Using Google Hangouts to teach journalism students to conduct panel interviews

by Karen Zypchyn, April 2013

Now that the Winter term is over, it’s time to reflect on the courses I taught. Today, I’d like to give you a glimpse of my Interviewing Techniques course (BCSC 322) and to thank MacEwan’s second-year journalism students for permitting me to take a risk in teaching with Google Hangouts.

The final project in this new course—yes, it’s the first time we’ve offered it as part of our new Bachelor of Communication Studies program—required the journalism students to work in teams to conduct a panel interview with two sources via Google Hangouts. Hangouts is a web-based video conferencing tool.

A big challenge in teaching journalism courses is staying up to date with changes in technology and with the impacts of those changes on journalism curriculum. When I saw American President Barack Obama use Hangouts on Google to talk with some of the American electorate, I told myself that I had to teach my aspiring journalism students how to use Hangouts as journalists.

This is a screen capture I took of President Obama's "fireside Hangouts" with American voters. The Hangout happened on Feb. 14, 2013.
This is a screen capture I took of President Obama’s “fireside Hangouts” with American voters. The Hangout happened on Feb. 14, 2013.

Having already experimented with Google Hangouts, I came up with a idea to teach students how to conduct panel interviews via Hangouts. Hangouts would permit a truly interactive interview experience for my students. There was no way I wasn’t going to give it a try.

Hangouts makes it easy for one student to be the host, who is responsible for asking panelists questions, while another student is the producer, who is responsible for fielding questions from the audience posted to Twitter or Google+.  The audience in this instance was the remaining classmates in my course, who had to watch the live Hangout panel interview, which was projected on a screen at the front of the class, and who had to post questions they had about the interview topic on social media.

I experimented with Hangouts first to learn how it works. Then I trained my students how to use the comment tracker feature in Hangouts, which enables a person to track comments on Google+ and Twitter. Other than that, the students had to jump into the stream feet first to learn for themselves how to use Google Hangouts. This was not a straightforward simple task. Over and above finding a good panel topic and tracking down panelists who would be available during class time to be interviewed, my students had to train their panelists on how to use Google Hangouts and had to be prepared for potential technological disaster the day of the interview. It was a high performance assignment.

Here I am experimenting with Google Hangouts comment tracker, so I can prepare to teach my students how to use the tool.
Here I am experimenting with Google Hangouts’ comment tracker, so I can prepare to teach my students how to use the tool. A window pops open (right side), making it easy for the producer of the panel interview to field questions from the audience while the host continues to conduct a live interview with panelists (left side in the other window opened behind the comment stream).

Now coming up with a brilliant plan is only brilliant if others buy into it. MacEwan’s journalism students eagerly took up the challenge to make this panel interview assignment work.  And thanks to their efforts, the entire class got to participate in eight interactive panel interviews conducted on Google Hangouts. We were joined by some wonderful panelists to talk about a wide variety of interesting issues.

Here are some of the topics the journalism students picked as subjects to discuss for the assignment:

  • post-secondary budget cuts and the impact on MacEwan University 
  • C-section vs natural birth
  • the state of the news media in Canada (University of King’s College journalism professor Tim Currie joined MacEwan’s own Brian Gorman for this discussion)
  • the reality of being a radio dj (panelists from Ottawa and the Yukon joined the class for this discussion)

Thanks to my students, they pulled off this complex assignment.

I give Google+ an A-plus for creating unique learning opportunities.

 

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