I’m not particularly fond of the name “Hangouts” – it suggests that Google designed this feature of Google + for anything and everything but education, which, undoubtedly, was the case anyway.
It seems almost seedy to ask students to schedule a “Hangout” with you. Semantics matter, and saying “Skype me” simply sounds better intentioned.
However, after a few Google + “Hangouts” with students to help them prepare for assessments, I’m pretty sold on it as a platform for synchronous, computer-mediated communication in support of teaching and learning objectives. It is free and allows for multiple participants as well as screen sharing.
If you want to have a series of guiding questions on the screen during the session, then simply turn on screen sharing and your video camera cuts out. Your audio feed remains on – so you can still engage with participants – and you can watch what your students are doing during the session (taking notes, hopefully).
Many schools have gone with Gmail for internal communication along with Google Apps for Education. Particularly for these schools, enabling Google + for “Hangouts” provides an opportunity to support groups of students outside of the classroom setting.
As the saying goes, our students don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. Those after-hours, more informal yet still structured “Hangouts” can be just the thing to demonstrate how invested we are as teachers in the success of our students and in improving learning outcomes.