This post is written exactly one week into Remote Teaching & Learning (in Chicago Public Schools.) It has some with a slew of new challenges and somehow triple the workload. During Googlepalooza this past summer, I showed teachers how to create “breakout rooms” in Google Meet. (Multiple Google Meet calls at once.) Running small group “breakout Meets” can be immensely beneficial to both teachers and students: as a way of creating small groups, differentiating instruction, and giving kids a space to try (and possibly fail) in a less pressure environment.
In the summer, teachers were grateful for the Breakout Template and the possibility of breaking students up into smaller groups, like many of us do on a daily basis in our brick-and-mortar classrooms. What I, and many others, hadn’t expected: just how much running multiple Google Meet sessions at once can bog down a computer’s processes during Remote Learning.
I have a two year old, top-of-the-line Macbook Pro laptop, and even my equipment groans and wheezes under the weight of spinning so many Google Meet plates. The easiest way to ease up on a computer is to use a second device for the Meet calls, but that isn’t financially possible for most of us. The equipment provided to CPS teachers (if any at all) is often lightweight, low-specs, outdated, or a combination of all three. So I wanted to create a brief blog post about ways to ease the processing burden of running multiple Google Meet sessions at once.
Caveats: I want to open with the fact that different things will work for different people (it’s difficult to account for all types of equipment). These are things to try and experiment with, I am providing no silver bullets. This blog post also does not discuss anything about internet speeds, or bandwidth concerns, only device-level modifications.
Idea #1: Make sure you have hardware acceleration enabled.
The Chrome Browser is gluttonous when it comes to processing power. The way the Chrome Browser keeps every tab running simultaneously draws a lot of battery power and processing power in any kind of computer. Hardware acceleration allows your computer to move heavy-duty processes (like encoding/decoding multiple video streams) from the CPU to the GPU. Bottom line? Enabling hardware acceleration allows the hardware to more heavy lifting to give your Meet calls an extra “boost.” You should have Hardware Acceleration enabled by default, but it’s worth double checking.
- In your Chrome Browser, click the triple-dot menu
- Click “Settings”
- From the Settings Menu, choose “Advanced” drop-down menu
- From that menu, select “System” (small wrench icon)
- At the top of that menu, toggle the switch ON to enable hardware acceleration
Idea #2: Only have tabs open you need
I KNOW, I know, we need all 25 tabs, and it’s just a few Google Docs, how much could it weigh everything down? The way the Chrome Browser works, every tab is a spinning plate. Some plates have nothing on them, some have a three course meal, but your computer still has to keep them all spinning.
Ways to Free Up Tabs:
- Create a Bookmark folder in your Chrome browser
- Type “chrome://bookmarks/” in the omnibox
- This will open the Bookmarks Manager, and will allow you move bookmarks, create folders, and organize it together
- You can also create a folder by right-clicking below the Omnibox address bar and selecting “Add folder.”
- Install an extension to close unnecessary tabs like OneTab or The Great Suspender. (I personally like OneTab)
- Create a Workspace on Google Drive to keep your documents together
- On your CPS Google Drive, select “Priority” at the top of the left-side menu (Note: if you don’t see priority, it means you’re in your personal account, not your school account.)
- Half-way on that page you can create a “Workspace”, which will allow you to clump multiple Google Drive files together for easy access
Idea #3: Uninstall unnecessary extensions or Chrome task manager
I know, I just told you to install an extension to close tabs, but hear me out. If running Google Meet breakout rooms is like running a marathon, every extension you add to your browser is like adding a 10lbs weight to your ankles. I try and avoid extensions as much as possible, because they also cause the browser to slow down and glitch, but some of them you just HAVE to have. Sometimes we forget how many extensions we have installed. On the Chrome browser, click the puzzle piece in the upper right corner. That will pull up a menu of all the extensions you have.
It’s sometimes unclear if an extension is bogging down your computer, which is where ending some processes within the Chrome browser may be helpful. To do that, you need to view the Chrome Task Manager to see if any of your extensions are using a ton of the CPU.
- On a Mac, hover over the top bar, click “Window”, then “Task Manager”
- On Windows, Press Shift + Esc in Chrome
- On Chromebook Press Search + Esc
From there, you can see which tabs and extensions are taking up the most space. If you happen to find a culprit that you can live without, remove it from Chrome. If it’s hogging a lot of processing power (CPU) but you need it, it may be worth installing and reinstalling at the points when you need them.
Idea #4: Adjust Google Meet to only display one video, or just audio to your computer
Okay, so you’ve checked that hardware acceleration is on, you only have necessary tabs and taken off all the extensions you can. This should free up as much processing power and hardware to handle these multiple Google Meet calls. But what if it’s still a little slow?
There are some settings within Google Meet that can ease the burden on your computer as well. These settings revolve around the video quality and how Google Meet handles multiple participants in a Meet call. (Note: you would need to change these settings on every Meet call you’re in, the settings do not apply across the board.)
Changing a Google Meet’s video settings:
- In a Google Meet call, click in the triple dot menu in the bottom right bar
- From that menu, select “Settings”
- Under “Video”, you can change the settings on what resolution your video sends and receives.
From there, you have three options:
- Set “Send” and “Receive” to 360p (Standard definition). With a lower resolution, it’s a little easier on your computer to juggle multiple calls.
- Set “Send” to 360p (Standard definition) and “Receive” to 360p, one video at a time. This will only show the video of the participant that is speaking in the call, lightening the load of your computer juggling multiple video streams, you’ll only get one video stream at once
- Set “Send” to 360p (Standard definition) and “Receive” to “Audio only.” If video is not necessary for the particular small group activity, you could select “audio only,” which would disengage any video for all participants and just push their audio to you through the call.
The nice part about all of these is that your students wouldn’t know which setting you have activated (or, for example, that you couldn’t see them.) These settings apply ONLY to your computer, the students will still be able to see each other and interact in the breakout room.
This is a lot of information, but I’m hoping this two-pronged approach will yield the best results for you. It’s about making more space on your computer for the calls and making the calls more lightweight. So, try these out, see if they work, and hopefully you should be able to run multiple Google Meet calls simultaneously no matter what kind of setup or technology you have! As always, feel free to mention or DM me on Twitter if you have any follow-up questions!