My First Google Hangout English Tutoring Session

So… it’s week 2 of my summer vacation, and I already miss teaching.

Thankfully, it’s 2017 and I don’t need a school to get my teaching fix. I can just teach online from home!

Online teaching has become a very popular option for teachers who are looking to reach more students outside of a classroom. And programs such as Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts have never made it easier to connect with people anywhere.

One problem though… despite its popularity, I have never done any English teaching online.

Today, I braved into this new world. Two of my former students and I took the leap online by doing a 30-minute class together on Google Hangouts.

This post is about my experience.

***SPOILER ALERT- IT WAS A DISASTER!***

A Little Background…

When I had the idea of trying out online teaching, I emailed 22 of my former students asking if any of them would like to join the free 30-minute lesson. I created a Google Form to collect names and email addresses of students interested. Two students filled out the form (9% response rate), which I suppose is not too bad for summer vacation.

I decided to use Google Hangouts over Skype or Zoom for a few reasons:

  1. Students already used Google Classroom all semester with me so we wouldn’t have to mess with new usernames and passwords.
  2. I wasn’t really keen on giving students my personal Skype address.
  3. While Zoom looked like the best option of the three for features, the free version would cut me off at 40 minutes. While the lesson would only last 30 minutes, I didn’t want to take any chances.

Preparing A Google Hangout Classroom

Before anything else, I needed to make sure students knew where to go, which would require a link sent in advance to go to our Google Hangout classroom.

This was not difficult to do, but it wasn’t the most intuitive. In order to get a pre-Hangouts link, you need to create an event in Google Calendar, not in Hangouts itself.

As seen in the picture above, you can add a video call to a Google Calendar event.

After the event has been created, you will see (shown above) that there is a link to “Join video call.” To send this to your students, you have two options:

  1. Use the “Guests” feature on the right side. Simply input their email address and select to notify them.
  2. If you want to send a more personal message (like I chose to), right-click the “Join video call” link and copy the link address to be pasted into your email.

Planning the Lesson with Google Hangouts

Now that I had a classroom set up and instructions sent to my students, it was time for me to figure out exactly what I would do in 30 minutes and how to use Google Hangouts. I decided I would do a reading lesson on a text I found from Newsela.com. What’s nice about Newsela is that they have interesting articles at many reading levels. Check it out if you’ve never used it before.

Google Hangouts has three features I could utilize in the lesson:

  1. Video/Audio Chat
  2. Text Chat
  3. Screenshare

With these features, I decided I would use Video/Audio Chat for general discussion, Text Chat to give them a chance to write an answer before discussion, and Screenshare to show my PowerPoint slides and annotation of our reading text.

For the lesson plan, I decided on a simple and standard format, and combined them with the features available:

  1. Warm Up- How’s summer vacation?
    Prompt: Screenshare
    Intital Answer: Text Chat
    Elaboration: Video/Audio Chat
  2. Vocabulary- 4 critical words for comprehension of the text
    Present Word: Screenshare/Audio
    Check Comprehension: Video/Audio Chat
  3. Reading- Focusing on identifying Nonfiction Signposts (see Beers and Probst, 2016)
    Read: Video/Audio
    Identify Signposts: Text Chat
    Annotate: Screenshare/Audio 
  4. Exit Ticket- What did you learn? How was your online class experience?
    Text Chat- Send a link to a Google Form

With a general plan, I went over the text to find vocabulary and areas of discussion, prepared my Powerpoint, and created my exit ticket in Google Forms.

I was set up for success…or so I thought…

Lessons Learned From My Disastrous First Online Class

Problem 1: Using a PowerPoint presentation with Google Hangouts

I had a lot of trouble before the lesson figuring out how I would transition smoothly between my slides (which I admittedly did in Keynote, not PowerPoint) and Google Hangouts. My big issue was I wanted to screenshare the presentation while simultaneously being able to monitor the text chat.

Unfortunately, you can’t do this because the slideshow goes to full screen, making it impossible to see the text chat. While I could have just not gone into slide show mode, I felt it looked sloppy.

Lesson Learned: Export the presentation to PDF. 

By making my presentation into a PDF, I could screenshare just the PDF application window on half of my screen and watch Google Hangouts on the other half.

Problem 2: Using Technology

I spent quite a bit of time preparing myself to use Google Hangouts. Unfortunately, I am only 1/2 of the equation. I forgot that my students would also have to be able to use it properly.

At the beginning of the lesson, everyone seemed to be able to join our Google Hangout without any problem. Although, it should be noted I sent one final reminder through Google Hangouts to their email address 5 minutes before the lesson. I’m not sure which they used to join.

