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32 Tips for Hosting a Successful Hangout with Your Students

Posted on Wednesday October 17, 2012 by Staff Writers


Google Plus’s Hangout feature, launched in late 2011, has fast become an essential tool in a wide range of fields, from business to technology, and especially in education. Integrated scratchpads, screen sharing, instant uploads, chat services, and direct links to nearly all of Google’s other services make Hangouts the perfect tool for teachers who want to reach out to students outside of the classroom, making it simple to connect, share, and learn as a group. While much of the Hangout system is fairly intuitive, there are things that educators need to know before diving in to ensure that the experience is both fun and productive for all involved. The following can act as a great primer for Hangouts newbies, offering up tips that address everything from tech problems to proper Hangouts preparation.

  1. Choose a title that lets students know what the Hangout will be about.

    Students shouldn’t head to a Hangout with little idea of what will be discussed or addressed. Create a title for the Hangout that will let all participants know what to expect and how to prepare.

  2. Nip tech problems in the bud.

    There are a lot of tech issues that could arise with Hangouts, especially if you’re new to the format. Ensure that students know what hardware they’ll need and that all who are participating have Internet connections that can handle video conferencing. You should also type up a quick list of tech troubleshooting tips that students can reference if things aren’t working right for them.

  3. Monitor the comments.

    While the bulk of your discussions on Google Hangouts will take place by speaking to students directly, there is are also commenting, messaging, and chat features (depending on the way you’re using Hangouts) that students can use to ask questions without interrupting. Make sure to watch the comments students are making so no one feels left behind or confused.

  4. Do a dry run.

    If you’ve never hosted a Google Hangout before, it’s smart to do a dry run before the real session to get some practice, learn the format, and to address any of the practical tech issues that may pop up.

  5. Don’t just lecture, interact.

    The features of a Google Hangouts make it better suited to getting people to talk to each other, not to have just one person talking and everyone else listening (though some do use the site for that purpose). While you can lead the course, let students interact with you and each other so everyone feels like part of the process.

  6. Make eye contact.

    If you don’t do a lot of online video conferencing, it can be hard to know where to look when conducting a Hangout online. While you don’t have to stare into the camera the whole time, when you’re addressing the class or lecturing, try to make eye contact.

  7. Use some of the integrated features.

    Google+ Hangouts comes with some pretty stellar integrated features including the ability to share documents and screenshots, work on a communal scratchpad, and even add sounds. Try a few out to get the full Hangouts experience.

  8. Get input from students.

    Since the majority of participants in your Hangout session will be students, it can be a good idea to ask them for some input. See what they’d like to discuss and what methods they feel would be most effective for doing coursework online. Some may have great ideas that you can use to improve the experience.

  9. Record it.

    If you use the Hangout On Air function, you can instantly record your G+ Hangouts right to YouTube, which will automatically be saved to your account. Recording your sessions can be a great study tool for students and an excellent way to look back on what worked and what didn’t when planning your next Hangout.

  10. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

    Hangouts might be informal, but that doesn’t mean you can just show up and expect them to go smoothly. You have to prepare just like you would for any other educational experience. Have notes on what you’d like to address and lay out some questions that you can ask students to get a discussion started.

  11. Start early.

    It can be useful to start your Hangout session a few minutes early so that everyone has time to get settled and will be ready to go. For those first few minutes, try out the tip below.

  12. Have a start graphic.

    For the first five minutes of your Hangout, run a graphic that explains that the Hangout is about to start and what students should be doing to prepare. That way, everyone will be ready to go when things get started.

  13. Pay attention to your gear.

    Not having the right equipment can make for a less than successful Hangout, especially if something isn’t functioning correctly during the session. Make sure you have a good quality webcam and microphone as well as a computer that has enough speed to handle the video.

  14. Explain how to use the mute feature.

    Encourage students to mute their microphones when they’re not talking. This reduces background noise and makes it easier for everyone to listen to whomever is talking at the moment without interruption.

