Thursday, April 19, 2012

Learning with Google+ Hangouts OnAir

Yesterday we hosted a Google+ Hangout OnAir to promote the Google Apps for Education California Summit in Santa Clara, July 12 & 13. Our special guests were Day 2 Keynote Speaker Dan Russell, Ph.D. , spotlight speaker Rushton Hurley, and committee members Jim Sill and Molly Schroeder. Each of them shared a brief bio, and then a tip or philosophy from the session(s) they'll be leading at the summit. It was a great Hangout, and I think, a great taste of what it will be like to be at the summit with all of these people - and hundreds more like them. We hope you'll join us.

But more importantly, this Hangout was also a great learning experience.

For those who need to be brought up to speed... Google+ is Google's new social network (coming up on a year old publicly). A Hangout is a feature of Google+ that lets up to 10 users video chat simultaneously. It also allows screensharing (and other add on "apps"), making it a powerful tool for learning. An OnAir Hangout is also broadcast for other viewers (who can leave text comments to interact with the Hangout participants) and recorded for future use. The OnAir feature is still only handed out to celebrities, public figures, and Google+ users with many followers. I received my access from the Google Apps EDU team.

In any case, this was my first true Hangout OnAir, not counting a few "tests" and a conference session I "streamed" at CUE last month. I tested this a few times before the real thing in the afternoon, and lesson one was the reminder that tests are good, but there's no substitute for real experience. Increasingly, I'm of the opinion that this is the best way to learn, though... by doing, playing, failing, and then reflecting and sharing your experience. :)

So, I usually do a Hangout on my Macbook (three years old, but recently refit with a solid state hard-drive making it ridiculous fast), but I've had even better reliability with the Chromebooks in my office. So, I tested it out by hosting the Hangout OnAir on a Chromebook... only to discover that I couldn't share my screen! I then joined the same Hangout from my Macbook and was able to share my screen. Initially I thought this was because the host couldn't share his screen, but for the real thing I ran it from two Chromebooks and discovered that you can't screenshare on a Chromebook (right now). I've since tested this... I can screenshare on my Mac regardless of whether or not I'm the host of an OnAir Hangout... and I can't screenshare on my Chromebook no matter what. I read online that this feature was missing on Chromebooks last summer when Hangouts launched, but that by November it was working well on Chromebooks. I suspect the recent UI update to Google+ has sidelined this feature on Chromebooks once again. Hopefully it will be back soon. In any case, I still used my Mac to make my screensharing presentation during the Hangout (I was logged into the Hangout from two machines at a time during the whole event... first two Chromebooks, and later a Chromebook and a Mac.)

Unfortunately, we also had other issues - and not just the usual "my mic isn't working, let me rejoin" type issues. Soon after the session started and I handed it off to other speakers, the tab hosting the Hangout on the first Chromebook froze. No big deal. The Hangout persists... but I lost the ability to force focus onto a particular speaker (usually Hangouts do their best to feature whoever is speaking at the time... and having others mute their mics really helps cut down on chair shuffling noises shifting the focus of the video... this is an old school video conferencing problem... but OnAir Hangouts allow the host to click on a particular speaker to force focus onto them). What happened in this case, though, is that the focus got stuck on me, even while Dan and Molly were speaking. Then part way through Molly's talk it jumped to Jim, and I'm not sure why. The focus remained on Jim throughout the rest of the Hangout! If memory serves, the focus was shifting well during some of the live event (for me at least), so I'm not sure why the recording turned out this way. In any case, this is why it's a blog post about learning now, and not something we're promoting more for it's own sake. :)

Happily, learning by trial and error (and "lead learning") was something of a theme of the discussion during the hangout. John Hall, a potential attendee at the summit, joined us and let us know he was just learning about Google+ Hangouts, and I assured him that so were we. (I even mistakenly said I'd just learned that you can't screenshare as an OnAir host.) Jim had to pull the "cooking show" maneuver to show off a finished product of a demo he tried live but didn't come together in time (he was sharing Google Calendar . And even Dan tried to show me a trick in Google Books, which wound up not working... but it led us to discover another that did.

Incidentally, I also just learned that YouTube's increasingly awesome online video editor is limited to only 15 minute clips, so I couldn't annotate this video, by say, adding this link directly in the video:

Also, JUST NOW I tried to launch another Hangout OnAir (to test something) and wasn't able to until verifying my YouTube account (via SMS). My account is now able to upload clips longer than 15 minutes. Apparently I was able to do that yesterday via Hangouts OnAir, but it appears I can now do that even through YouTube's upload interface. Cool.

I hope this post might be helpful to some of you... and I hope many of you might consider joining us at the summit in Santa Rosa this July 12th and 13th.

And if you're in the Rocky Mountain region, you might consider joining us for a similar event only minutes from the Google Office in Boulder Colorado on August 2nd and 3rd:

We've also got summits planned for 2012-2013 in Mexico City, New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, the UK, and elsewhere around the US and the world. Each of these includes speakers and support from Google - and the potential for touring local Google Offices. Be sure to subscribe to this blog for announcements and updates, or follow us on Google+ and Twitter.

More soon...


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