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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Digital Progression

Yesterday we began reading "The Scarlet Ibis". As I was getting ready to pass out the soft sided readers with the story, I suggested the kids google it and see if it was already on line. It was, and almost all opted to read it there rather than carry around another book.

We proceeded, but we quickly reached a point where we wanted to annotate something in the text. I suggested moving it via copy paste into a google doc. That worked fine. We continued reading, but the students could only see the annotations on the screen up front, as they were still reading the original online version. So, I went to my docs list and dragged the file with the story into the view only folder I already have shared with my students. Most of them opted to open that.

In one period we went from a hard copy to a digital copy to a shared copy. The truth is I probably should have figured all that out before class, but in hindsight I think it was really good modeling that my students saw (and participated in) the transformation process. The moves were fluid, took very little class time, and each represented a big improvement in our workflow.

Modeling these ah-ha moments for kids with technology teaches them to question the tools they are using and wonder, is there a more effective way to do this?