Hangout allows you to create a multi-user video chat with up to 10 participants. You see feeds from all 10 webcams at the bottom of the screen. When person speaks, the software automatically presents the speakers webcam feed in the main window. The quality is remarkably good depending mainly on the connection speed of individual users.
An additional neat feature is a G+ user can start a Hangout session that is visible only to a specified group of contacts. There is also the ability to carry out a concurrent text chat session.
So how can we use this educationally? Here are some examples:
- Pose a question to a Twitter chat audience e.g. #meded and allow groups of participants to discuss the question in a Hangout Session and then report back to the Twitter stream.
- Upload a YouTube video of a hypothetical case - use an animation tool to simulate a doctor patient encounter. Launch this video during a Hangout session so all participants can watch it together, and follow this up with a moderated discussion.
- Invite thought leaders to discuss a controversial topic on a Hangout session. Record the session using something like CamStudio. Then upload the entire recording to YouTube to share with viewers. Can use this YouTube vodcast as focus of a future Hangout session.
So what do you think? The technology bar has really been lowered. You can with this free tools bridge geographic and logistic divides to have a real conversation!