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Google+ Hangouts; Connecting and collaborating with NZ students

Last year I was inspired by +Sonya Van Schaijik to organise a TeachmeetNZ event with other physical education teachers in NZ, and managed to connect with +Libby Schumacher-Knight +Aaron Mead and +Julia breen through a Google+ hangout.  The idea was to share some ideas around how we were going to integrate e-learning into our PE teaching the following year, it was a great learning experience and we managed to stream the event live at the Physical Education NZ conference in Auckland, which made it even more worthwhile!  During the 'hangout' we presented our ideas, one of my ideas was to use Google+ communities to allow students to connect and support each other on a platform they were familiar with, as well as using it as a tool to teach digital citizenship and digital literacies - I wrote briefly about the outline of the community on a previous blog post.

Part of Google+ is the' hangout' function, this is a video conferencing/messaging tool like Skype and FaceTime, but it allows up to 15 multiple participants, as well as other apps and plugins to enhance the collaborative aspect (although with one hangout we did as a class the drawing tool was slightly misused
as you may imagine with teenage boys, I won't write in any further detail about that one - the 'noblty' wore off though!)

Our level 2 class are looking into physical activity and participation in NZ so we thought it would be a good idea to contact some other schools to see if we could ask them some questions about how they perceive physical activity and what it looks like in their schools.  The underlying objective of the assignment was to recommend changes or modifications to our existing junior PE programme based on this evidence.  I put the call out on twitter and benevolently +Libby Schumacher-Knight from Wellington Girls College and +G Thurlow (Greg) from Papatoetoe High School responded and we arranged for our classes to hangout.

Although we couldn't arrange a time where we could all meet together due to timetable constraints we managed to schedule two separate hangouts, after the awkwardness of pauses and lag the boys managed to ask the questions they needed answers to, the chat was lively and everyone was smiling!  It was a really worthwhile opportunity to enable a more authentic experience by actually asking other young people about physical activity - it pushed the boys out of their comfort zone and away from me 'spoon-feeding' them the answers/concepts.

Through hangouts you have the ability to extend the learning outside the classroom, to be able to speak to students from other classes, in differing environments was invaluable in the data collection for my students, it also allowed them to remember that there are other people outside their circle of friends who are in similar situations to them.

Although this wasn't a completely organic experience, and was organised and moderated mainly by the teacher, it is a step in the right direction - it would be amazing in the future if the students organised this type of collaboration without input from the teacher.  If a group of students had the initiative to organise and set up their own networked learning community to support learning in NCEA I could see potential for improvements in the overall level of achievement across the country - maybe something for next year....!

A really good guide for hangouts is available here.

My tips for organising an inter-school hangout would be;
  • Make sure all participants have headphones (or there will be echo/feedback)
  • Have a 'dry run/test' session with your class so they can get used to the apps/chat functions (everyone will love wearing the pirate hat and moustache!)
  • Perhaps use separate rooms/locations in a school to reduce echo/feedback
  • Use the 'mute mic' option if there is feedback
  • Have clear boundaries about how to conduct yourselves online
  • Use the 'hangout on air' function so you can 're-wind the learning'
Another big thanks to Libby and Greg for being so flexible and accommodating in making this work, looking forward to connecting with more classes in the future!


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