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ENVX Office Hours – Going on Air with Google Hangouts

Like many of the DartmouthX courses, ENVX has experimented with many new and innovative tools for learning.  As ENVX has wrapped up, the EdTech Connection sat down with Mike and Andy to learn about their virtual office hours.

ETC: Why did you want to do office hours in the course?  Where did the idea come from?

MG/AF: Each week of the course we filmed a “just in time” transition video to the week. This included highlights from the discussion forums, book recommendations, and thematic connections between the two weeks. Since much of the course was produced months in advance, this weekly address became a way to interact with students in almost real-time.

In offering Dartmouth’s first MOOC we were always looking at other MOOCs and how they engaged with students. We noticed several other courses, including ColumbiaX’s Civil War course offered a “live office hour” on Google Hangouts on Air. In a course that is primarily asynchronous, which has real benefits for learners in time zones across the globe, we wanted to try this synchronous learning experience where students could ask questions or make comments in what is a staple of Dartmouth residential courses, conversations with their professors during office hours.

ETC: Can you explain for our readers what Google Hangouts on Air does?

MG: Google Hangouts on Air provides a live stream video (with a few seconds delay) on Google Hangouts (GooglePlus) and YouTube. The session is also recorded for later viewing on YouTube.

ETC: What were the requisite planning and technology tools you needed in place?


MG: We used several laptops, a webcam, video lights, and external microphone. There are a number of steps to offer a successful Hangout in a MOOC:

  1. Set the date and let learners know in advance about how they can join.

  2. Provide a forum to ask questions in advance. It is much easier to select, order, and research questions and answers the live session.

  3. Choose your setting - somewhere quiet and with decent lighting.

  4. Test your Hangout the day before.

  5. Ask a friend or colleague to help produce the Hangout and watch the various comment streams.

ETC: What excited you most about doing this office hours event?

MG/AF: It was interesting to try a live event during the course. Learners asked many questions and provided feedback during the session. This was a time that learners were able to ask questions that related to the course, but were slightly beyond the course content. Several learners asked about seeking or advancing careers in environmental science. One learner in Kenya expressed, “I want to say thank you to the whole course team from us in the developing world. How can we popularize this, especially in Africa? Am ever so grateful.”


ETC: What would you change about the office hours if you could go back?

MG: I would consider using a better microphone (Blue Yeti), use software to switch between video feeds (questions on the screen, Twitter feed, and live camera) rather than have Google Hangouts OnAir switch the sources. There was a lag in each switch. I would add one laptop or external screen as a monitor to be able to read the questions while on camera. I would also consider scheduling out Hangouts for the entire course in advance. This would allow learners to schedule these in if they wished to participate.

If you are interested in learning more, check out the recording below!

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