Monday Tech Minute: Voxer (10/12/15)

I haven't written one of these in a while - a Monday Tech Minute, that is. Sleep deprivation from having a child and the start to a new school year will do crazy things to you. Crazy things like dissuade you from writing on your blog.

But damn, my kid is really cute! Who could leave this little bundle to write a blog? Seriously?!

We've reached the end of first quarter, however, and I'm finally starting to feel like I have my feet back under me. My wife has sadly completed her maternity leave and has gone back to work. While we're both sad that our kiddo has do go to a mixture of day care and my parents rather than hang out all day with one of us, I'll admit that it is nice to be in our routine that will last for the foreseeable future.

That could lead into a whole other post about the importance of routine, but we'll leave that for another day. This Monday Tech Minute is going to encourage you to try out an app on your smart phone called Voxer.
What is it?
Voxer is a free app* that turns your cell phone into a glorified walkie talkie. You can download it on your app store for an iPhone or Android device. There is a Pro subscription that is not free, but you can definitely get by with the free account.

*Mostly free, that is. You can be a Pro user for $30 a year. This allows you to Vox from your computer as well as your cell phone. You also can host a group Vox. That is the feature that sold me on buying the Pro subscription.

Everyone is comfortable and familiar with the concept of texting others. This app takes that concept and adds your voice. As a teacher, I try to express to my students all the time how important one's voice is to one's message. This is why you call a prospective employee rather than e-mail! Tone, voice inflection, the pace of your speaking - all of these small details can take a message and totally change its meaning. You've all probably had that text message conversation that got awkward because the emotion behind the text was misinterpreted.

How is it used?
In the world of education, it is mostly used as a collaborative tool among educators. I am a member of several groups that Vox regularly, the largest being Sat Chat. This particular group has its origins in the Twitter hashtag, #satchat. It is a group of educators that - you guessed it - chats about education every Saturday morning. Kind of like an online coffee shop.

Some of the moderators of the online chat decided to start a Voxer group. They pose a new question about education each day that gets the conversation going. Educators chime in with a short Vox, which is basically a voice message, throughout the day at their convenience. When you get a chance, you plug your headphones in and catch up on the conversation.

The platform on your cell phone will look something like this:

Why? Why would I want to listen to other people talk about school after I've left school? WHY???
Well, I suppose that if you're asking this question and reading this blog, something has gone terribly wrong in your day to bring you to this point. Please accept my apologies. Go watch this YouTube video to brighten your day.

Otherwise, if you're taking some time to read this blog, then I assume you have an interest in bettering yourself as an educator, bettering education as an institution, or just generally you like learning new stuff.

I get it. But I don't get it.
Like you get how to use the app, but you don't get how this could possibly help you be a better teacher? I'm with you, and I stayed off of Voxer for about a year after I heard about it for this exact reason. The moment that changed my mind was getting into a productive and meaningful group. My first one was the #satchat group. It was active, interesting and had diverse opinions. It was like a teachers lounge full of teachers with really fascinating and well-thought-out points of view.

I'm now in a group with several other teachers in my district, I Vox regularly with our district tech guru (Colleen McLain) about random stuff, I've started an experimental group with several students in my US Government class* thanks in part to a Voxer conversation with KC native but current Delewarian Rosy Burke as well as several others that have picked up and died down over time.

*Which has been awesome! We had a debate/argument about the 10th Amendment while I was taking a walk with the kiddo on Sunday night. The best thing is all of the messages are stored and tagged to an individual, so there's none of that anonymous nonsense that comes with so many social media platforms.

If you're like me, you get tired of the conversations in the hall that are so, just....UGHHH! I mean, I have my fair share of things to complain about, and I really like all of the teachers in my hallway. But when you have two and a half minutes of down time between the end of your last class and the start of your next class, you're not going to have a legitimate conversation on education! You make half-witted jokes and try to keep smiling. It's not exactly the most intellectually stimulating minutes in my day.

That is the space that Voxer fills for me - a place to have positive, meaningful conversations about education. For me, I Vox while I drive home or while I'm walking. It's a good recharge for my brain, and more importantly, for my emotional state specifically concerning how I feel about education in general. Sam Brownback takes away hope for the future of my profession. Voxer gives me that hope back. 

I'm curious. I want to try this out. What now?
Cool! Good for you! Go download the app on your cell phone and then come back. My user name is chambersalecchs. Shoot me a Vox and I'll get you into your first group and help you get your feet wet.

Then find some colleagues and get them going as well. A group of teachers from the high school and middle school in our district are now in a 20-Time/Genius Hour Voxer group now. Maybe your department or your school committee could use a Voxer group to help facilitate better communication.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:
My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have a newborn daughter and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet. Seriously. It's a proven fact.

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