Leading inside the Vox

digital literacySmartBlog on Education is shining a light on education technology innovations during May, exploring the latest products and tools and the hottest trends in ed-tech. In this blog post, we learn how education leader Fred Ende uses Voxer.

I’m sorry. I just can’t stop talking about how much I love Voxer.

Seriously, have I mentioned Voxer and how much I love using it?

I was first introduced to Voxer last spring, and at first, I thought of it as a handy Walkie-Talkie tool. It was easy to use, and it fit a need I had with my current phone (plus it was free), so I figured, why not?

But, it wasn’t until late summer, when a number of my colleagues and I found ourselves in a large Voxer group that the tool’s incredible worth became clear to me.

For those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience Voxer : Check it out. It can be downloaded at no cost from the Apple, Google and Windows stores. Imagine a tool that takes the best of text messaging and photo sharing and add in the emotion and inflection of voicemail messages. In effect, Voxer allows for asynchronous verbal communication with the added bonus of being able to incorporate text, photos and file sharing.

The premise of using Voxer is simple. Touch the orange button to talk. But though the premise might be simple, the impact is complex, and, in all honesty, life-altering.

Let me explain.

Since Voxer allows for the creation of closed groups (up to 15 people in the free version), you immediately know that your thoughts are safe. You can have difficult conversations and explore challenging ideas with others whose thoughts help to shape you as a learner, a leader and a person. You can delve deeply into exploring an idea, with conversations that last for days, without having the conversations seem to last for days (if that makes sense).

While truly, all this is great, for me, the life-altering aspect is tied to the reflection that Voxer almost forces you to engage in.

I love to talk.

And, truth be told, there are times when I probably talk a little bit more than I should. While I’ve been told that I’m a great listener, I know that I’m a great talker (and by the way, lest you think my ego needs some checking, “great” here doesn’t necessarily have to do with the quality of what I say; the quantity of words that come out of my mouth tends to be substantial). I’m proud to say that Voxer has helped me grow tremendously in this area through two different means.

First, when you push the “talk” button, you’re on the clock.

Literally.

The minute that orange button goes to green, a timer starts running. I never really thought about my talk time before (aside from in a very general way, like saying to myself, “I can’t talk for too long at the start of this meeting” or “I only have 10 minutes in this agenda; how am I going to make the use of that time?”), so seeing the seconds and minutes fly by was eye-opening. I’ve begun to use five minutes as my marker, thinking ahead to what I want to say so I can get it across in the clearest and most concise manner possible.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m getting better.

Second, unlike with an in-person conversation, there is never an opportunity for “uncomfortable” silence. All the silence on Voxer is, by nature, comfortable. I often provide the most helpful responses to queries and requests for feedback when I’ve had time to think. The fact that, with Voxer, a question can be asked, and the asker doesn’t have any preconceived notions on when (or necessarily who) will answer it is incredibly liberating. This extended wait time is exactly what we all need if we are going to best process the information we’re buffeted with daily. I can clearly state that I’ve become a more consistent reflector of my own thinking, and the thinking of others, because of Voxer’s design.

I can speak to the wonders of this tool not just from its impact on me, but also on others that I work with. I recently facilitated a workshop on incorporating various “newer” technology tools into professional development work. When it came time to explore Voxer, we engaged in an asynchronous article reflection, from five different areas of our campus, enjoying the great weather, eachother’s “virtual” company and the reflection time we had in between comments (or voxes). Voxer has the potential to make protocol work even more powerful, by helping participants to give thought the time it needs to grow well.

No tool is perfect, but for me, Voxer is pretty darn close. What I want from any tool (new technology or old) is an ability to put it down or turn it off feeling like I’ve built my own capacity to become a better learner and leader in using it. Voxer might be “push to talk,” but it has required no push to get me to see how I’ve become better from its existence.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia and at ASCD EDge.

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