Monday, January 30, 2012

This Teacher Texts: Using Google Voice With Students

   When I left the Google Teacher Academy in July, one tool I was anxious to try out with my students was Google Voice. For those of you who don't know about it, Google Voice is a great free service that allows students and teachers to connect via text message and voice calls. There are a variety of options for how you set up a Google Voice account and myriad ways to use it. This post is based on my experience. Your mileage may vary. And there are a lot of other great ways teachers are using it too.
    I opted to select a new number for my GV account. I only connected it to my cell phone and not my home phone. I gave my students the number and told them they could text or call me.
    The kids were a bit surprised when I asked them to get their cell phones out on the first day of school and put in my GV number.  "Wait, we can really text you?"
     "Yes, yes you can."
     After that, the questions began to trickle in. Some were urgent pleas about dramatic life events, a death in the family, a house fire, a broken leg. Others were more typical, lost passwords, problems uploading a presentation, questions about missed work. Some times I could help, sometimes I couldn't.
     Never once have I felt like a student's text was an imposition on my time. I am always glad when I can answer their questions. And they are always polite and appreciative. As I scroll through my GV messages, my inbox displays just the last message exchanged; almost all of them say, "Okay, thank you."
    Google Voice has been such an easy way to make myself available to students. It's free. (GV is separate from you cell phone text messages.)  It takes hardly any time to set up and manage. It does not impinge on my privacy. It's possible to set up 'Do Not Disturb' hours, but I haven't had to do that. I don't see why more teachers aren't using it. Most don't even seem to know about it.  I went to a regional CUE conference recently. There were five sessions about Google tools. Four of them were packed, but the session on Google Voice had just two people in it. Teachers, even tech savvy teachers, just aren't aware enough about this really useful tool.

    If you are thinking of trying GV here are a few more things I really like about it. The text messages go to both my phone and my g-mail.  If I am at my computer I can respond to the mail and the student will get the reply as a text.  If someone leaves me a voice-mail on my GV number the transcript of that call goes to my email. The voice recognition is not perfect, but it helps.
   While I was one of those two participants in the GV session at the CUE conference I learned about teachers having students phone in their reading samples. Students can call your GV number and record their presentation or podcast. You can embed that recording on a site or blog.
   You can learn more about Google Voice here. I encourage you to try it with your students and let me know how it goes.