  15. Use the Cameraman app within Hangouts on Air.

    If you’re leading a Hangout then you’re the director and you can hide or reveal participants in the Hangout and decide who gets the big screen and who’s minimized. Use it with discretion.

  16. Stay on topic.

    With a big group of participants, it can be easy to drift off topic if you’re not careful, so do your best to stick to the set topic of the Hangout session.

  17. Direct things, but let students interact with each other, too.

    Don’t forget that Hangouts aren’t all about you. Let students have input and interact with one another, too. It will enrich the experience for all involved.

  18. Pass out tips and tricks for using Hangouts.

    If your students have never used Hangouts before, offer up a few tips and resources they can use ahead of the session. You can print them out or send them in an email that students can reference before the Hangout.

  19. Use Google + for more than just Hangouts.

    There are a lot of tools and features of Google+ that can be really useful for teachers and students. Get your class set up on the social site so you can keep in touch, share information, and chat even when you’re not in a Hangout.

  20. Form circles of students.

    It’s very difficult to invite people into a Hangout who aren’t already in your circles, so make things simple by adding your students to a circle before setting up a time for a Hangout.

  21. Teach students how to highlight and unhighlight participants.

    Students can change the view they see when they’re using Hangouts, which can be useful for them to know. The system automatically highlights the person who is speaking, but if students want to keep that person or the teacher highlighted , they can simply click on that person’s window, then click off to release them.

  22. Keep it short.

    Before beginning a G+ Hangout session, set the length of your session. You don’t want things to run too long or your students will start to get antsy and bored (and you might, too). Try to keep things at about an hour and a half for maximum effectiveness, unless you plan to have breaks.

  23. Lay out ground rules.

    To make things go more smoothly for everyone in the Hangout, lay out ground rules before things begin. Let students know if you’d like them to raise their hands if they have questions or comments or what the appropriate etiquette is for your course. That way, you’ll all be on the same page and there won’t be any major misunderstandings about what’s expected.

  24. Make sure everyone is included.

    There will undoubtedly be a student who doesn’t speak up in your Hangout. Don’t make that person feel left out. Ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak and take part in the session.

  25. Have fun.

    If you’re using Google Hangouts to teach, information transmission is important, but so is having fun. Let students laugh and have fun with the material. You’ll improve their attitudes about the class, the materials, and even you by keeping things upbeat.

  26. Experiment.

    Google Hangouts are relatively new, so there’s still some room to figure out the best ways to use them to work with students online. Take a few chances and experiment with what works best for you and your students.

  27. Go with the flow.

    While it’s great to have an idea of where you want a Hangout to go, you should also be willing to go with the flow to some degree. If students are engaged in a really great discussion, let it go. It could end up being more productive than what you had planned. Plus, it makes great use of the format that Hangouts offers, which is the whole point of using it in the first place.

  28. Follow up with students after the Hangout.

    After your Hangout, follow up with students to see if they have any questions about what went on in the session or if they have any feedback that can help you improve for next time.

  29. Talk with other teachers.

    If you’re unsure of what to do or just want to see how others are using Hangouts in class, reach out to other teachers. You can talk to your own colleagues, or check out what other teachers are saying in online forums and on blogs.

  30. Attend other hangouts.

    You can learn a lot about how to conduct a successful Hangout from attending one yourself. The more sessions you take part in, the more you’ll learn, gaining experience that can help you improve the outcomes you get from your own sessions.

  31. Select a diverse group of students for the Hangout.

    Currently, Hangouts are limited to only 10 participants, which in most cases isn’t enough to cover an entire class of students. In order to make things work, you’ll have to select students for each session. Try to create a mix of students from different majors, backgrounds, and personality types to keep things dynamic and interesting.

  32. Don’t be ashamed to learn as you go.

    There’s no better teacher than experience, and even if you’re incredibly prepared for a session, there’s going to be something you don’t know how to do or handle. Do your best to learn on the fly and use the knowledge to improve future sessions.