Monday, September 9, 2013

Using Google Voice to Communicate with Students and Parents

I have always preferred to communicate with my students and parents through email.  With email, I can reply at any time and from anywhere.  I can be at home or even out and about, sending emails from my phone.  (I know many teachers hate bringing work home with them, but sometimes it is easier to respond to emails on my own time.)  Phone calls are hard to return because parents may be at work and many times don't answer the call.  And I don't want to call from my own cell phone in the evening.  So I end up having to to play phone tag quite a bit.
Hungarian Telephone Factory 1937 Budapest
Even though I tell parents that email is the best way to get ahold of me, and the quickest way to get a response, many parents still prefer to call me.  In the past, many did not have email accounts.  But even now, when I believe almost everyone has email, many parents still prefer to speak to me when they have questions or concerns about their students. Also, it is a bit tedious to check my school voice mail.  I always forgot how to get into it and many times parents speak too fast when leaving their number, and I can't call them back.

Google Voice

I have been hearing on twitter about teachers using Google Voice the last few months, so I decided to do some research.  I read some blog posts by TJ HoustonBill Price, Lisa Nielsen, and Alice Keeler.  Here is a summary of some ways that Google Voice might be helpful for a teacher.

  • Google Voice allows you to create a new/free phone number.
  • Parents can call my Google Voice number for free using the widget embedded on my webpage.
  • You can connect this Google Voice number to all of your phones - so if some one calls it, all your phones can ring.
  • You can set it up to get emails or texts if you get a message, missed call, or voice mail.
  • You can turn off the ringing, so the phone goes straight to voicemail at any time, and can schedule times when it will ring or not.
  • You can call or text people using your cell phone, but only the Google Voice number shows, not your own personal cell number.
  • Any voicemails that come in can be transcribed.  You will have a record of all received calls.  And if the parent speaks quickly, you can see the transcribed message, and don't have to worry about keeping up to write down their phone number.
  • You have a call log of all incoming and outgoing calls.  You can add notes to the calls so you have a record of communication with parents/students.
  • You can record received calls. 
  • You can have students call in as part of an assignment and can then embed the message on a website if wanted.  Here are some ideas of how students can use it:
    • Students can text in answers instead of using clickers
    • Students can call and leave a message practicing speaking a world language
    • Students can ask questions about material in a flipped lesson

How I will use Google Voice

I have my Google Voice setup so calls will only go through to my cell phone (I didn't set it to ring my home phone) before school, during my prep period, and after school for one hour.  Parents can get ahold of me directly during this time.  If they call during class or in the evening, they will leave a voicemail which will be transcribed and sent to my email.  I can then choose to call them back when I am free, while I am at home, or can wait until school the next day.  But the message will be saved and I can forward it to anyone if needed (it's an mp3 file).  

You can also choose to never actually have your phone ring and have no messages or texts go to your phone either.  Instead, you can install the google voice extension to your chrome browser, and you will get notifications of any calls or messages when you open up chrome.  (If you don't want any of the calls to go to your phone, when setting up Google Voice, you will still need to enter in your cell phone number.  Then change the settings by unclicking the boxes to have calls, texts, or messages sent to your phone.)

I will be using Google Voice to make all calls to parents this year because it will keep an electronic log of calls.  It will replace my notebook that I kept (not always up to date) and I can add notes to each entry in the log about the conversation.

I have also embedded the "call me" widget onto my webpage so parents or students can easily call me, for free.   I have listed my Google Voice number on my class syllabi so parents can easily call me, even if they can't access my webpage.  However, if a teacher didn't want to give out the number, they could just use the widget, and parents could contact them w/o knowing the Google Voice number.

I am excited to try this out this school year.  I will update this post after using it with my class.  If you have any suggestions or ideas, please let me know.

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