Case study: Hangouts for seminars, events and conferences

Background

The University of Bristol uses gmail which provides access to the webinar functionality of Google Hangouts (other software options exist).

Staff are using this to support various distance learning functions and in this study we are looking at three different uses:

Objectives

The language aim was to replace a face to face seminar with a video based seminar.

Virtual open days aimed to allow international students a chance to learn about the institution and ask questions before they arrive.

Conferencing aims to allow people to attend virtually, in addition to those who attended physically.

What was done

Language teaching - the academic sends an email invite to a Hangout to all the students in the class, this is automatically added to their calendar and so they are reminded at the start of the session, emails also contained a worksheet for use in the hangout.  Students join using their webcam and headsets.  Academic uses webcam, headset and screen share.

Open days - three members of academic staff talked to the students using webcams and microphones, a fourth member of staff worked as “camera person” moving the view between staff and bringing up slides and pictures when required. Students asked questions via the “Q&A” app and staff answered them verbally.  The entire session was recorded so that people could access it afterwards

Conferencing - the PC was connected to a projector and 2 other laptops with web cameras were part of the Hangout allowing watchers to view the slides projected and to see the speaker and the whole panel as appropriate.  A staff member worked as “camera person”, moving the view from screen to person as appropriate, they also monitored questions asked by the virtual audience. The entire session was recorded so that people could access it afterwards


Outcomes

Language teaching - two members of the DEO team sat in on the class run by Alexandra Lamb, first impressions were that it felt very much like a face to face small group seminar.  The session went smoothly with the academic talking and putting up slides with details/questions on them and getting students to contribute/answer.  Although there appeared to be the potential for confusion with the person who was talking appearing in the main picture as they spoke, the students did not appear to be phased by this and it did help to provide a sense of who the group were.  

This was delivered by an experienced academic who had experience of running this kind of session before, the lesson had a plan and there was a sense that students were focused on learning.  This model would work well for those elements of a course traditionally delivered by seminar.

Open days - all staff (and the camera person) involved with the open day had a practice run supported by a member of the DEO team.  This was important as it provided an opportunity to check how the lighting worked, that everyone had sound, that everyone was happy with how they appeared on the camera and their names were in the boxes.  It also provided the camera person with practice on switching between people.  On the day the session ran smoothly with a number of students from across the world watching and a few asking some questions.  The video of the session was placed on the website for other students to watch afterward.

Conferencing - staff had a practice run supported by a member of the DEO team. Sound and Camera angles were checked and it provided the camera person with an opportunity to practice switching.  At the conference the process ran smoothly with both attendees in the room and those watching via the internet.  During questions the conference organiser read out questions for the panel from those attending via the internet.  After the conference had finished the video was made available on the website.

In conclusion - the use of hangouts or similar webinar software offer an option that is almost as good as meeting face to face and this works nicely when time distance or cost mean it is not practical to be there in person.

Issues and considerations

Practice and preparation, in all the examples above they had a practice run, this really helps as you don't want to run into technical issues when you are live.  If you will be delivering a seminar regularly with students it is worth having a 15 minute “Get to know you” session.

Kit - like the practice above make sure you have the required kit. A webcam and some form of headset or separate headphones and a microphone are essential.

Accounts - make sure everyone has an appropriate account and can log onto the system

References and useful links