Hangouts: Free Video Conferencing and Google Apps for Educators

Most of my work is conducted online. I use various digital text and tools like email, Twitter, Google+, and this blog as a way to communicate, socialize, teach, and learn. One invaluable tool that I use daily is Google Hangouts. The purpose of this blog post is to detail the “how to” of setting up and using Google Hangouts. This post will also begin a conversation about the best practices of this discourse system.

Keep in mind that this overview of Google Hangouts is up-to-date right now. Google constantly iterates on the affordances and design of their tools. As a result, some design elements that are detailed here might change. I’ll maintain this post to the best of my ability. These materials will also be available…and constantly revised at the Google Hangouts page on the Digital Text and Tools site.

What is Hangouts?

Hangouts is a messaging service from Google. To use the service, you will need a Google Account. If you already use gMail, Google Docs, Blogger, Google Maps, etc….you already have a Google Account. The nice thing about using all of the Google services is that your data, work, and contacts are interconnected. Hangouts fulfills many functions, from instant messaging to video conferencing. When coupled with email you have the opportunity to contact someone asynchronously (email), synchronously (text message in Hangouts), or even real-time (video conference in Hangouts). The video feature in Hangouts allows for up to 10 people to video conference at one time. There are also a number of great apps that can be used to extend the features in a Hangout. Scoot & Doodle is a great example of a cool app that can be used to document learning in a video conference.

There are two other features of Hangouts that set it apart from other communication platforms like Facetime or Skype. The first of these is that Hangouts are it is device, or platform agnostic. This means that you can join a Hangout and instant message, or video conference using your computer, a shared computer, your tablet (iOs/Android), or your mobile device (iOs/Android). The second is “Hangouts on Air.” Hangouts on Air allows you to instantly broadcast your conference to your YouTube channel. This is a powerful tool if you are interested in building a community or global audience. This is also helpful if you want to hold a meeting in Hangouts, and then save it for others to view or reflect on later.

How do I use Hangouts?

Hangouts can be started from the computer, tablet, or mobile device. On devices you need to use the Android app, or the iOs app. For Chrome users, you can install the Hangouts Call app, and the Hangouts app. These two apps will make it quick and easy to set up, and receive messages from Hangouts. To use Hangouts in gMail, the list of your contacts should be available on the left side of your browser window. From that space you can send a text message, or start up a video chat with others.

Using Hangouts in gMail

In Google+, there are two places I typically go to start up, or respond to a Hangout. The first is by hovering over the “Home” section on the left side of Google+. The other place is to click on the Hangouts graphic and text on the right side of the screen to contact a person, or review the history of a conversation. In your Google applications you can quickly receive notifications thanks to Mr. Jingles the bell. The bell will sync notification for you across all platforms and tools.

Getting around Hangouts in Google+…for now

In terms of using Hangouts, the major question that pops up is how much is an individual meant to be openly available? Hangouts is a tool that works cross-platform. So, as stated earlier, it runs on your mobile device, computer, tablet, etc. Because I have an android phone, and am always signed in to Google, a message instantly goes through to me. This also means that if I’m driving, teaching class, sleeping, etc…the message comes through. The text messaging, and video conferencing is a fabulous tool that allows educators the chance to open up lines of communication with others in and out of the classroom…but it raises questions about what do we mean by “available.”

I’ll share another post discussing possible instructional uses for Hangouts. For now, please review materials I put together for a session on Video Conferencing & Communication Tools. Also, Hangouts (for now) are one of the best…and only ways to record a screencast on your Chromebook. For that reason I’m sharing materials for a session I conducted on Screencasts/Screencaptures.

flickr photo by George Papaconstantinou http://flickr.com/photos/george-papaconstantinou/6963132698 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license


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Originally published at W. Ian O’Byrne.