Using Google+, hangouts for online learning, Blended Learning Coffee Club update

We were delighted that Allan Thompson ( Lecturer, Podiatry)  was able to lead this month’s Blended Learning Coffee Club meeting.

Allan has been using Google hangouts, and a google community with his _ students. This module is delivered fully online and Allan was looking for a simple and effective way to create more meaningful engagement with his (UK and international) students on a couple of modules he teaches on for the MSc Theory of Podiatric Surgery.  After exploring a few options, including Skype, Allan decided to try using Google hangouts to run some online seminars. As Allan is working with small group sizes (under 10) Google hangouts limit of 10 video links works well.

Allan set up a Google+ community and invited students to join it. Resources, and information are shared there as well as on the module area with GCULearn.  Once sessions end the recording is immediately available on YouTube (remember to set the status to unlisted) so again it can easily be embedded in the module area in GCU Learn. Allan noted that he felt more comfortable using a Google community than a Facebook group for learning and teaching activities. Perhaps less fuzzy edges than in Facebook? Students do have to set up google accounts to access the community, but so far his students haven’t had a problem with this. It was also great to hear (and see) an example of our new educational resources repository edShare being used to share diagnostic images.

As well as giving us a demo, Allan made this video outlining how he sets up and uses hangouts.

There was a lively discussion after the demo around the pros and cons of a number of web conferencing options from VSee, to Adobe Connect which we do have a number of institutional licences for. Having successful webinars is does involve a bit of a learning curve for staff and students a like and there are a number of practical issues that always have to remembered. Does everyone have a mic/webcam? Do students have the bandwith to connect – at home and/or at work?  Over the next couple of months we will be rolling out the new Blackboard Collaborate Ultra conferencing system which will integrate with GCULearn. However we would still encourage people to investigate and use any technology that they think fits their needs.  The only caveat is that if anything happens to an externally hosted service then it is up to them to fix it.

There are a plethora of free (at point of use) services out there. In fact only this week there has been a lively discussion on the ALT mailing list about a number of options including Appear.In which is an instant web video chat option for up to 8 people (more here in a short video from ALT’s Martin Hawkesy).   Like everything decisions need to be based on your context – what you are wanting to achieve and how many students you are working with.

If you are interested in finding out more about Google Hangouts, Allan has kindly offered to share his experiences, so just drop him an email.

If you are using any other kind of webconferencing tools then please share your experiences in the comments.


Next Blended Learning Coffee Club

Our next Coffee Club will be on Thursday, 25th February at 12.45 in H116.
This month Allan Thomson, Lecturer in Podiatry, will be sharing how he has developed and refined use of Google hangouts for web conferencing with his students.
As ever if you, let us know you are coming along we will buy you a coffee. Just email  Sheila MacNeill (
Looking forward to seeing many of you next week.
coffee club graphic

Guest Post: Personality and Teaching with Digital Technologies

This guest post is by Louise Drumm, a doctoral researcher based in CRLL and GCULEAD. Her PhD is on the role of theory in university teaching with digital technologies. Previously she has worked as a learning technologist and lecturer.

During the course of my doctoral research I’ve had the pleasure of talking to 25 lecturers in two institutions about their teaching. When I crunch the numbers they had over 438 years’ experience teaching in higher education between them. That’s a lot of ‘on the job’ knowledge which I’m trying to tap into. What struck me about how they described their decisions about their teaching, particularly in relation to technology, is that they often followed a hunch, an instinct of what would work. This implicit knowledge, while tricky for me to identify formally, is obvious when you consider the subtleties of interactions between lecturer and student as a means, not just for the learner to learn, but for the lecturer to get feedback on their teaching. I was struck by the number of interviewees who valued the lecture as one of the best means of gauging understanding of their students: they can get a feel of the room and what is happening, even when students don’t speak.

So what about when they are not in the room with students, what role does the personality of the lecturer play when using digital technologies? Yes, we can all remember the charismatic lecturer who would pack out the lecture hall every week, but when technology is involved, does that need evaporate? From what I can see, I think not. For a start, the decision whether to use technology is usually quite a personal one, driven by need or curiosity. Often it takes an individual outside their comfort zone and challenges their own image of themselves e.g. there were a number interviews where someone declared themselves a ‘Luddite’ and then proceeded to show me creative ways in which they were using technology in their teaching. Secondly, the use of technology does not remove the personal, in some ways it is an embodiment of their personality and what they perceive as important in their teaching e.g. the importance of group work with wikis, or colourful data visualisation. Finally, what keeps the use of technology working is the unfailing tweaking, updating and monitoring done by lecturers every single day. In this they are passionate, dedicated, if a bit exhausted. Not one lecturer said to me: “It runs itself”. However, all of them saw benefits to student learning in their use of technology, and this is what drives them in their continued use it. That’s why personality is important. These modules will never run themselves. The experience and interest of lecturers is central to the success of any integration of digital technologies into teaching and learning.

The personality of a lecturer is important across all modes of teaching, it just manifests differently with technology and perhaps allows for different expressions of ‘charisma’. Discussions around digital technologies often spiral into breathless excitement about their potential for innovation in education, but it is passion and experience of their teaching staff which drives their everyday use.


(Image:Zane on CC by SA)