We didn’t begin to have trouble until we tried to use text chat. It took one student about a minute to find the text chat and start the warm up, but the other student just could not find it. I explained. Her classmate explained. No luck.

I explained. Her classmate explained. No luck.

After a while, I asked the student whether she was using Windows or Mac and the student revealed that she was not on a computer, but on a phone with the Hangouts app. I quickly downloaded the app to try to help her, but I couldn’t figure it out and we decided to not use Text Chat the remainder of the lesson. (So sad!)

Lesson Learned: Make sure students use a computer, not a mobile device.

Problem 3: Connection Issues

Next, the student on the mobile phone was having a lot of connection issues. I don’t know if this would have been solved by using a computer or not. I would imagine the same problem could have occurred.

There is no lesson learned here. Just realize that this is a real issue you will have to deal with.

Problem 4: Distractions

This is a super odd problem I had not expected…

The student on the computer had her pet bird flying around for much of the lesson. This distraction got her out of her chair regularly chasing the bird and caused her to not pay attention to much of the lesson.

Lesson Learned: Set rules and standard for online class upfront such as a quiet room. For young learners, you will need to get the parents on board to help. Perhaps a “learner contract”?

Problem 5: Text Clarity

In my defense, I emailed the article to the students days in advance. However, where I went wrong is I did not think to tell them to print it out or have it ready on a device where they could read from it.

Using Screencast was great for PPT where there are only a few big words and pictures. It was terrible for trying to read the text. The students really struggled to see the words in the article.

In the end, I zoomed in quite a bit, but you could only see about half the sentence, and I continually had to scroll left to right and back for the students. Not effective at all.

Lesson Learned: Make sure students print out the article or have it in another window on their computer so they can read properly.

Conclusion

With all of these technology issues, we achieved just about nothing in our 30-minute lesson. Part of me wonders if doing activities in an online class requires more time than it would face-to-face. However, I’m tentative to make that statement because most of the time spent was trying to put out fires, and not much reading instruction occurred. Perhaps it was simply because this class just didn’t go smoothly.

Regardless, by the end of the ordeal, I felt pretty discouraged. While I left questioning the whole experience, one student who filled out the exit ticket was a bit more positive sharing that she’d be willing to do it again. In terms of learning, she shared:

I learned some vocabulary words today,and I learned how to use Hangouts in today’s class.

I guess learning Hangouts in and of itself was a lesson worth learning- for all of us.

Are you ready to take your teaching online or did my post scare you out of it? Let me know in the comments.

Resources

Beers, G. K., & Probst, R. E. (2016). Reading nonfiction: notice & note stances, signposts, and strategies. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

2 thoughts on “My First Google Hangout English Tutoring Session”

    1. The question of online learning being as personal and motivating as a classroom setting is one that we as a society are going to have to grapple with. Whether we like it or not, online learning is not going away, and virtual reality learning is just over the horizon.

      Judging from the way the question was posed, I will assume we are generally of the same thought on this issue, and our tendencies lean toward a more traditional mindset, one which is skeptical of online learning.

      On the first point about it being personal, I personally think this is a big issue. I felt a bit disconnected from my students throughout the lesson, but I am not sure how the students felt. However, it should be noted this lesson may not be suitable to answer this question on the personal nature of online learning as the students and I have all developed relationships face-to-face prior to this meeting. One student commented, “I like not to go to school, but I can still learning English with my teacher and classmate,” leading me to think she perhaps did not feel the personal aspect was an issue, but that assertion is admittedly a bit of a stretch.

      As for motivation, I think there is less of an argument. I think online learning has the potential to create a much more learner-centered experience if done right (but that’s a big IF). Although my lesson didn’t go as planned, I was hoping the text box could be used to motivate by giving every student an opportunity to answer every time rather than sit passively. This is obviously a bit more difficult in a classroom setting because time really only allows for calling on one or two raised hands. New technology such as Plickers and Socrative are making this easier, but not everyone has the access or knowledge to implement them. In general, I think motivation is largely in control of the teacher and how the lesson is planned, not controlled by the classroom setting, whether face-to-face or online.

      To sum up, I worry about the issues of online learning being personal and motivating for students as I believe you do. That being said, those who teach online regularly and write about it, such as Jamie Miller, suggest that neither one is a problem after getting used to the online setting. In the end, I think I personally would need much more online teaching practice to answer this question. Who knows…maybe I’ll try a few more online lessons to explore this issue further. If I do, I’m sure there will be a follow-up blog post.

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