February 06, 2017

Using Google Q&A in large teaching sessions

By Martin Philip, Academic Liaison Librarian

I’ve always been a default Microsoft PowerPoint user, however Google’s recently added Q&A feature to their Slides product may have persuaded me otherwise.

PowerPoint still seems to be the most ubiquitous piece of presentation software. It’s certainly the one programme that I’ve spent most of my student and professional life using and the one I’m most comfortable creating slides with.

Nowadays, however, there are many presentation programmes to choose from; Google Slides, Apple’s Keynote, Prezi, Canva to name a few. They all essentially do the same thing which is to present your topic and/ or ideas, using, texts, graphics, photos and video.

I remember when I was first used Prezi around 2009. I used to use it quite extensively and was impressed with the animations between slides and the way you could present the slides or sections in a non-linear style. It seemed to work really well. However, I quickly moved back to PowerPoint for, as I saw it, the increased functionality especially when it came to the design of the slides themselves. I felt more comfortable with the wider font choices and editing tools available in PowerPoint..
Since joining York, around 3 years ago, I was introduced to, what is now called, the ‘G Suite’ of applications. I was familiar with Gmail having used it for many years in a personal capacity, however the other applications such as Docs and Sheets, I’d hardly ever used meaning I wasn’t hugely comfortable with them. The benefits of these tools quickly became clear due to collaborative nature of the applications. No longer did documents need to be emailed to colleagues, using the G Suite of applications we could all work ‘live’ in the same document, meaning versions were always up-to-date and stored in a central place online.
Until this academic year, ‘Slides’ was the main Google application I’d not really used, in part, due to my preference of PowerPoint. It was only recently, at a White Rose Consortium TeachMeet last year, when a colleague demonstrated a new feature in ‘Slides’ called ‘Google Q&A’ that I considered trying it out again.

What is Google Q&A?
Google Q&A is designed to enable interaction with a large audience. In addition to the ‘Present’ button, there is now a Q&A option that opens a pop-up window and places a URL/ web address above each slide visible to the audience. The audience can then, using the browser on their mobile device, go to the web address displayed and begin asking questions to the presenter. The questions do not appear immediately on screen, they are displayed to the presenter in a pop-up window. The presenter can then, at a time they deem appropriate, respond to any of the questions asked by the group. They simply click on a question in their pop-up window and it then appears to the whole audience on the large screen.
I was really impressed with this functionality, it was definitely something not available in PowerPoint! I logged it in my mind thinking of some scenarios that I could use it in.

In the Summer, when planning a new lecture with a Politics tutor for the Autumn term, he expressed his frustration to me when trying to get students to interact in large lectures so when I mentioned Google Q&A to him, he couldn’t wait to use it!

We were already planning a joint lecture for the new ‘What is Politics?’ core 1st year undergraduate module and agreed that my 30 minute talk would use the Q&A feature.

The setup was a bit complicated. I could only get Q&A to work if I connected a laptop to the projector and changed the laptop settings to extend the display. This is required because the podium PCs seem to be fixed to the ‘duplicate’ setting which means the audience see the same as what the presenter sees meaning the pop-up window is visible. Extending the display of the laptop (pressing Win key + P) means I can drag the pop-up window onto my laptop screen so only I could see it.
At the start of my talk I highlighted the URL that was above each slide and asked all the students to take a minute to open up the link in their browser to encourage them to participate by asking a question if they wanted to. Q&A allows students to contribute anonymously which I think encourages participation.

Over 30 questions were asked throughout the lecture, concerning the content of my talk and the tutors. We were both able to, there and then, answer questions from students providing an immediate response. Some students asked for clarification on the assignment that was set or other questions regarding the topic which the tutor was able to answer. Others asked questions about YorSearch and how to find specific resources.    

Reflecting at the end of the session, the tutor was extremely pleased as he has never had such an interactive lecture! He planned to continue to use Q&A throughout the term.

I encourage you to have a look at Google Q&A. From my limited experience, it’s definitely something you could incorporate into your larger teaching sessions to try and stimulate some interaction with your audience/ students.

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