Sunday, March 3, 2013
Can Voxer be a viable tool in the classroom?
Voxer is basically a walkie-talkie that you can download onto your smart phone and send voice, text, and picture messages in real time to one or more people.
I use it frequently with my friends because you can send voice messages in real time, but the other person doesn't have to listen to it until they're ready. When you send a message, the other person gets it literally the second you send it, and if they're on Voxer too, you can basically have a conversation just like if you were on the phone. However, if the other person has to go do their laundry or drive to work or go to the bathroom or anything else, that message just stays there until they're ready to listen. I find it really handy when I'm too busy to have a phone conversation or write out a long text, but I have a few seconds to just say what I want to say. It's useful for giving directions or telling a story; you know, stuff that would take a long time to text out.
I got to thinking about this handy little app...what if we could harness this and use it in our classrooms?
It started out when my group was working on our WebQuest in Ed Tech & Design. I was in charge of thinking of gadgets for our make believe class to use when using the WebQuest, and I realized that if a few kids were working on a project at the same time, but at their own houses, everyone could be on Voxer and talk and ask questions as necessary. With Voxer, you don't have to be on the phone constantly, and you can share the same messages with everyone in a group. When you text people, you can only get and receive messages from one person at a time. Sure, you can send your message to multiple people, but when those people respond, their messages only go to you, not to everyone who got the original message.
Suddenly, Voxer makes sense! What if, assuming our students had access to a smart phone or iPad (which, in our 21st century classrooms, many children do), students had the teacher's and each other's information within Voxer so that they could contact each other? Here are some situations where I could see Voxer being beneficial to the class.
1) Students collaborating outside of school on a project.
As I said above, if students agree to work on a project at the same time but can't meet in the same location, Voxer can be a great way for kids to talk to each other as a group and ask questions if they need to. They can even send pictures of how their part of the project is coming if they want to! They just have to select the people they want to include in their conversation, and they're set!
2) When you, the teacher, need to send a message to your students.
I don't know about you guys, but when I'm teaching, I don't want to have to call 25 kids to remind them to bring something for the next day, or email a bunch of parents, or print of a ton of paper to send reminders home with kids. Maybe you wouldn't do any of these things if the situation didn't really matter, but what if you could easily remind all of your students, at once, that they have a quiz the next day or that they need to make sure to bring a photo of themselves from home? Instead of sending home notes or emailing parents, you could just send a voice message to your students telling them whatever they need to know. If they have questions, they can Vox you right back, just like if they were in class and had a question. Plus, everyone can see everyone else's messages, so the other students can benefit from hearing another student's question and your response.
3) When you're on a field trip and want to let students have some freedom.
This idea is what really got me excited to use Voxer with my class. Say you, the teacher, were taking your class to the zoo for a day. While you could take the class around the zoo at your pace and not let students spend as much time looking at the animals that they want to, what if you just let them go and explore by themselves? You're probably thinking, "Whoa, bad teacher alert!" But seriously. What if you let your kids go in the morning and see the animals at their own pace? Little Jeremy might hate watching the penguins and giraffes, but maybe he could sit in front of the tiger exhibit all day. Sally and Mary? They're not so big on the tigers, but they love the dolphins and don't really care about seeing anything else. With Voxer, your kids can send voice messages back and forth and communicate with you, their teacher, about what they're doing and things they find interesting. Your kids can even send pictures to your whole class! Sally and Mary have been hanging out at the dolphin pool and caught a picture of one of the dolphins doing a 10 foot jump in the air. Suddenly, your whole class can see how cool the dolphins are, and can go over and check it out for themselves. Toby, over at the polar bear exhibit, snaps a picture of the largest polar bear pressing his nose to the glass, right in front of Toby. Michaela, by the lemurs, shares a photo of a baby lemur riding on his mom's back. Suddenly your entire class can see what their peers are seeing. And you, the teacher, can send messages and pictures that help guide your whole class's learning, even though you may not be with them.
Obviously not all of your students may have smart phones. If you pre-assign groups and make sure that every group has a smart phone that works and is connected to Voxer, you can reach all of your students. Some students who don't have phones can even hang out with you if they want to (but that may be kind of un-cool...you know how kids are.) It's way more fun to be out on your own than it is to be dragged along by your teacher.
Now here's the thing; kids can get lost. A zoo (or wherever you're on your field trip) can be a big place and you definitely don't want to lose your kids or have any worries about where they are. Voxer helps you with that. It has a built in GPS locator that automatically sends your location out with your message. The listeners just have to tap your message to see where you sent it from (and it's actually very accurate!). You could Vox your students every, say, half hour or so, and ask every group to send a message to check in. They could give their location in the message, or you can just make sure they're in a place they're supposed to be by clicking on their message and using the GPS. If you have any doubts and want all of your students to come back to the entrance to physically check in, all you have to do is send a message. If your kids are going to be late (we've all been in a park and had to meet someone and couldn't contact someone when they didn't show up), they can just send you a quick message about why and you can respond.
So there you have it. I know I'm going to have to try to use Voxer in my classroom someday. Obviously you'll have to train your students to use it wisely, just like any other technology, but I think that it could be a really awesome tool that will befit you and your class. I tried doing some basic research online about if Voxer had ever been used in a way like this, and I couldn't find any information about it. I doubt I'm the first person to think of it, but hey. Weirder things have happened! A version of Voxer was created for businesses to use, maybe education is the next step. You can check out Voxer's official website to learn more! Now get Voxing!
(Voxer screenshot taken by me, via Voxer application for Android :)