Digital Literacy Google Hangout on Air

In mid-November, thanks to my colleague Renee Hobbs, I had the rare opportunity to speak on a panel for the first digital literacy hangout by the American Library Association’s Washington Office. This was my first experience using Google+ Hangouts on Air, and that too with a bunch of librarians I had never met – from across the country. In preparation, I wrote a blog post for ALA Wash about the value of taking risks and time to play.

Since then, I’ve used Google Hangouts more and more. I presented remotely to a graduate instructional technology class at Stockton College. Over Thanksgiving, our family used hangouts to chat with relatives in California, India and Japan. We had no troubles bringing PC and Mac desktops, laptops, iPads and iPhones into the same hangout space – and no echo even from people sharing the same couch. If you have not tried a hangout yet, it’s well worth a little play time.

We would be happy to hangout with you. Nick Salvatore from our lab helped Mélanie Péron explore hangouts in October, and since then, she has used hangouts successfully to connect her French students with native speakers.

The prep for my ALA event was great fun. We had several practice hangouts where we learned how to mute our mics, add mustaches and other Google Effects, and make ourselves look important with “lower-third” titles. We practiced using the internal chat feature to clue in our fellow presenters with ideas and links.

The hangout itself gives you an odd illusion of privacy. Psychologically, I think you can quickly convince yourself that only the people you see can see you. Combined with the “on air” option, this can be risky! When your hangout goes “on air” your “private” conversation is now automatically streamed on YouTube. When you go “on air”, a small red indicator is the only hint that you are live. Just before the ALA hangout, we found our casual chitchat going live while some of us were unaware. Good thing that Youtube allows for quick post-production video clipping!

I found Hangouts on Air a powerful way to create a webinar – just get the speakers on a hangout, put it on air, and embed the youtube video on your website. I think, however, that this tension between a “private hangout” and an “on air webinar” will be here for some time to come.

Google Hangouts automatically takes the loudest speaker and makes their video large and central. This made conversation easy but complicated the process of facilitation and switching speakers. Even a cough or sneeze could disrupt the stage. However, perpetually muting oneself when not officially talking did not seem so comfortable either. I was grateful that we had discussed ahead of time how we would hand control around among the speakers. Under Renee’s expert facilitation, we found our small group quickly switching roles, keeping to a fast pace, and building on each other’s comments. I’m looking forward to my next adventure with Hangouts On Air.

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