Thing 19: Live communication


As cross-campus and cross-institutional research collaboration becomes increasingly common, web-conferencing tools are now an essential part of the researcher’s toolkit.

In this Thing we will look at three particular web-conferencing tools: Skype, Google Hangouts, and


Skype is undoubtedly the most well known and most popular web-conferencing tool currently available. Even if you haven’t used it in a professional setting, you’ve probably used it to contact friends and family.

Signing up for an account is free and very easy: just enter your details and download the software, which is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and mobile devices. There are paid (‘premium’) versions of Skype available but the additional features on offer change quite regularly, so it’s worth checking the Skype website to keep up-to-date.

Once you’ve set up an account and installed Skype, you can connect to other Skype users, anywhere in the world, free of charge. Although Skype does require each user to have a Skype account, it is so commonly used that this is rarely a problem. Nonetheless, in a university setting your contacts may not have access to Skype at their workplace.

You will of course need a microphone and audio output; your computer’s speakers and microphone might be fine for casual use but if you’re contacting professional colleagues it may be worth investing in a headset and a webcam (that, of course, applies to all the web-conferencing tools discussed in this Thing).

You can connect with more than one Skype user at a time and create a large-scale web-conference: a maximum of ten simultaneous users is recommended. You can also send files – such as PDFs, Word documents, or PowerPoint presentations – and share your screen with both individuals and groups.

Key features:

  • One-on-one video calls
  • Group video calls
  • Easy to send files to other users
  • Easy to share your screen
  • Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and mobile devices

Google Hangouts

As a rival to Facebook and Twitter, Google also has its own social networking platform called Google+. Google+ allows you to create groups of friends, called ‘Circles’, which users typically organise around a central theme. This seems to make the platform rather more amenable towards being used for professional purposes and recreating virtual representations of Communities of Practice, Personal Learning Networks, and Professional Learning Circles. One really nice feature of Google+ is its ability to host video conferences, which Google has branded as Google Hangouts.

Google Hangouts affords some genuinely powerful and (so far) unique advantages:

  • Supports up to 15 users in one video conference free, via the browser. No need to download and sign up for extra software, so long as you have a Google+ account (this can be extended very easily from your existing university Gmail address).

  • Ability to simultaneously record and upload the hangout to YouTube as it is happening, creating an online video of the event for users and a wider audience to review later. Known as “Hangouts on Air,” you can find out more here: Hangouts On Air

  • Integrates with the other Google apps very easily, allowing presenters to broadcast their Google Slides presentation live, online, maintain Google Docs as a backchannel, etc. – all without leaving the hangout.

  • Comes with a couple of other powerful video conferencing tools as well, such as screensharing and a new Remote Desktop option, which allows other members of the hangout to take control of your computer (After you have given them permission of course!).

The Education sector has made Google Hangouts part of its landscape. For example, the regular TeachMeetNZ hangout is part of the broader global TeachMeet movement (much like 23 Things) and involves educators periodically getting together and holding a Hangout on Air to discuss what they’re up to and share practice (you can see the Twitter backchannel via the #TeachMeetNZ hashtag).

Here’s an example of a recorded TeachMeet hangout:


The entire TeachMeetNZ playlist is found here:

(If you look really closely then you may even find a member of our own CreATE team in there!)

This is just one example of the broad range of Hangouts on Air available on YouTube, covering a whole range of topics and issues. Hangouts in this sense has served to make the ‘expert panel discussion’ format, usually only accessible at conference, available to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Enjoy exploring.

Key features

  • Up to 15 participants
  • No software to install, although there are specific apps for mobile devices
  • Integrates well with other Google apps
  • Can be recorded and broadcast to YouTube is a browser-based alternative to Skype and Google Hangouts. It’s a newcomer on the scene (the first demo came out just a couple of years ago) but it’s already making waves.

Why? Because you can create or join a web conference without needing to log in. If you want to host a chat, simply create one from the website’s front page. Send the URL address of that page to other participants. Anyone else who visits that page will join the conference (up to 8 people). You can enable video and/or audio, or even share your screen. is still in development, so it has some limitations. You need to access it via Firefox, Google Chrome, or Opera – Internet Explorer doesn’t work well. You cannot have more than 8 people in the room at a time. You cannot share documents, and you cannot record your sessions unless you use an external programme to do so.

It’s a fantastic solution if you want something simple, fast, and easy to use.

Key features

  • Free
  • Up to 8 people
  • Participants don’t need special software; just visit an internet page to join a meeting
  • Has iOS and Android apps for mobile devices
  • Host has easy control over the permissions given to guests
  • Can share desktops
  • Doesn’t work in Internet Explorer or older browsers

try-this-iconTry this

We were going to host an online hangout for this Thing, but that didn’t seem to be in keeping with the self-paced nature of the course. So, move on to Thing 20!

explore-further-iconExplore further

“an insight into the ways in which using Skype as a research medium can allow the researcher to reap the well-documented benefits of traditional face-to-face interviews in qualitative research, while also benefiting from the aspects Holt suggests telephone interviews bring to such research”
Hanna, P. (2012). Using internet technologies (such as Skype) as a research medium: a research note. Qualitative Research, 12(2), 239-242. doi: 10.1177/1468794111426607

“Scholars can set up informal virtual meetings to discuss findings, exchange ideas, duplicate experiments, and troubleshoot issues.”
7 things you should know about video communication

“Video conferencing is nothing new, of course, but the simplicity and the inherent social nature of Hangouts are pretty interesting.”
How are educators using Google+ Hangouts?

“Whether you teach online classes or just love bringing social media and technology into the classroom, Google offers up some amazing tools to help you get students thinking, learning, connecting, and sharing.”
18 ways teachers can use Google+ Hangouts


Parts of this Thing were adapted from 23 Research Things @ Melbourne and Learning 2.0 Module archive.

Header image: Rick Harrison / FlickrCC By-NC-SA 2.0
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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