Hangout with OCA
Google Hangouts have been available to OCA students and tutors for quite some time now but I wonder how many of us are using them or even know what they are all about.
As a tutor, I have used Skype for video tutorials on and off for a while but recently I have been experimenting with Hangouts both for this and for a more ‘video conferencing’ seminar type of activity so I thought I should put together my thoughts on the potential usefulness of Hangouts.
I know that some of you out there are really familiar with the software and that the MA use it regularly but I am sure that many more of you are unaware of some of the possibilities it affords..oh and of course some of the limitations it has.
Hangouts is a free video chat service on Google+ and can be accessed via the OCA student website under the Comms tab>Hangouts and comms (a good place for seeing what’s new on the forums by the way) or your OCA Gmail account page so long as you sort out the Google+ thing and I am sure that this is straightforward but it was so long ago that I did it…..! There are a number of different Hangout rooms and Hangouts can be set up in any one of them that seems relevant. Any two or more people who are currently on line can have a video chat via that page. Of course you will need suitable kit; a computer (desktop or laptop) with a webcam and microphone will work as will an Android or iOS tablet or even a mobile phone though this last has such a small screen that there can be difficulties in some circumstances. A reasonably fast broadband connection is really necessary, particularly for group chats and the more people the faster it needs to be (it is all about bandwidth!) and of course you don’t all have to be in the same country. I have had people from UK, Holland and South Africa on line at the same time and video tutorials with Hong Kong etc are perfectly possible. So as long as you live somewhere that allows Google you can join in!
Hangouts lets you have both one-to-one and group chats, video or even voice only I believe, with up to ten people at a time (more about this later). Although it is somewhat similar to Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Video Chat, Hangouts is really more about group interaction as opposed to one-to-one video calls, and , at least in theory, will switch the focus to the person currently speaking. Hangouts can be accessed via laptop and desktop computers as well as with mobile devices. In addition to video calls, Hangouts allow you to share documents, images and YouTube videos with other users. All well and good I hear you say but a) does it do what it says on the tin and b)what’s the point?
Let’s start with a)…not quite or at least not quite as easily as that. The limit of ten participants is important and perhaps optimistic. I tried one with about 15 people involved and there were all sorts of problems, it wasn’t a total wash out but really meant I was talking to them but they couldn’t talk to me though I understand from people on the MA that the sort of text style side bar works quite well but as I was showing a video I couldn’t see it! Nevertheless, I will try it with fewer people next time and I am sure that will work much better. There is a group of final level photography students who have occasional hangouts and report success. That leads nicely to b)
I feel that the three main uses as far as OCA is concerned are for video tutorials; course, module and general seminars and student study/support groups.
The strength of video tutorials is that there is an immediacy about them. A question is answered straight away and misunderstandings can be noticed and corrected. Additionally, as it is video, albeit stutteringly video (bandwidth again perhaps), body language plays its part. Holding work or examples in front of the camera is of limited success but vastly better than trying to describe something in a tutor report or reply to one. One of the weaknesses is that they can go on and on of you are not careful; both sides should make a list of the points they want covered and set an alarm clock! However I really think they are worth exploring at least for some assignments. Of course an abbreviated tutor report is necessary and I believe this is best written, at least in the first instance, by the student and sent to the tutor for amendment and turning into the formal report. This way the tutor can be sure that the student has properly understood the tutorial points made, the work to be dome in follow up and so on, and the student can confirm their understanding of what went on and maybe ask some follow up points only occurring to them after the fact. Level one students might find this a bit taxing and the primary responsibility for the report can be sorted out by negotiation between them and their tutor.
Student study and support groups could address some of the problems of isolation inherent in distance learning but do require someone to drive them however I encourage you to try to set some up and no to be discouraged if there are few takers from time to time. Initial approaches should be made via the forums and or other relevant social medium links you have, OCA Facebook groups etc. to see what interest there is and to announce the time and date(s) of the proposed Hangout.
Time can be a problem. Not only do we have to think of time differences if participants are in different countries but also one has to take work and social life patterns into account so a best fit solution is the thing to aim for.
I think that in the future we will see a growth of module, course, medium and general lectures and seminars via Hangouts or similar. We have to feel our way gently, the MA has set the ball rolling with their seminars but they has one advantage over the rest of the OCA in that MA students are more or less at the same point at the same time thus the seminars or whatever can be scheduled into the course material more or less. For the rest of us we need to find a way of making this work for the more general nature of our BA study pattern and how we deal with over subscription to a hangout is yet to be tackled. Setting up a seminar requires some considerable planning, rather more than the equivalent at a bricks and mortar establishment in my experience and tutors’ time must be compensated for so repeats of seminars would bear heavily on the OCA coffers…a way will be found I am sure and these problems must not deter us from experimenting with the technology.
Have you as a student or tutor had experience with Hangouts? Let us know below and maybe the pooled wisdom (or collective stupidity) will lead us in the right direction.
Peter Haveland, OCA Tutor & Assessor.