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Holding Virtual Office Hours via Google+ Hangouts
A short video describing this teaching strategy can be seen here.
Joe Bull, Biomedical Engineering, teaches an “oldschool, chalk and blackboard” lecture course, introducing biomechanics to 95 sophomores. The course emphasizes quantitative problem-solving techniques to help students learn to think like biomedical engineers. Many students use office hours as a critical support mechanism. During a term with demanding travel obligations, Bull did not want to decrease his accessibility to students or the quality of student-instructor interactions. Thus, on several occasions, he used Google+ Hangouts to hold virtual office hours from another continent.
First, Bull added his students to a Google+ “circle,” a private group within this social networking application. Circle members can share documents and create and join hangouts of up to ten participants. A Hangout enables video and audio web conferencing, as well as text-based chat, and it also allows participants to share screens and files. Consequently, Bull could create a Hangout and hold office hours at the usual times with any students who wished to join online.
As in his traditional office hours, Bull displayed and discussed a copy of the current assignment, answered questions, provided supplemental explanations and resources, and mentored students on problem-solving strategies. The screen-sharing functions were particularly well suited to troubleshooting segments of computer code from students’ assignments. Similarly, students could share and discuss documents containing their attempts to solve quantitative problems.
Bull also used a drawing application on his iPad to model problem-solving techniques during Hangouts. After handwriting solutions on his iPad, he would e-mail them to himself and then share the .pdf file with students in the Hangout, so that he could illustrate his explanations. Thus, Google+ Hangouts provided an effective means to increase accessibility to students without significantly increasing instructor workload or sacrificing the quality of small group or individual instruction.
Links to a Google+ Hangout can also be embedded in the events in one’s Google Calendar.