Seven things you need to know about personal video collaboration tools
A white paper from Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State

At a glance

Personal video collaboration tools include Google+ Hangout, FaceTime, ooVoo, Facebook Video Calling, and Skype. These tools can be used for:

  • Small group work
  • Advising
  • Study groups
  • Presentations
  • Collaboration or meetings

Who to contact

Angela Dick, Teaching and Learning with Technology

Usage scenarios

Google+ Hangouts: Gary Heberling, World Campus Instructor, Penn State New Kensington and Ravi Patel, Instructional Designer, University Park
During IST 210, Heberling challenges his students with a semester-long project for which they had previously used Elluminate. About two years ago, one of the teams wanted to collaborate with him by using Google+ Hangouts. They invited him to join and the rest is history. Heberling shared that he really liked the audio and other features Google+ Hangouts offered, but the limitation of ten users on the multi-video chat at once was an issue. Heberling and Patel also used it to prepare for a conference. They liked the audio, screen sharing, and the collaboration in Google Docs. Heberling has also had resident students use this tool in a show and tell for a class project. He did offer that he was not pleased with the difficulties he had in the recording of a Google+ Hangout session. Lastly, he shared that a service like this is needed for small group interaction/collaborative work.

The interface of Google+ Hangout with five individuals participating. Instructor Gary Heberling speaking to the group about his experiences with Google+ Hangout. The person speaking will become the larger center image.

The interface of Google+ Hangout with five individuals participating. Instructor Gary Heberling speaking to the group about his experiences with Google+ Hangout. The person speaking will become the larger center image.

Skype: Deborah Mirdamadi, Math and Women of Color Instructor, Penn State Mont Alto
Mirdamadi is able to bring in an international speaker as part of her class. The technology allows this cultural diversity class to not only hear but also see the speaker as she discusses the current topic. She can show them various objects or special attire as she presents. Mirdamadi also uses Skype to meet with other faculty and does not need to schedule a VTC room/equipment. She can use the technology from her home as well.

A display of the Skype interface when instructor Deborah Mirdamadi shared her experiences about Skype with the team.

A display of the Skype interface when instructor Deborah Mirdamadi shared her experiences about Skype with the team.

Google+ Hangouts: Liam Jackson, Public Relations Specialist, University Park
Jackson is able to use Google+ Hangout for online streaming of events. He has had participants from all over the world join in events. He has also conducted a town hall for Outreach students and worked with WPSU to create the final stream to show/capture. He feels using these types of tools helps to build community with those involved. He likes the ability to show videos and chat within this tool. In June 2012, he hosted a talk with coach Chambers where students could pop into Hangouts and ask the coach their question. After their question was answered, they left, which allowed others to join. Hangout’s limitation of ten participants helps keep the group small.

Google+ Hangouts: Richard Devon, Professor of Engineering Design, University Park
Devon is a huge Google user, from Google Sites to Docs and to Google+ Hangout. He uses Google+ Hangouts for group work within his classes. Concurrent teaming is hard in a short class time so students are able to use this free tool outside of class to collaborate. His students are able to connect with one another no matter where they are around the world. He also works with many culturally diverse groups for which these tools have really provided a great opportunity to communicate and build relationships. Devon also uses this tool to collaborate with other professionals outside of the Penn State community. He has used many technologies over the past years but he feels that Google+ Hangouts is great for multi-point communication.


Research team

Benjamin Brautigam, Teaching and Learning with Technology
Angela Dick, Teaching and Learning with Technology
Jason Heffner, Teaching and Learning with Technology
Jacqueline Weikert, College of Agricultural Sciences

1. What are they?

Google+ Hangout, FaceTime, ooVoo, Facebook Video Calling, and Skype are personal video collaboration tools that are easy and inexpensive to users. These tools are not classified as enterprise web conferencing tools but personal video collaboration tools that provide users with a casual environment in which to communicate. Personal video collaboration tools have the following components:

  • Multi-point video camera communication (you can visibly see all parties, not just consume information from one person)
  • Instant messaging
  • Screen shares
  • Small number of participants
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to use

Some of the ways these tools can be used are for facilitating study groups, one-on-one advising consultations, conducting interviews, and remotely connecting individuals in different locations.

