Friday, September 11, 2015

Class Discussion and Collaboration Made Better with Voxer

By Ed Tech Maniac, Darin Anderson

If you are reading this, it is likely that you are about as tech nerdy as they come. While it is doubtful that a teenager looks at a new app and thinks, How can I use this in school?,  most of us in #EdTech land seek out the educational and instructional potential in each and every new tech device, app, or fad that comes along.

Recently, I was introduced to Voxer by a teacher peer who uses the app to keep tabs on the latest and greatest goings-on with his PLN. As he uses it for such practical advances as sharing lesson ideas and resources, I began to wonder how students could also make use of Voxer's capabilities for more than sharing pics from the football game or messaging answers to tests back and forth. (Not that any group of students would ever do such a thing.)

If you are unfamiliar with Voxer, here is an introduction:

Upon exploring the app, I began to settle in on what is perhaps an obvious conclusion: student collaboration. But however blatantly simple it might seem, the practical uses of Voxer in a classroom setting - the collaboration potential - has my head spinning.

Here are just a few of my ideas:
  • Groups of 3-4 each discuss a different, yet related, topic. Then each member is to add a voice message or two to classmates in different groups. In a matter of a few minutes, there exists a threaded backlog of student thoughts and responses, available for review at any time.
  • Allow pairs to message one another back and forth during review time, brainstorming sessions, or just to discuss a concept. The relative safety of speaking to just one other classmate has the potential to elicit better responses.
  • Anytime Learning is a snap with Voxer as kids, and teachers, can keep conversations going beyond school hours.
  • Voxer has a feature that shows users which group members have heard/seen the message and which have not. This allows the teacher to know who is engaging and who is not, at least at a superficial level.
  • Brainstorming project/product ideas with others is easy with Voxer. Whether on the bus to a football game, sitting in math class, or at home on the couch, if a thought strikes, send a Vox.
  • PLN collaboration on Voxer allows more depth than 140 characters on Twitter. While I am in no way discounting Twitter chats, Voxer lets users send voice, picture, and link "Voxes" as well as unlimited-length text messages.
  • Personal notes and reflections from both students and teachers. Students can reflect on learning as a type of formative assessment, while teachers can also use the app to reflect on lessons that rocked...or those that went awry. 
  • Continuous staff or department chats. Voxer just might be the solution to discussing issues outside of PLCs or department meetings. No more field trip discussion getting in the way of data analysis and planning.
  • The groups are relatively private, unlike a Twitter chat which all of your followers can, well, follow. If you are not invited to a Voxer group or discussion, you will be none the wiser about content. 
There are a few caveats to consider as you look into using Voxer:
  • Voxer works on smartphones. However, If your school does not have Wi-Fi access for student devices, then student mobile data usage may become an issue. Conveniently, it works just fine on a laptop.
  • Not all kids will enjoy hearing the sound of their own voices in the playbacks. It could make for some awkward moments.
  • Listening to responses can be time consuming and some students - and teachers - will prefer not to engage at the depth you'd like.
  • Voxer integrates with Dropbox, even as most folks have become Google Drive users. Not necessarily a huge concern, but something to keep in mind.
Certainly, there are several tools available out there to help spur along student discussion. The basic - but by no means is it basic - version is free, and there are some very nice extras tacked on to the paid edition, which is a paltry $3.99 a month.

Feel free to reach out to me on Voxer to discuss this or any other edtech topic. My handle is darinanderson :-)

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