Why Google Hangouts is a Useful Tool in the Distance Education World

Teacher Blogger  |  By Melissa MacDonald

Figure 1. Google Hangouts Icon
Figure 1. Google Hangouts Icon

As a distance education teacher, are you always looking for a faster, more efficient way to communicate with your students? Often, as distance education teachers, we communicate with our students via phone and email. However, communication strictly via phone or email can cause a delay in response times for students, which can cause student frustration, incorrectly completed assignments, and/or decreased motivation due to a delayed response time.

So….what is Google Hangouts and how can it be used with students in distance education?

Google Hangouts is an instant messaging and video chatting program that appears on the left of a Gmail account. With Google Hangouts, anyone who is added to your contact list can contact you via instant message and/or video chat. You can also have group instant messaging and group video messaging. These options are great for students doing group projects, or for a teacher explaining the same idea to multiple students. When video chatting, you also have the option to share your screen so that if a student is not sure how to submit an assignment on Moodle, you can share your screen so that they can see what you are seeing and you can walk them through how to submit an assignment. This digital platform seems to have an endless amount of educational uses. According to Alice Chen (2015) a teacher and tech coach, some additional uses for Google Hangouts include assisting in forming a virtual book club; supporting collaborative project work; enabling one to invite guest speakers; and facilitating virtual field trips. As you can see, there are many options available to students and teachers when using Google Hangouts.

Personally, as a distance education teacher, I want to make myself available to my students and parents in as many simplified and efficient ways as possible. Often, my students and parents will email or call me on the phone as they view this to be the fastest and most efficient method of communication. Which, sometimes, it can be. However, Google has created a plethora of unique platforms that are great for both students and teachers. Google Hangoutscan solve many communication problems, quickly. As a distance education teacher, I want my students to be able to reach out to me for help whenever they need it and I want to be able to provide help for them as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Google Hangouts allows me to effectively communicate with my online students. For me, this digital platform is also a way for me to appreciate and accept students with different learning needs. Not all students will benefit from or enjoy this form of communication; however, a lot of my students have and will likely continue to do so. So in addition to the multiple communication channels, this set of tools allows me to be aware of the different learning preferences my students have. And I am not alone in thinking this as Keough (2013) also mentions such benefits: “Google Hangouts adds another (broader) dimension to online teaching, especially when the course is taught totally online, however it can be used in hybrid courses effectively as well. This form of instructional interaction (synchronous teaching) also enhances the online instructor’s ability to connect with students who many have different learning styles in his/her class” (para 9).

Figure 2. This image represents a teacher (me) using multiple platforms/options to connect and communicate with students.

In order to introduce the idea of Google Hangouts to my students, I sent out a mass email informing them that this exists and that if they have a Gmail account, they can access and use this unique feature. I then let them know that the use of Google Hangouts is not mandatory, but it is a more efficient and faster way to get ahold of me if they are needing immediate help with something in the course. I also explained to the students what Google Hangouts can be used for (i.e. instant message, video chat, screen sharing, etc.) The idea of Google Hangoutswas received well from most students – especially since this generation of students often want instant gratification. Without using the available synchronous communication tools, they may lose interest and motivation. Therefore, I believe that my using Google Hangoutswill help students be more successful in the course.

Are there any Google Hangout benefits to learning for high school students who need instant feedback or gratification? This statement ( “What are the effects”, 2013)  highlights the divide between home and school:

outside of the classroom students expect instant results or instantaneous feedback on their performance. When you play a video game, you experience the results of every action and decision immediately. When you need to know something, you jump online and you have an answer as soon as you can type or say your question. When you need to know where you are meeting your friends, you send a hyper-condensed text message and have the answer ping back to you in the blink of an eye. But the instant you step into a classroom everything slows to the speed of the 19thCentury. (para 2)

This divide is why synchronous communication tools like Google Hangouts are a great support for online or blended environments. I know that in a face-to-face classroom I am not physically able to answer 25 students at once, verbally. However, using Google Hangouts, I am able to answer multiple students in the span of only a few minutes. This digital tool also allows for students to receive real time answers for their questions when they are working on their assignments. For me, students may work on their assignments from one until two p.m. daily. This means that I could have three students instant messaging me about various parts of an assignment. Typically, I can answer student A in a minute or less, while I an answer student B in two minutes or less, etc. By having this ability, I am ensuring student success because they are not having to pause and wait hours or days for me to respond via email or for me to return their phone call.