Five personal video collaboration tools are investigated here: Google+ Hangout, FaceTime, ooVoo, Facebook Video Calling, and Skype. Google+ Hangout is a free video chat service from Google that allows for one-on-one chats and/or groups chats with up to ten people, Google Doc sharing, and screen sharing. Apple’s video chat service, FaceTime, is a one-on-one video chat only that can be used with newer iOS mobile devices. ooVoo is a free service that provides instant messaging, phone calling, video messages, and video chatting with up to twelve other users. Facebook Video Calling is a one-on-one video chat with your friends on Facebook. Skype is a free online calling, video, and document sharing app to connect two people together. You can video chat with up to ten people if you have the premium version.

2. How do they work?

Google+ Hangout: In order to start a Hangout, an individual needs to initiate a Google+ account and establish a Gmail account. A user can start a Hangout with one friend or a group of friends in a circle. Each person has his/her own video and audio stream. When audio is detected, that video feed will become the main display with others being in smaller screens. Within the Hangout, participants can talk, chat, and even share files.

FaceTime: Many iOS mobile devices have a FaceTime app. Users need to verify their Apple ID to set up the account and add contacts to chat with. If using an iPhone, a user will call their phone number within FaceTime.

ooVoo: An individual needs to sign up for a free account and establish contacts. To start a joint call, the user can highlight all of those contacts he/she wants to join and start the video call. A user can chat with an individual or as a group or with only a few individuals. The screen share comes from an upgraded account. A user can send files to contacts who are part of the call. Users can record the conversation and take a screenshot. It is available on PC, Mac, iPhone, and Android, and via Facebook.

The team experimenting with the ooVoo interface.

The team experimenting with the ooVoo interface.

The chat window within ooVoo.

The chat window within ooVoo

Facebook Video Calling: First, an individual needs to have a Facebook account and also be friends with the person that he/she plans to video call. Users can start a call from their Facebook account. While engaged in a call, a user may notice that it takes up a lot of screen space. Users can chat while video calling, but should be aware that if they log out of Facebook, they also need to close the video call or it will still be on.

Skype: To get started, an individual will need to download the free version of Skype and add individuals with Skype accounts as contacts. Users will need to approve contact requests in order to be connected. Users can connect to anyone else with a Skype account via their device. The free version of Skype will provide a one-on-one video chat while the premium account will allow multiple individuals to chat. Only the host in the multi-video call is required to have the premium account. Skype also allows the opportunity to call to a person’s phone.

3. Why are they significant?

There are real benefits in using personal video collaboration tools in the classroom. These tools are easy to use and bring individuals together in one place when geographical locations keep them apart.

There are many tools that are free and available for use, depending on specific needs. For instance, starting a Google+ Hangout is easy once someone is added to one of a user’s circles. It is very easy to collaborate on a Google Doc while being at different locations and still being able to see each other through Hangouts. Hangouts have been used for small group discussions, presentations, and advising. FaceTime is another personal tool that enables a user to see someone at a distance and it is easy to search for one another. Another tool is ooVoo, which has great video and audio during small group chatting. It allows users to have a high-resolution video call with up to twelve people. Calls can be recorded easily within FaceTime, which is useful when users are conducting virtual office hours or peer-to-peer collaboration. Many people use Facebook, but may not have considered using the Facebook Video Calling feature. Facebook Video Calling is a personal video collaboration tool that can be used to collaborate with someone at a distance. In order to use this tool, a user must already be friends with the person that he/she plans to call. This is convenient if the user is friends with those that he/she is collaborating with. Since users must be friends with those they are collaborating with, they may use this tool mostly for personal chatting or peer-to-peer communication. It is useful to have the ability to chat while you are video calling. Skype allows a user to call a person and/or conduct multi-point video collaboration with others with the click of a button. Skype is widely popular since it is free for a one-to-one video conference and if users choose to do small group conferencing, only one person needs the premium account. Skype has also been used for presentations. FaceTime, ooVoo, and Skype all work nicely on mobile devices.

