Using Google Plus Hangouts in Social Work Education

Dr. Jandel Crutchfield

Dr. Jandel Crutchfield

Dr. Jandel Crutchfield is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Mississippi.  In this blog post, she writes about using Google Plus Hangouts to promote synchronous experiences in her online courses.

Until August 2014, my background in online social work education was solely in asynchronous instruction through platforms including Moodle and Blackboard.  Some of the feedback from students in my courses highlighted a lack of “real” interaction with me as their professor. To address this initially, I began to record short video lectures for students to receive some another method of instruction and interaction besides text. Though this improved some student experiences, I still received feedback that students wanted more interaction with me; or that “something was missing.”  Due to university regulations, however, there was little else I could do to enhance the asynchronous experience.

After joining University of Mississippi, Department of Social Work in 2014 and being offered the opportunity to teach online, I began to research ways to conduct completely synchronous session. Since many of the students had not had multiple online courses and were new to the social work department, I wanted to find a way to avoid overwhelming students with the delivery format. I found Google Plus Hangouts (which is a free video conference calling tool from Google), got it approved by the online learning department, and began learning how to use it to conduct synchronous sessions. I studied the online users’ guides from Google and activated my University Gmail account. Then I began to invite friends to participate in video calls and hangouts on air. I recorded several “test” sessions and practiced uploading them to Blackboard to view what students would see after I had shared a recording. I got feedback from my colleagues and friends that participated on the video calls and hangouts on air. I found Google Plus Hangouts to be very user friendly and integrated into larger society more than programs such as Adobe Connect or even Skype. Nearly everyone had at least heard of Google, which would facilitate usage even beyond the classroom for instructors and students alike. Also, Google Plus Hangouts did not require a license or other monitoring by the university technology department.

Google Plus Hangouts was particularly suited for students at the University of Mississippi because all incoming freshman received a Gmail account as their primary university email address. Once I had students activate their accounts, we could meet virtually. Because the live Video Hangouts feature of Google Plus Hangouts is limited to ten participants, I decided to use Hangouts on Air, which allows an unlimited number of participants, as my primary method of instructional delivery. The feature allowed me to broadcast live to all students in the class by inviting them to the “hangout” using a case specific link. Also, I was able to record these Hangout sessions for later playback by students who used them as study materials.

One of the most rewarding uses of Google Plus Hangouts was for student advising of students progressing through the program or declaring social work as their major. For example, I was not able to meet with an advisee in enough time for her to register within her registration window. Therefore, I invited her to a Google Hangout and was able to show her my computer screen with her academic record, just as if I was meeting with her face to face. She was able to decide on the courses she wanted to take for the semester and engage in a general discussion of the social work major and requirements. Student advisees who were excited about entering the field of social work appeared to be even more excited about the different use of technology in the department.  Most did not know what to expect, but were thoroughly engaged and impressed with the ease of the process.  I continue to believe that this could be a useful instructional tool as well as recruitment tool for Social Work Programs.

Tips for instructional use of Google Plus Hangouts:

  • Determine whether this is a good tool for your students due to the need to have a Gmail account. (Is it a small class or do most students already have Gmail accounts?)
  • If the class is 10 or less students, then video hangouts will work well for synchronous learning. For larger classes, Hangouts on Air will need to be used.
  • Provide a step-by-step document for activating Google profiles.
  • Demonstrate how to use Google Hangouts several times in class before your first live session if possible.
  • During the first week of sessions explain and demonstrate all of the features that you will be using during class/office hours/advising and have students use the tools as well.
  • A built-in camera and microphone are easiest to use for connection purposes. If not available those that are compatible with your computer hardware will work. Using good lighting and having the camera/microphone directly in front of your face is a good placement. Any suggestions on cameras or microphones? Placement? Where do you look?
  • There are dozens of user-guides for Google Plus and Google Plus Hangouts. In sifting through all of them, I found a site sponsored by Google that I used in learning how to use the interface. It includes videos of each step in the process from creating a profile to setting up and running a hangout: http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/features.html. A secondary site that was useful in describing innovative ways users are interacting with Google Plus is http://mashable.com/2011/07/16/google-plus-resources/.

Are you using Google Plus Hangouts for your social work classes, or maybe in other ways with social work students and/or colleagues?  Post a comment and share your knowledge and experiences.

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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