MET:Google Drive (Docs) & Google+ Hangouts

From UBC Wiki

Authored by: Gary Bartanus, March 2013

Google Drive and Google+ Hangouts are two free applications in the cloud-based Google Apps Suite that are ideal for advancing the practice of modern Constructivist pedagogy. In their current forms, they are powered by technology that has only recently been developed and that is considerably more advanced than was possible when they were in their previous iterations and known respectively as "Google Docs" and "Gmail Video,". Google Docs became Google Drive in April, 2012, and it was only in late July of 2012 that Google announced that Gmail Video was being replaced by Google+ (sometimes written as "Google Plus") Hangouts. Although their use in education is rapidly becoming increasingly widespread, the amount of in-depth academic research on the effectiveness and implications of these emerging technologies is very limited in scope. Therefore, in the interest of being as current as possible, this wiki entry is based mainly on very carefully curated educational articles that have recently been published by reputable sources on the internet as well as the recent teaching practices and learning experiences of this author and his students. It also relies extensively on video artifacts, rather than text-based descriptions, because the focus of this article is on closely related multifaceted concepts that are more readily understood if they are visually demonstrated instead of pedantically explained.

Google Drive

The predecessor to Google Drive was Google Docs, which provided users with the ability to share and collaborate on documents together. The document types were limited to the basics: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, as well as drawings and forms. Following the impressive success of Dropbox, one of the pioneers of cloud storage services on the Internet, Google recognized an opportunity for additional growth and developed Google Documents to have more free storage capacity than Dropbox (5 GB, compared with Dropbox’s 2 GB) , similar synchronization ability (with a Mac/PC sync client that operates exactly the same way as Dropbox’s ), and total freedom for users to store and share more than 30 different file types, including multimedia (.jpg, .mpg, .avi, .gif, etc.), compressed (.zip, .rar, .arj, .7z, etc.) and executable files (software with .exe extensions). Google changed the name of Google Documents to Google Drive and very astutely retained the file sharing and collaboration affordances that Dropbox lacks, and this has generated considerable interest among educators who recognize how profoundly this supports their constructivist leanings.

To help both Google Docs users and Dropbox users to more fully understand the main advantages of their re-branded application, Google has posted a number of advertisements that clearly illustrate them. The "Exploring Google Drive" video (on the left) is a good example.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Collaboration

The value of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration cannot be overstated. Educators and business people have undertaken and researched numerous studies, and the evidence is irrefutable: people learn and accomplish more when working together. To drive this point home in the most emphatic and humorous possible way, Google produced this ad for their Google Drive launch in April, 2012.

The video on the right provides a closer examination of the Google Drive collaboration process. It demonstrates a number of significant affordances, including ease-of-use, various methods for performing specific tasks (although this occasionally may cause confusion and thus negate the ease-of-use affordance), accessibility on a number of platforms, open communication through various functions such as chatting and commenting (with very comprehensive comment notification settings), and the capability for teachers to carefully review and monitor a document’s revision history (which is an excellent way to assess if students are contributing to their group projects equitably).

Other Collaborative Interactivites

Since its launch in April, 2012, Google Drive has inspired numerous educators to suggest some very creative ways of taking advantage of its many affordances. For example, George Williams, an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina Upstate, wrote a comprehensive tutorial called, “Host a Website on Google Drive,” posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education on February 25, 2013. Another excellent use for Google Drive involves it’s seamless integration with learning management systems, like the Canvas LMS by Instructure. Students only need to click the “Submit” button to allow the LMS to receive their written work directly from their Google Drive accounts. The video on the right demonstrates this, with the most relevant section beginning at 3:20.

Because it provides plenty of free space and accepts most common file types, Google Drive is now being utilized for collaborative multimedia projects, where learners and instructors can securely exchange video or audio files by use of shared folders. Furthermore, Google provides the necessary code for bloggers or website developers who want to embed content in one of their own pages or posts. The University of Alaska Fairbanks gives complete instructions for this on their website in a pdf file called "Teaching Tips." There are some bloggers who question the actual efficacy of this, as they claim that Google imposes a maximum download limit on such files.