4. What are the implications for teaching and learning?

All of the tools investigated can be used for one-on-one conversations and some provide great experiences in multi-point video collaboration. Tools such as Skype and ooVoo warrant a small charge to have small group collaboration, so some tools are better than others, depending on needs and how individuals wish to collaborate. These tools can be used by faculty and staff for hosting study groups, advising students, hosting a presenter, collaborating on a paper or presentation for a conference, having a meeting, or providing one-on-one office hours. The investigative team found that students are using these tools for small group work, study groups, and peer-to-peer collaboration. Most of these tools provide screen sharing and chatting capability, which are frequently used by both faculty and students. Faculty will need to consider how they manage these free tools and keep up with students who may bring new technology to the table. They will need to envision how these free, easy-to-use personal collaboration tools might transform teaching and learning.

5. What are the downsides?

Users must have a good Internet connection to have a successful experience, whether it is through a PC, Mac, or a mobile device. Each tool mentioned presented challenges to using it effectively. When looking at Google+ Hangouts, the investigative team noticed that once a user had initiated Google+ and the Hangout for the first time and came back for a second use, he/she might run into issues with the installation of the plug-ins. Users might need administrative rights on their machine to delete and install the plug-ins.

FaceTime is for use one-on-one and can only be used on iOS devices; therefore, scheduling a meeting would probably not be recommended unless the individual knows the other user has an iOS device. The Mac contact list is integrated with the address book so users need to make sure their contacts are using the same service in order to use this tool. It is important to note that it is Apple-specific.

As for ooVoo, the installation process is difficult at first, the user interface has a lot of advertisements, and the screen sharing feature is not free as it is in the case of some competitors’ tools. Some of the team members felt that moving through the tools was somewheat confusing, the recording can make a slight echo, and they did not like the fact that it was not tied to a social network.

The biggest issue the investigative team had with Facebook Video Calling is that users need to be Facebook friends with those they would be video calling, a situation which does not lend itself well to the professional field. While engaged in a call, users will notice that it is hard to multitask, it takes up a lot of screen space, and there is not a screen sharing feature. Users should be careful when logging out of Facebook because they can still be in their video call with their friend. They must close the video calling separately and it is important to note that there is no mute mic.

The most widely used tool is Skype. It is important to note that for more than one-one-one collaboration a user will need to pay the fee, which starts at $5 a month. Skype also drops calls and users will notice the video freezing from time to time, but overall, it is a good tool.

6. Who is using them?

These small-scale video collaboration tools are being used more and more by faculty, staff, and students. The two most common tools are Skype and Google+ Hangouts. Facebook Video Calling is more popular among students. FaceTime is being used primarily by Mac users in faculty-to-faculty or professional conversations. ooVoo is the newcomer; the investigative team was not able to find anyone using it at Penn State. The team did find an 18 to 49 average age range among users, with 52 percent of those being males.

7. Where are they going?

Skype is staying and will be used for a while. It is easy to use and has low rates for some of the extra features. It can also be used as a stand-alone chat or IM tool, so that is one more feature to use. Google+ Hangouts’ popularity will continue to grow, since Google products have been free and easy to use by all. Users will find more individuals “hanging out” as Google+ grows. There are growing needs for personal video collaboration tools in the Penn State community. These tools provide agility and are easy to use for small group discussions that Adobe Connect is not as well suited for unless you use it on a frequent basis. The investigative team sees FaceTime and Facebook Video Calling continuing to be used more personally than professionally. The community may see an increase of use cases with ooVoo in the near future.

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