|Posted on December 5, 2011 at 8:00 AM|
The following is an article written by guest author Elaine Hirsch.
Online social networking platform Google+ is catching the attention of educators thanks to highly intuitive features like Circles, Sparks, and Hangouts. Stanford University researchers have considered creating Circles for their master'sdegree programs in Computer Science. Sparks can be used as tools in the classroom to allow students to constantly receive updates on specific subjects, and Hangouts have both education and social aspects designed into the application.
Google+ Hangouts present aninteresting possibility for music teachers. The concept of using online video conferencing for teaching and tutoring isn't new; ESL teachers and tutors have been using Skype for years, and the Web 2.0 later social networking paradigm launched hundreds of sitesdedicated to tutoring and e-learning. Part of the appeal of Hangouts for music teachers is that learning ineach lesson can be augmented by the various featuresavailable.
Sound and Video Quality
The first thing music teachers and their students must keep in mind is that the full experience of Google+, Hangouts in particular, is best enjoyed on an optimal platform. Any reasonably modern desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone should be able to handle the application, but the best Hangout sessions will be contingent upon solid broadband connections. Initial reviews of the audio and video quality of group Hangout sessions found some audio sync issues which could be detrimental to music teaching, especially when it comes to reviewing performance such as in fretboard work and finger placement in guitar lessons. The Chrome web browser seems to be the best at handling Hangouts, while the Google+ app for Android does not yet support them.
Google has been changing the look ofits cloud services and applications across the board, and Hangouts is no exception. The interface is practical and attractive, but once a music teacher decides to launch a Hangout with Extras session, there may be a bit of a learning curve for both students and instructors. A Hangout with Extras adds powerful features such as the Sketchpad, Notepad, the ability to collaborate on a Google Docs file in real-time, and the ability to share screens. For students and teachers who are already familiar with Google products, learning howto use Hangouts will come naturally and be helpful when collaboratingon learning how to play new songs.
Since Google+ runs on its parent company's powerful web servers, connectivity issues are limited to the quality of the broadbandconnection and equipment used by the music teachers and their students. To showcase the audio and video capabilities of Google+, the social network has already hosted a series of Hangouts on Air sessions with popular musical acts like the Black Eyed Peas. Music teachers will be limited to classes with no more than nine students to ensure sound and video quality and reliable connectivity. Regardless, this is still a huge upgrade to the physical platforms traditional teachers use.
Teaching Music on Google+
To circumvent situations where bandwidth might be a problem for live sessions, music teachers can record, share and stream their Hangout sessions, hold moderated workshops, and even schedule classes - although Hangouts are better suited for one-on-one lessons since personal interaction can be emphasized.
Real-Time Collaboration and Listening
A lot has been discussed about theneat voice commencement technology used in Hangouts which automatically switches the focus between speakers, a feature nicknamed “take the floor.” This real-time collaboration feature is ideal for group-listening; something that's an integral aspect of musical education. Setting up a listening room involves launching a new Hangout and selecting a musical performance to discuss. This works better if it involves a video which has been uploaded toYouTube. Students can be instructed to momentarily disable their video feed and mute their audio while the performance plays. Only the teacher should be allowed to “Push to Talk” in order to comment on or highlight moments in the performance. Once the piece has played once in its entirety, it can be played again for discussion. YouTube videos automatically play at lower volumes to enable group voice chat.
As more impromptu concerts and Q&A sessions arelaunched using Hangouts, the music community is bound to pay more attention to the power of Google+ for educating students and sharing masterpieces. Google+ is already a promising network for tech-savvy musicians and educators. It's only a matter of time until Hangouts are used on a regular basis as musical classrooms.