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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Not Sure I Understand...Voxer

By Peter DeWitt — June 22, 2014 4 min read
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Connected education is really important for those of us who use it, and even for those who have not seen the power of it yet. Whether we use Twitter, Facebook or Google Hangouts we can form friendships with new people in our Professional Learning Networks (PLN) or maintain contact with people we don’t see as often as we should.

Last Friday, I found myself Skyping in the early morning from Albany with a colleague who was going to bed in northern Australia. Later on I had a business meeting through Google Hangout with a colleague in Los Angeles and another in Chicago. These colleagues have become friends, so connecting mixes both personal and professional conversations.

We connect, have a few laughs, and then share ideas on whatever we may be working on at the time. Social media has changed my life for the better, whether it’s to connect with friends, people I have long admired or with new readers of this blog. Without it, I’m not sure that I would have grown as much as I did over the past three years. It has been...just...that...great.

Connected education is like that. People share out ideas, and learn from one another in the process. Some of the ideas really take off, and others are a bit of a harder sell. After all, not everyone loves technology, and those that do don’t always like to share on social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook. Comfort levels are diverse, and it takes time to get people to adopt new tools.

I don’t always understand the next big thing...

I’m not an expert. I have a few tools that I like. There are times when I present that I have to float between Prezi, Power Point and Keynote depending on the venue and connectivity in the room. Like many of you, I have a variety of devices that I overuse on some days and underuse on others. But I just don’t always understand the new tools that are in favor.

One new connected education tool that I haven’t understood yet is Voxer.

Voxer is an app that can be downloaded to your smartphone, and it acts like a walkie-talkie, only you can include anyone who has a Voxer account into the conversation. It even has the walkie-talkie sound when you speak into it or get a message from someone. Many connected educators refer to it as a professional development tool, but I’m not sold on it yet.

When I’m out for a walk I try to catch up on the conversation, but there have been a few that literally have a stream of over 150 conversations that have already happened by the time I get on. If you try to listen to the end, you miss out on the nuance of the conversation. If you start from the beginning, you might as well walk a marathon (PLN...you know who you are!).

I just don’t get it.

It doesn’t mean I won’t be sold in the future. Perhaps I’m using it wrong or haven’t spent the right amount of time to truly get an understanding of it. I have been involved in numerous Voxer chats where one person talks or asks a question and others respond. But I don’t think that makes it a professional development tool. It makes it a communication tool, which is more like a talking version of e-mail because people respond when they have time.

I don’t always understand tools when they first come out. I joined Twitter a little under three years ago and it took me months to get a feeling for why people liked it so much. It’s why I wrote Why Educators Should Join Twitter. After a few tries I understood the fascination with the social networking giant and have been a huge fan ever since. The chats on Twitter have provided me with professional development that I never has been exposed to in my career.

But where Voxer is concerned, I’m not there yet and need some help.

Drinking From a Fire Hydrant

It made me wonder...are we, as connected educators, pushing too many tools at the same time? Do we thrive on connecting too much? For some, Voxer is the next professional development or communication tool, but to others it’s an annoyance that provides another avenue for people to connect too much.

As connected educators, do we talk too much about the next big thing without explaining the benefits of the things that are here and now? Is it like talking educationalese to parents and not understanding why they don’t want to be a part of the conversation? Or are we responsible for throwing new tools into the conversation like a plate spinner jumps from one plate to the next trying to keep them all up in the air at the same time?

What tools can we use to get people to become more connected?

I was recently in a room with over one hundred educators and none of them knew what an edcamp was, and very few were on Twitter. Those of us who are connected educators have some work to do. Do we need to focus on promoting tools that will get us the most bang for our buck? Or do we promote a variety of tools where people can find one that works best for them?

Suggestions when using Voxer:

  • Keep your conversations short (under one minute)
  • Focus on one topic if you are using it as a communication tool with your PLN
  • If someone isn’t commenting after a few days, take them out of the conversation

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.