Another affordance that Google Drive recently implemented is available in an extremely versatile mobile app that allows users to automatically upload and download multimedia content via wireless connections. For those who are fortunate enough to have unlimited data transfer accounts, they can accomplish a considerable amount of information processing even while traveling, which is a huge benefit for busy students and teachers who commute regularly.

Stop Motion Video

Google Drive Stop Motion Video by Baljeet Gill. An introduction to the features of Google Drive.
Google and the Group Project Video by Megan Ross. A stop motion artifact that illustrates the various ways Google Apps may be used to support collaborative work in an educational setting.

Google Docs For Collaborationby Shauna Roch ETEC510 65D. A stop motion video on the benefits of using Google Docs for group collaboration.

Google+ Hangouts

Google+ Hangouts provide a video conferencing environment where participants can engage in face-to-face conversations, exchange ideas, share information via screen share technology, watch videos together, collaborate on documents and/or projects, and even play with special effects. Since being launched in its current iteration, the Google+ Hangouts app has generated considerable interest among journalists, entertainers, spiritual leaders, politicians, and educators (as shown in Table2 below). There are a number of pedagogically significant reasons for this, including the fact that Google+ Hangouts are free, easy to initiate, fast and responsive, and can be seamlessly integrated with other Google apps (such as Google Drive). Among this technology's many affordances, the one greatest interest to most teachers is the ability to easily interact and collaborate.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Collaboration

As mentioned above, one of the most educationally significant affordances of Google+ Hangouts is the environment it provides for face-to-face collaboration. This can be done anywhere in the world, so long as there is a stable Internet connection. It supports both synchronous and asynchronous types of collaboration, with synchronous being the most commonly used -- especially if participants are able to virtually meet at the same time. It also supports asynchronous collaboration in the sense that hangout sessions can be easily recorded for viewing (and, if necessary, responding) at a later time. Google provides the recording technology, but at the expense of privacy, because recorded sessions must be broadcast live on YouTube while they are occurring. For participants who value their privacy, a workaround would be to simply have one of the participants record the session with quality screen capturing software such as Camtasia Studio or Snaggit.

The accompanying video was recorded entirely with Camtasia Studio to provide some degree of privacy for the student volunteers, Jung Won-ju, Kim Nu-ri, Kim Ho-young, Park Jae-eun, and Kim So-hee. It demonstrates some of the affordances that are accessible with even by Google+ Hangouts.

Google Drive and Google+ Transmediation

The video below is a five minute presentation that discusses how Google Drive and Google+ Hangouts can be used in an educational setting.

Other Collaborative Interactivities

Table 1 provides a sampling of the kinds of interactivities that Google+ Hangouts facilitate. The first three videos in Table 2 provide detailed discussion on some of the interactivities and affordances suggested in Table 1. For more detailed information, refer to the descriptions of the hangout videos, choose the one that most closely matches your interests, and enjoy the discussion.


  • Flipped Classroom content could be recorded and then posted on a flipped class's course page. That content could be group interviews with practicing professionals in any given field--notable people who may otherwise be inaccessible because of geography and economics
  • Virtual office hours in which students could join a hangout and have a discussion online with their professor
  • Virtual workshops in which students could work together—with or without a teacher—to solve problems they may be having with some course content
  • Screen sharing capability for fast and easy transmission of important information
  • Relationship building by having some fun with the excellent special effects that are built into Google+ Hangouts
  • Teacher/student grade reviews of oral presentations, multimedia projects, or written work
  • Group project planning
  • Feedback from peers before submitting assignments for grades
  • Connecting with students abroad and developing deeper cultural awareness
  • Enhanced second language acquisition by interacting with other students who are native speakers in that desired language

