Google hangs out in history

What if students could use Google Hangouts as a time machine? What if they could be transported back to the guts and gore of the Black Plague? That was the question framed and answered by Google recently.

Imagine using Hangouts to allow a class to go ‘Hangout in History’ with the Vikings, or meet revolting peasants during the French Revolution, or debate with great figures from history, like da Vinci, or Lincoln on the eve of his Gettysburg address; to talk to them about their lives and beliefs. Could it be done in a way which is practical and scaleable?

It turns out it is possible – using re-enactors, actors and experts in period costume playing the roles opposite student inquisitors; broadcast on air for the world, and based on the national curriculum. Google Creative Lab tried this recently with Bowral High School and apparently it was a great success. To bring medieval England to life, they took over one of Google’s conference rooms in Sydney, and placed a monk, a doctor and a widow in front of three separate webcams. A small team of actors worked with educators to research and script an interactive 15 minute hangout, which depicted plague victims and their lives as accurately as possible. The live Hangout on Air lasted 40 minutes in all with the cast improvising factual responses to the students’ questions about the Black Plague.

Of course in one way this sort of thing was always possible. What the technology enables is a cost-effective way of doing this for multiple schools and for remote communities who might not otherwise have access to the required skills.

This is a really great way to see technology being used to bring education to life. It really appears that we are beginning to see the tipping point when technology isn’t just being used to do what was done before with a gadget, but to really come up with some innovative approaches. Once again kudos to Google.

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