Today I taught my first class via Google Hangouts and thought I’d share what I learned.
This is a workshop that I teach on reading aloud and I’ve done it often enough that I felt like it was a good test case for the hangouts since I know what “normal” is for it.
Registration — To begin, I posted that I would be hosting the workshop on [x] date at [x] time in [x] timezone. To register, I just asked people to post in the comments and I would take the first nine people. G+ hangouts can only handle ten people, so you can only have nine students. Go ahead and let people do a waiting list in case someone needs to drop out before the class.
Confirm registration — Post in the comments a tagged list to confirm is going to be in the class. I didn’t do this and should have.
Allow extra time — If the class is scheduled to start at 5pm, open it fifteen minutes early because it will take at least that long for everyone to get in.
Highlight the teacher — Since Google plus automatically flips to the person speaking, the first thing I explained to the students was how to click on one of the miniature pictures to keep that person focused in the large window. To release focus from the, you click them again.
People get dropped — Internet connections are wonky and folks will be kicked out. Don’t let that throw you. If you can do a brief recap, that’s great but don’t worry about pausing until they get back. They may have had a power failure for all you know. DO keep an eye on the comments for the hangout to see if they are having trouble. Along those lines, tell the students that if you get dropped to invite you back to the lesson, otherwise you might have trouble getting back in.
Raise your hand — Just like in the real world, raising your hand works to get the teachers attention BUT what works even better is to move your hand toward the camera so it is larger.
In the real world, putting your hand in the air makes you stand out from a sea of heads. With little tiny pictures, moving your hand closer to the camera changes your image enough that it makes it easier to spot who has their hand “up.” The trick is to not cover your face.
Question and Answers — When you go to Q & A time, tell everyone to unhighlight the teacher so that the person asking the question automatically flips into focus. It is also a good idea to call on the person by name so that people don’t accidentally talk over each other.
Making eye contact — One of the things I found awkward was that to give my students eye contact, I had to look into the camera, which meant that I was only seeing their tiny little images at the bottom of my screen. I’ll admit that this felt distancing and I constantly had to remind myself that there were people listening.
One of my students pointed out that if you shrink the G+ window vertically it reduces the main video window but keeps the others the same size. I was able to reduce it so that all the students were lined up in a row at the top of my screen, which felt more natural. Then when we went to Q&A I maximized the window so whoever was speaking was large. (I’ve turned in feedback that I’d like to be able to select if the little windows appear above or below the main video window)
Unison doesn’t work — There is a lag. There’s a very noticeable lag if you try to do any exercises together. It’s not so bad if it is video, but if you are doing a voice exercise it becomes cacophony. I handled it by telling my students to mute their speakers while doing the exercise so they weren’t driven insane. At the end, I asked them to unmute and raise their hand so I knew who was ready to go on.
Keep it short — We went about an hour. I think an hour and a half is about as long as you could go without needing to take a break. Part of that is how long people can focus in general. Part of that is that the video is distancing. If you want to do longer lessons, plan to break them up and let people move around in the real world.
The feedback from my students was that the one on one interaction was more engaging than watching the same material on a YouTube video. It encouraged them to actually try the exercises and created more accountability.
Next up? I’m taking a G+ class in Shiva dance this weekend and later am going to try teaching a master class in vocal work to play more with the interactive nature of the Google+ hangouts.
How about you? If you have tips on teaching via hangout, I’d love to hear about it.