Education On Air was another free, one-day, online event for educators held on May 2nd. Focusing on education technology, and presenting "educator voices center stage for all to hear" the event was conducted via Google+ Hangouts On Air. I attended live sessions to find out more about digital portfolios and Google apps in online courses, but the real draw for me was the opportunity to take part in my first Google Hangout. These synchronous, virtual spaces, allow multiple users to meet through the use of audio and video tools.
Education On Air included more than 40 individual presentations lead by professionals representing K-12 and higher education. Facilitators from Google introduced each session and helped manage the time and interaction. They also announced that these sessions were helpful in evaluating some of the advanced features of the system.
Logistics: In advance of the conference, interested participants did not have to register, but were asked to post a comment on the presenter's Google+ page indicating a desire to attend a session. While somewhat cumbersome to do for multiple presenters, this was a great way to explore Google+ and "meet" other educators via their profiles and posts.
Presenters sent out a limited number of invitations to join the Hangout just prior to the start of each session, but this was not required to participate. You could also watch the session streamed live from the presenter's Google+ page. The facilitators encouraged viewers to post their questions in the comments area of Google+, allowing the presenter to respond to them live and also capturing them with the presentation post. A conference hashtag (#eduonair) and unique session hashtags were also helpful to track information and conversations during the event.
Recorded Sessions: The recorded conference sessions will be posted soon on the Google in Education YouTube Channel. In the meantime, you can also check the presenters' websites and Google+ pages for links.
Continued Conversations: Follow those presenters whose sessions you view and keep the comments going on their Google+ pages and conference posts. You may even find an opportunity to conduct your own Hangout On Air and present a session with this technology.
Pros and Cons: Presenters were able to share their screens to show slides and demonstrate applications, and the platform was very responsive to a change of speaker, especially during question and answer sessions, featuring the current speaker on the "main" screen. There were a few glitches, however. For example, I had to reenter the Hangout multiple times after losing the connection, and several attendees had audio issues at the beginning of sessions, but some of this is to be expected with a new platform and users that were new to the system. It was a good experience overall – interactive and for the most part quick and easy to access.
"Check your hair and make sure your mic works!" This was the greeting I received upon entering the Hangout space and a reminder that both video and audio would be enabled as soon as I clicked "Hang out." It hadn't occurred to me to dress for a conference, and I don't think it mattered, but it's something I will think about in the future.
And in Today's News …
In a post published on Google's Official Blog earlier today, Hangouts On Air are now available to users "worldwide." What had been tested with a limited number of accounts over the past eight months, and with educators in a structured conference format last week, is now an option for you and me. For more information about availability, getting started, and important notes about copyright review Google's support pages.
As a video chat tool for groups of up to 10 people, Hangouts make it easy to see and hear the team you are meeting with, and to share your screen (e.g., show a PowerPoint presentation, demonstrate use of an application) with them as well. Recent integration with Google Docs now allows attendees to collaborate on documents while in a live Hangout. The latest updates and availability of Hangouts On Air include: being able to publicly broadcast a meeting from your Google+ stream, your YouTube channel, or your website; and having the ability to record your session and post it for viewing at a later time.
Potential for Online Learning
It was less than a year ago that Google+ was launched as a new social networking platform with a quick response from educators about how it might be used in the context of online learning. The Education On Air conference was just one example of how this kind of technology can be used to bring teachers and students together in a virtual environment with collaborative tools.
The options seem wide open: from more traditional class meetings and guest speaker presentations, to virtual office hours and student study groups. How might you use the capabilities of Google+ and Hangouts On Air in your online courses?