I held my first Hangouts class today, using Google + group video chat feature. It was very cool. We had 5 students on three webcams in Utah, Colorado, and Quebec, and everyone could talk and learn and see each other.
It was a little awkward that if I was looking at the students, it looked to them like I was looking down away from them--for me to look "at" them, I have to look directly into the webcam, which is great except then I can't see them--and I need to see them to know if they "get" it or not.
Still, it worked great. I was a little nervous, but it came out okay and I now have a little bit of a sense of how things will go so I can tailor my lessons directly to the kids.
So we had the visual and audio contact with each other. We also had a "blackboard" in the form of the chat box on the side, which anyone could write on--and that was really kind of cool. We could make lists that way. There are some new features coming out in Google+ Hangouts soon that Caleb and I tested last night that would allow you to share documents and drawings--effectively giving you a blackboard and handouts in class--and you can already share YouTube videos, which you watch right in the Hangout and can pause to talk about. All VERY helpful educational tools.
The class I decided to teach is "The Writer's Toolbox"--pretty much the writing parts of everything I've taught before. It focuses on what other writers do (so we can be better readers, too!), and what we can do--things that work and things that don't, things that create and "experience" in the reader and things that don't. I chose this because I'm confident teaching it, and, since I'm not confident with the technology (and the fine points of the techniques for teaching online) yet, I thought I'd better be confident with the material.
I also made a class website, giving each child a personal web page that only they (and I ) have permission to edit. That way they can post their own writing online to share with each other. My kids were all excited about that. Nobody else has used it yet, and they might not--I wouldn't have been brave enough to share my writing when I was a kid, but my kids were so excited about it they started writing new stories right away to add to it.
This could open a lot of cool doors for homeschoolers because anyone with expertise can teach anyone with interests--real time, live, over the internet. And free. You could get an expert to give a presentation, a guy in a lab to do science experiments real time and live, give language or music or art lessons--or anything else. Everyone could get their Saxon math books, and a teacher could actually teach the class.
The limitations are in size--you only have 10 "slots"--but can put more than one kid in front of each webcam. The teacher needs one of those. So there are only 9 slots for students. That's okay, actually, because smaller classes have better results in terms of learning and making friends.
After we finished I had 2 more students ask to join, and one more just emailed me.
As one mom said today, "This gives the penpal concept a run for its money."