Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Using Google Hangouts (On Air) To Stream Archaeology Seminars

+Sara Perry wanted to use Google Hangouts to quickly and easily record seminars for students that can't make it in person and to help with promoting the work of the Archaeology dept. 

We decided on using minimal tech intervention. No requirement to use a certain presentation tool. No microphones etc.

Many presenters are easily spooked by extra technology, especially when speaking,  but we also want this to be an easy enough process that Sara will be able to make sure it happens without needing any preparation.  

This cheap and cheerful approach also guides the aesthetics of the video, we aren't planning to add titles, idents, logos etc. We tested a MacBook Pro that was close to the presenters pedestal and found the internal mic in that was "good enough" for a small presentation room. 

We did buy a cheap webcam and a long USB cable so that we didn't have to use the camera on her laptop. This means the video capture can "step back" a little and take in more of the room.

Google Hangouts vs Hangouts "On Air"

Google Hangouts are simply video conferences. You can create a Hangout in Google+ or from within a Calendar event. We often use these for quick "catch up conference calls". You could use a Hangout to include someone in a meeting who was working from home or away at a conference.

Google Hangouts On Air are very different in that they are public, live-streamed and they are stored on YouTube. Regular Hangouts are like video conference calls, Hangouts on Air are more like broadcast TV.

The Hangout Process - It'll Be Alright On The Night

1. Start a Hangout ( check the On Air checkbox). You can do this from Google+, YouTube or even this link.
2. Choose your mic and camera settings (especially if you are using an additional webcam ).
3. Click Embed and copy the You Tube link ( see below )
4. Go to that YouTube link ( you can preview your stream ) other people will get a Broadcasting soon screen.
5. Share that link on Google+ or Twitter or via email ( if you want to ).
6. Important! Click Cameraman and set When someone joins, they should be: Hidden and muted From broadcast. This means you are in broadcast mode, rather than "massive meeting" mode where people can speak ( see below) .
7. Start your broadcast.

The End Result

We've found that the microphone on the laptop is more than adequate and the webcam is essential to easily framing the speaker. 

One week, the network dropping out meant that we had to use a uStream account to capture most of the seminar. This one disaster aside, it's been a complete success with academics joining in the Hangouts on a regular basis. 

We've created a Google Site to collect together the Seminar Hangouts here... ... where we also add any presentation files.

Here's Sharon MacDonald giving the first Heritage Seminar of 2012-2013. 

The benefits of using Google Hangouts for quick collaborative video meetings or for public “on air” broadcasts are clear:

  • Everyone at York can participate, the don't need to download special apps, or register on various sites, they already have a log in. It works right now
  • The screen sharing tools work very well with your Google Apps. Think about using Google Slides rather than Powerpoint.
  • If your laptop has a camera, and even netbooks do nowadays, you don’t even need to buy a webcam ( we only did so for aesthetic reasons ).
  • Storage is huge.
  • And as with all our Google tools, it’s free


  1. Yeah, Skype, Google Hangouts etc. are quality online collaboration tools in addition to RHUB, WebEx, GoMeetNow, gotomeeting, etc.

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