Perhaps you do not use Gmail as your default e-mail account or Google as your trusty search engine. Still, Google has a number of free tools that could be of great use to teachers, and today I want to talk about one of them, Google Hangouts, which you may find helpful for your teaching, especially when it comes to connecting with students and parents outside the classroom.
A Google Hangout basically allows up to 10 people with Google+ accounts to have a conference online with the option of using a chat box, audio, and video to communicate with one another. Having studied at the University of Southern California and using their online learning platform, I was expecting to be disappointed with the features of Google Hangout, but was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of features available and some free apps to download, too. In addition to the chatbox, audio, and video sharing, you can share documents, give presentations, share your screen, watch YouTube videos, and much more.
So, how does this help you? Let me tell you. Class time is limited. Regardless of how often you see your students, there is not enough time in class for students to master the English language and many students may not realize they have questions about something done in class until they get home and try completing an assignment. Using Google Hangouts can increase the amount of time you are available to your students. I am not suggesting that you spend hours online each night, but perhaps replace one or two office hours a week with a Google Hangout, or open up a Google Hangout in your after-school tutoring sessions so that more students can participate from home. This can help you reach a greater number of students by giving them the chance to connect with you without missing their bus home or, if in college, leaving their dorms. Additionally, Google Hangouts on Air allow you to record sessions and post them on YouTube for students to access later. Google Hangouts would also be a good tool when students are working on projects in groups as they could host their own sessions to collaborate with peers in real time.
This may not be an appropriate tool for all teachers or teaching contexts (e.g., teaching young learners), but in addition to helping older students, I think Google Hangouts would also be beneficial for adult students and parents of students who may not have time to meet with you in person during the workday. Your only real problem will be if your sessions are so popular that more than 10 people want to attend—but hopefully Google will increase the attendee cap in the future. If you have used Google Hangouts with students, let me know how it went by leaving a comment!