Last week while I was at our state science and math conference down in Las Vegas, I used Google Hangout and Todaysmeet to participate in a discussion about our book “Making Connections With Blogging” with a group of teachers in San Diego. Adina Sullivan led the video-conference and Lisa Parisi, my co-author, joined in from New York. This is where the fun began.
Understand that Lisa, Adina and I are all veterans of video-conferencing and sharing in various ways over the net. I had informed Adina that I was having some issues getting online over the wireless connection I was using, and my computer was acting up as well. So as a back-up I planned to use my iPad that has an optional connection over cellular. I explained that if there were any issues to just be patient and I would probably eventually get there. Adina was un-deterred.
I got into my Google + account and it wouldn’t let me get into the Hangout until the exact time came. Note that when connecting over the net I find it is usually a good idea to get in early so there is time to deal with any issues that come up. I was reminded why this is good policy. I noted that there was a chat feature going on and that both Lisa and Adina had left comments … Lisa’s noted not being able to get in early … Adina’s noted some way she was going to have to moderate on her end and included a link to the Todaysmeet chat.
Finally a link to the Hangout appeared and I clicked to join … I was pleased because I was doubtful my laptop was going to cooperate … but it turned out I had doubts for good reason. After a few seconds a white screen appeared where the Hangout should have been and I could tell by the way it looked that it was done doing whatever it does to connect and it wasn’t changing from a white screen. No problem … I’ll just go to “Plan B”. I closed my laptop and started to log on using my iPad. I have only been in a Google Hangout one other time and things looked different on my iPad, so finding just where to go to click on something to join the group was alluding me.
I finally managed to get into the Hangout, but when the images and sounds began I could tell things were not going exactly smoothly. Lisa was apparently walking around her classroom with her laptop dangling and I could hear her commenting faintly … and Adina was there in another box wearing headphones. Once she noticed I was there she welcomed me and about that time Lisa landed and steadied her laptop and we got started … sort of. Adina explained that the teachers in her class were in another room watching on a screen on a computer with no camera … they would just listen and watch the Todaysmeet feed and ask questions that way as well. Adina was in another room to moderate.
Once we started however the other teachers reported that they could not hear me … Lisa and Adina could be heard fine … just not me. Adina is obviously one of those people that can type about 200 words per minute because what she did was transcribe everything I said into the Todaysmeet chat so the teachers in the other room could read it. We went on for over an hour that way. Lisa and I took turns answering questions and sharing our experiences using blogs and more … and it worked.
I’ve had other somewhat similar experiences in my classroom over the years connecting my students. The school’s network dying during a video-conference and me switching to a cell card I had to re-connect and finish the discussion … using a phone to include someone in a Skype call because whenever they joined in over Skype the 5 way conference would crash. And there are others.
I think when these issues arise it is valuable to share them with students. What is wrong … what you are trying … what you are thinking could be causing the problem … and usually stating that you are not really sure what is wrong. I think it is important that students see that when it eventually does or doesn’t work, you didn’t exactly know what to do … you thought and tried things. And also when things get going again … sometimes you aren’t sure what you did (or someone else did) that made it work. Be transparent. Otherwise I think we risk students getting the message that we knew what to do and why to do it, and the steps to follow, and there was an obvious answer and we leave them thinking they just don’t get that and aren’t smart enough or whatever. Not what we want them believing. This stuff can be messy at times … it’s OK, even valuable for our students to learn that.
Learning is messy!