Sunday, August 10, 2014

Google Hangouts in Education by Rachel Jones


What is the secret to using Google Hangouts in education?

Well, if I told you I would have to kill you. Oh actually maybe not, that would break the ‘Don’t be evil” Google code.

More technologically reliable than Skype, and being linked to the Google Plus social media network, Google Hangouts is uniquely placed to offer cooperation opportunities to staff and students alike.  If you are reading this post from a twitter link, then you need to consider using Google Plus. Two reasons, the first is that you can’t run hangouts without it, and secondly there are some really inspiring educators using it to doing amazing things with Google Apps for Education in their schools.

So – if you don’t have GAfE (Google Apps for Education) in your school, set yourself up a teacher gmail account, and go to your G+ account and set up your professional identity there. I would advise you use a headshot and make sure you add your credentials so you can be identified as a professional educator.
Account all done? Excellent. Aside from the fact that you now have access to all the wonderful GAfE tools (the best being Google Drive by a clear country mile) you are now good to go with trying your first Google Hang Out (GHO) I think that there are many opportunities for teachers and students.
The main opportunity for students is to use GHO to become independent of their teacher. I know statements like this are not uncontroversial – but for me one of the main roles as a teacher is to prepare students not just for exams, but for life after school. Being able to work out problems and being creative is an important part of this. Teachers can help by setting up Google+ circles for your class. Many schools are nervous about using social media – however Google+ gives your class a public and accountable way to communicate and learn together. I have set up circles for my own students. I used it to post reminders and links to resources, but I soon saw the students use it to ask for help from each other – and especially using GHO as a way of asking questions of each other rather than asking me for help.  Before I knew it, or had provided any training on it, students were posting work to the circle, getting peer feedback, sharing resources and even finding ideas for trips. It created a virtual classroom, which everyone (including me, the teacher) had equal access and ownership. I have no doubt that this contributed towards the excellent results of the class.

As a teacher I love using GHOs – and it has really become one of the main ways that I communicate with teachers. I am dyslexic, and I am more comfortable with face-to-face conversation than by working using email. It’s a personal preference, but I also feel that using GHOs builds a more personal relationship and sets a very positive tone for collaboration.

I have used GHOs in a number of ways. One of the most inspiring was meeting my team for the Google Teacher Academy (UK) in 2013. This was the first time I spoke with educators from around the globe, and was an excellent start to building a long lasting working relationship. Since then I have used G+ more extensively to join discussion groups based on certain topics – such as using technology in education. This has been a similarly positive experience and I have had the opportunity to speak to many pedagogy experts from around the world that I would not otherwise had access too. I have also been part of some GHOs that are then relayed live on Air to YouTube. The main one of these was the App-Smashing sessions, which were attended and watched by educators from across the globe. I have also used GHOs to join live CPD sessions in America, Australia and Japan, and benefitted from the wisdom of professional development from thousands of miles away. The final way which I have used GHO is to organise educational events. It made such a difference being able to chat with others (some of which I had never met in person) prior to the event – and used in combination with Trello or G-drive made the whole process of organising an event much less painful.
The benefits of GHOs are that you as a teacher are no longer bound to your school to provide professional development – you can go out and find some of the best quality guidance and inspiration for yourself. A classroom without walls is not just beneficial for students – it can give a new lease of life to teachers and requires a minimum of tech skills. The only thing you need is a device that connects to decent wifi and a willingness to learn. So – what’s stopping you? Get out there – it’s a big wide world beyond your classroom, and one that will have a positive impact for your students and your own practice.

Rachel Jones @rlj1981
e-Learning coordinator at King Edward VI School, Southampton UK.

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