipt of the invitation link from the staff member
  • Students must have working speakers or earphones plugged in and if they wish to contribute verbally (where this feature is enabled) they must also have a microphone
  • Students will be required to enable the settings that allow Google Hangouts to access their microphone and speakers

To enable staff to broadcast using Google Hangouts:

  • A Google account is required
  • A method of drawing on screen is required if annotation is planned (this could be a graphics tablet or the computer mouse)
  • A radio microphone would be advantageous when moving around a lot

Google Hangouts

CELT Case Studies
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This case study was prepared by:
Ian Pettit (CELT)