Figure 3. Students using devices. This image illustrates that as long as you have an internet connection and a mobile device, Google Hangouts can be used. My students are often travelling (e.g., high school elite athletes) and learning flexibility is key.
Figure 3. Students using devices. This image illustrates that as long as you have an internet connection and a mobile device, Google Hangouts can be used. My students are often travelling (e.g., high school elite athletes) and learning flexibility is key.

As previously mentioned, I think the strengths of Google Hangoutsare the ability to be able to instant message with one or multiple students and/or their parents as well as the ability to video chat and screen share with one or multiple students and/or their parents. This synchronous communication allows for almost instant responses to questions – provided that the teacher monitors and responds to their notifications for the application. Additionally, one major positive to Google Hangouts is that it is free to use.

I personally do not think that Google Hangouts has any areas that need improving, however, maybe I have not yet come across any issues during my time using it. However, in his online course, educator and blogger Jeremy Floyd(2013) noted that  “Google Hangoutslimits the number of free, simultaneous connections to 10. With a class size of 20-30 students, I needed a way to allow some students to join the class conversation through Google Hangout but still allow everyone to participate with the conversation” ( para. 5). His post offers some great suggestions based from his experiences and although he was teaching adult students many of his ideas are worth checking.

As a distance education teacher, I believe that finding efficient and quick ways to communicate with my students and/or parents is crucial, in part simply due to the nature of how distance education is usually laid out and delivered. Students have always required feedback and now experience instant digital feedback in their non-school lives. So why not try Google Hangoutsin order to help keep your students on track, motivated, and engaged in their learning?


Chen, A. (2015, November 4). 7 Ways to Use Google Hangouts in the Classroom [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.weareteachers.com/7-ways-to-use-google-hangouts-in-the-classroom/

Keough, P. (2013). Google Hangouts for Distance Learning [blog post]. Retrieved from https://dlccc.wordpress.com/google-hangouts-for-distance-learning/

Floyd, J. (2013, May 9). How to Use Google Hangouts in Higher Education: Distance Learning with Social Media [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.jeremyfloyd.com/2013/05/how-to-use-google-hangouts-in-higher-education-learning-with-social-media/

What Are The Effects Of Instant Gratification In Learning? (2015, December 12). [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.teachthought.com/learning/what-are-the-effects-of-instant-gratification-in-learning/


Hangouts Icon [Google Hangouts Icon]. (2018, April 4). Retrieved November 21, 2018, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hangouts_icon.svg

Hassan, M. (2017, October 28). Board Class Teacher [Teacher Social Media/Communication]. Retrieved November 21, 2018, from https://pixabay.com/en/board-class-teacher-teaching-2893916/

N. (2016, July 27). Games Digital Electronics Teenagers [Students with devices]. Retrieved November 21, 2018, from https://pixabay.com/en/pokemon-games-digital-electronics-1543556/

What Are The Effects Of Instant Gratification In Learning? (2015, December 12) Retrieved from https://www.teachthought.com/learning/what-are-the-effects-of-instant-gratification-in-learning/

About the Contributor

Melissa MacDonald is a fourth year teacher who is currently working with the Alberta Distance Learning Centre where she teaches Language Arts 8. Melissa is a New Brunswick trained teacher currently residing in Edmonton, Alberta. Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in English and a double minor in Sociology and Psychology. She also has a Bachelor of Education degree with a major in elementary education and a minor in secondary education, with a focus on English Language Arts.  Melissa has many skills in regard to her teaching profession, some of these being her technological abilities as well as her ability to foster positive relationships with students.

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