Google Hangouts on Air is a useful tool for teaching today and it will be different and improved tomorrow.
Google Hangouts on Air (HoA) is a free service within YouTube. It allows one to hold a live teleconference with up to ten people. During the teleconference, an unlimited number of people can watch the live stream and it is recorded. When the teleconference ends, the video is automatically archived on YouTube. (See this presentation for some examples and instructions on how to create an HoA).
I've experimented with HoA for teaching three times. The first time, my class met online when I was out of town in 2013. It was a complete failure -- the Internet speed and student hardware were not up to the task.
The second time, the results were good, but we made and learned from some mistakes:
The third time -- a couple weeks ago -- we avoided most of those mistakes (and made a couple new ones). I am ready to use HoA more frequently, even when I am not out of town.
I polled the students the week after our last HoA session. Eight students were in the live hangout, 2 watched the live stream, but were not in the live hangout, 8 others only watched the archived video later and two did not participate. (A couple were also absent the night I did the poll). Here are the results:
This is a small, anecdotal sample but it is consistent with the assessment of the students last year. We also talked about the experience in class the following week and the students confirmed that they were batter able to focus in the hangout than in the classroom and were more relaxed and willing to participate. (Most also saved travel time by participating from home). The students who were in the live hangout had a generally better experience than those who only watched the video.
We are entering an era of live-streaming on the Internet -- Twitter is streaming football games and a number of Web sites streamed the presidential debate. Google, Facebook and others are offering streaming services and, like all other media (including textbooks), live streaming will evolve and improve. Google HoA is a useful tool for teaching today and it will be different and improved tomorrow.