If your school is a GAFE district, Google Hangouts can be useful in a few different facets. Google Hangouts is very similar to Skype, so it can be used to video chat with others as well as type to chat. It can open within Gmail and is easily accessible. This can be used to communicate with colleagues, other professionals that you would like to make a guest appearance in your classroom, or even parents! There is another awesome part of Google Hangouts that I am going to focus on today, and that is Google Hangouts on Air.
Many schools in our district used to share morning announcements on a closed circuit TV system. When it was working, everything was pretty seamless- teachers would turn on their classroom TVs in the morning and tune in to the correct channel. Then, at 8:45 on the dot the announcements would begin. At the beginning of last year we were having some issues with the system at one of my schools and it was in need of major repair. The repair cost was estimated to be thousands of dollars, which the school simply did not have to spend. A coworker (thanks Chuck), who is the technology specialist at one of our high schools had this very same situation happen, so with his guidance, we decided to introduce Google Hangouts on Air. Not to spoil the ending, but because of the overwhelmingly positive results, we began using Hangouts on Air at my other elementary school as well shortly after!
Hangouts on Air allows you to broadcast live on the internet as well as publish your recordings on YouTube so they can be viewed at a later time with little to no equipment. As with any change, there were a few growing pains at first, but now- a year after the shift I only hear positive feedback about the ease and flexibility of our new system. I am going to take you step by step through setting up Hangouts on Air while outlining the pros and cons.
First, here is a quick comparative look at the functionality of Hangouts on Air vs. our old closed circuit TV System.
Hangouts on Air can be run from anyone's GAFE account, but we decided to create a separate Google account just for the Morning Show. This was no big deal, I just asked our network administrator to create a separate "dummy" account that we decided to call wBHS. Creating a separate account just makes it easier to distinguish when the emailed link comes in to the teachers, and when searching within the YouTube account for an archive (I will elaborate more on these later).
Hangouts on Air uses your Google + account, which is basically a social network that builds off of your Google Account. It is free and mostly ready to go! Follow these steps to get started:
The first time you do this, you will have to go through a few steps to verify your YouTube account. Don't worry, you will only have to do this part one time. Also, I highly recommend bookmarking the hangouts on air link in Chrome for quick access. We bookmarked 3 links for the wBHS Chrome account and after less than 1 week, it was entirely run by a few 4th and 5th grade students.
Next, click the blue Start button. Don't worry, the broadcast still is not live at this point! A pop up will appear asking if you'd like to invite any guests. Even if a guest is making an appearance, you can invite them at a later time- so just click Skip. Now the basic set up is complete! You can see what the audience will see and get the web cam lined up how you'd like. Below, I have identified the most important buttons in the Live window.
A few quick notes—the orange arrow points to the Screenshare button which will enable you to show a window of what is showing on your computer instead of what the web cam sees. For example, one of my schools displays a static picture of the American Flag from the desktop of the computer while the pledge is being recited. This Screenshare icon is how the desktop of the computer is shared with the broadcast. Also, the purple arrow points to a feature that we do not use often, but the kids absolutely LOVE when we do. Props. There are all kinds of hats, facial props, etc. that will show on the person in the broadcast. It’s fun to throw a birthday hat on the student announcing the birthdays for the week, or a silly hat when sharing a joke of the day! Like I said, we only use these on special occasions, though, so the main feel of the broadcast is more serious.
The broadcast is still not live until you click the green button at the bottom. It will then do a quick countdown and you’re ready to go! But before you click the green button to go On Air, there’s one more important step. In order for the school to be able to watch, they need a link to the video. So every morning, after the steps above are completed (takes about 20 seconds), the student running the set up then goes to Gmail for our wBHS account (we also have this bookmarked for quick access) and emails the link to the school distribution list that includes all Staff members.
Every morning, each teacher receives a link to the morning announcements in his/her email. They pull it up on their Smartboards. The link is emailed out 10-15 minutes before the broadcast actually starts, so classes can watch live (with a few seconds lag time). But, here’s one of the major benefits—if a class is still doing their morning meeting, busy with morning work, or just having one of those mornings, they do not have to watch it live. The teacher can follow the link and watch with the class at any time! This means it can even be viewed on a different day as well if it was missed.
As I said earlier, with any major change- always come a few growing pains. Here are the biggest questions / complaints I received and how we dealt (or didn’t deal :-) ) with them:
- I don't want to open my email in front of my class in order to click on the link. There were a few suggestions I made for this one... either pic mute the projector temporarily while they access the email to click on the link, or use extended desktop mode to pull it up. Never heard of extended desktop? Quick and easy way to do two things at once. Check it out!
- What if my Smartboard is already being occupied with my morning message when students enter the classroom? So once again, there are a few different options. I took this opportunity to share extended desktop mode so that the students can see one thing on the Smartboard while the teacher is working on something else on her computer. Then when the announcements are actually live, she can shift that window over to the Smartboard for the class to see. Yes, the announcements will then overtake the morning message or whatever is already being shown for the students, but don't you want their undivided attention during the Pledge/Announcements anyway? Just sayin!
- What happens when I have a substitute? This is one complaint that we never really came up with a great solution for. A few ideas were thrown around like creating a generic substitute email account so they can at least access the announcements, but that brings other concerns that aren't worth compromising. When a teacher is absent, someone else from the unit is responsible for going into the other classroom in the morning after the link has been sent and pulling up the announcements from his/her email. Once the link has been clicked, the teacher can sign out of his/her Google account and leave the room. This doesn't always happen, so as I said earlier, announcements can always be accessed the next day when the teacher returns.
- Reading specialist (or librarian) part of the broadcast once a week to do a Book Talk about featured books that students should check out (literally and figuratively)
- Feature different classes to lead the Pledge
- Feature cheerleaders or other stars in the gym to advertise upcoming pep rally/special event
- If a teacher/administrator is away at a conference invite them to the broadcast while they're away!
For more in the Google series, see these great tutorials: Classroom, Slides, Forms, Hangouts, Drive, Docs