Notable Hangout Participants

Hangout Participant(s) Sample Video Topic/Description (from the original source)
Ronnie Bincer (Video Leads Online); Karen Zypchyn (MacEwan University); Scott Forbes (MacEwan University); Jon Coulson (MacEwan University) Trevor Beck (MacEwan University) Engaging Students with Google Hangouts: Streamed live on Dec 20, 2012. During this Hangout we discussed creating a Hangout from a Google Calendar appointment; creating a Hangout as a Google+ Event; communicating with students using Google Hangouts; getting students setup with a Google account; using Google Docs with students; and brainstormed other opportunities for Hangouts in and educational setting (Engaging Students with Google Hangouts, 2012).
Lisa Thumann, Kean University; Chris Penny, West Chester University; and seven other educators from around the world Google+ in Higher Education: (Published on May 7, 2012) This Google+ Hangout was part of the Education On Air conference. Hangout Description: Google+ can serve as a powerful tool for institutions of higher education. This presentation will explore various assets that allow students and educators to create rich collaborative environments that support learning opportunities. Google+ provides access to an array of Google tools—from standing favorites, such as YouTube and Picasa—to new ones, such as Hangouts and Circles. Google+ can be used to support activities such as collaborative projects, student advisement, course assignments, and more (EduOnAir, 2012).
Khan Academy founder Sal Khan and Stanford professors Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun Reinventing Education with Khan Academy and AI Class: A discussion on the future of technology in education with guests from seven other U.S. universities (Reinventing Education with Khan Academy and AI Class, 2011).
Dr. Walter Willett from the Harvard School of Public Health and members of the Food Revolution community February Hangout with Dr Walter Willett from Harvard School of Public Health:(Streamed live on Feb 27, 2013) Our February Food Revolution Hangout was an inspiring conversation between esteemed nutrition expert Dr. Walter Willett from the Harvard School of Public Health and members of the Food Revolution community all about New Year's resolutions. We began 2013 with tips from Dr. Willett on simple steps toward a healthy life, which ignited our community to share their stories and sparked a New Year's Food Revolution. We were joined by him today to share take aways from his extensive research in the field of nutrition while we checked in with community members to hear how they are doing in sticking to their goals (February Hangout with Dr Walter Willett from Harvard School of Public Health, 2013).
Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu The Inaugural Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture (Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu hang out on Google+, 2011).
Stanford University Professor Noah Diffenbaugh; Greg Dalton from Climate One; Harold Brooks of the NOAA National Severe Storms Lab; Martin Hoerling of the NOAA Earth System Research Lab; Angela Fritz of Weather Underground; Dave Metz of the FM3 opinion research firm; and Jason Samenow of the Washington Post Hangouts On Air with Stanford Professor Noah Diffenbaugh: (Streamed live on Jul 6, 2012) A discussion of severe weather in the U.S. in June and July. Stanford Professor Noah Diffenbaugh is joined by Greg Dalton from Climate One, along with Harold Brooks of the NOAA National Severe Storms Lab, Martin Hoerling of the NOAA Earth System Research Lab, Angela Fritz of Weather Underground, Dave Metz of the FM3 opinion research firm, and Jason Samenow of the Washington Post (Hangouts On Air with Stanford Professor Noah Diffenbaugh (July 6, 2012), 2012).
U.S. President Barack Obama President Obama Participates in a Fireside Hangout on Google+: (Published on Feb 14, 2013) President Obama answers questions during a virtual interview with Google+ and Americans from around the country to discuss his State of the Union Address. February 14, 2013 (President Obama Participates in a Fireside Hangout on Google+, 2013).
Carleton University's Jeremy Paltiel, UBC's Pitman Potter, and Brock University's Charles Burton. Moderated by U of T's Lynette Ong. Hu-Wen to Xi-Li: Analyzing the CCP Leadership Transition: (Streamed live on Nov 8, 2012) A Google+ Hangout on the Chinese leadership transition (Hu-Wen to Xi-Li, 2012).


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