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Hands-on with “On Air” (a Google+ Hangouts Tool)

By Dan Beeby, Jami Carlacio, Brian O'Hagan, and Steve Welsh

Google+ offers a number of features that aim to rethink how people stay in touch and keep connected. One of the social network’s features that provides a unique tool for educators is “Hangouts,” an enhanced web video conferencing and chat tool. Any Google+ user can initiate a Hangout and invite friends. Up to ten users can join the video conference using a webcam. Inside a Hangout there are a number of extra features (including integration with YouTube and Google Docs) that allow members to view videos, edit docs, or conduct presentations together. Each Hangout also supports audio conferencing via phone. You can learn more about Hangouts on Google’s site.

A new feature, called “On Air” (currently in private beta) allows video from a Hangout to be broadcast live to an unlimited number of viewers on Google+. After the live broadcast, video from the Hangout is archived to the originating user’s YouTube channel, where it can be further shared or embedded into a course management system.

CCNMTL staff have experimented with the new tools and envision the following uses:

As a teleconferencing tool Hangouts is very simple to use, and anyone with a Google account can join from anywhere in the world. For educators who wish to open their classes to a global audience or hold multi-site video conference calls, this is perhaps its best feature. Although a Hangout permits only ten bi-directional webcam users, any number of participants may view the activities within the Hangout simultaneously.

Another excellent feature of Hangouts is its screen- and document-sharing capability. All members can open and discuss a Google Doc, watch a YouTube video, or view a slideshare presentation at the same time. Real-time annotation is a hallmark of collaborative work and is facilitated smoothly within Hangouts.

Hangouts On Air has great potential as a tool for remote lecturing and presenting, both synchronously and asynchronously. Since a session can be viewed by many users simultaneously, it competes effectively with services like Ustream and Livestream as a “broadcast” presentation tool. The instructor or presenter can toggle between her desktop and webcam with ease in real time, making it ideal for use with any presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint, Google Presentation, Prezi, etc). A video recording of the presentation is available via the instructor’s YouTube account directly after the On Air event, so students who could not attend synchronously (or students at other institutions around the world) can benefit from the session at a later date.