Archive for the 'Essential Technologies' Category

Every Educator Needs Google Voice

June 29, 2010

Google recently opened its Voice service to all comers.  I’ve been using Google Voice for a little over a year, and I’ve recommended it many times to friends and colleagues.  Google gives you a new number, a unified voice mail box, and control.

I give my Google Voice number to everyone.  I put it on my syllabi, I list it on my resume, I hand it out on business cards, I share it in workshops, and I even post it online.  My Google Voice number is (501) 303 MOIX.

I have my Voice account set up to announce callers.  This feature is optional.  What happens when someone calls my Voice number depends entirely on their Caller ID information.

If it’s a new number…
the caller is greeted by “the Google Voice lady,” is asked to speak their name, and then hears ringing.  If the call is not answered, it is sent to voice mail.

If it’s a caller who has already given their name before of if their number appears in my Google Contacts list…
the caller simply hears ringing.  If the call is not answered, it is sent to voice mail.

Depending on who is calling and the time of day, some, none, or all of my phones ring.  When I answer, I hear the name of the caller and a list of options.  The primary options are to take the call or to send the caller to voice mail.  If I select voice mail, I still have the option to listen while the message is being recorded and break in if necessary.

Why is this a service that all educators should seriously consider?

By default, all Google Voice activity is logged.  Dates, times, recorded names, and call durations are all easily accessible.  If someone sends a text message to your Voice number that you reply to, both the incoming and outgoing messages are preserved.  Voice messages will remain in your account until they are deleted, and thanks to the text transcriptions they are searchable by keyword.

Giving your home or mobile number to parents provides them with a means to contact you outside of work hours, but sometimes people call at the strangest hours.  By defining the times that you will not take calls you control when calls go directly to voice mail.

This falls into two categories.  First, if all of your contacts know to use your Google Voice number, you will avoid a situation where your private home or mobile number “gets out.”  People will soon find that the best way to reach you is through the new number.  Second, you can consolidate your GMail and Telephone contacts using Google’s comprehensive contacts system.  Create and manage only a single copy of everyone’s information.  If you use a smartphone, you can even sync Google Contacts back onto your mobile device.

In the end, Google Voice has many handy features that you can only appreciate once you’ve started using it.  Voice lets you initiate phone calls and text messages right from your browser.  If you are on a call that you picked up on your home phone you can quickly and quietly transfer that call to your mobile phone by pressing *.  If you are “in the zone” and need to hold all calls, you can enable Do Not Disturb which can be configured to turn itself off after a duration you choose.

Using voice is not without its challenges, though.  If you are out and about and want to place a call using your Voice number, you have to dial into that account and then key in the number to call.  Alternatively, you can use your phone’s mobile browser to initiate the call, but it still takes some effort.

Head over to and set up your account.  It’s free, and they let you pick your own number.

…And That’s Final!

May 5, 2010

Final exams will begin shortly at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & Arts.  Do you know where your children are?  Mine are already frantically cramming.  Some are toting flash cards.  Others are chanting mnemonics.  A few are working on course projects.  I’d like to share a method that I’ve used with my college students that might help your students this time of year.

Build Your Own Study Guide
When I teach Fundamentals of Information Technology at Ouachita Technical College, I provide my students with a link to a shared Google Document with only that phrase and a few directions at the top.  They can practice word processing skills while working out their own system of organization for course content using a collaborative writing space.

Some Technical Limitations
Google Documents (in its current version) is a near-real-time collaborative word processor that allows up to 10 users to edit a document simultaneously.  When users click save, their changes are merged with the changes of others.  I have found that entries can get lost if the maximum number of users is exceeded, which is frustrating to the students.  The new version of Google Documents allows real-time edits — the students see the presence of other users, and their words appear as they type them.  I am not certain what the limit is for simultaneous editors in this new version.

To create and share this document is relatively straight-forward.

  1. From the Google Docs main screen, create a new document.  Enter a heading with directions to the students.  Save the document.
  2. Share or invite the students to the document.  There are two strategies:
    1. You can create a link to post, email, or otherwise share by clicking on Share -> Get the link to share.  Check both check boxes.  This is the less secure method, as anyone with the link can view and edit the document.
    2. You can share the document with a Google Group or list of email addresses by clicking Share -> Invite People.  Enter the address(es) and click Invite.  Students will need to set up Google Docs accounts for this method, but only those users invited will be able to view or edit the document.
  3. Monitor, encourage, and correct.  You can view the current state of the document at any time by selecting it from your documents list.  You can see who contributed what by loading the Revision History under the File menu.  You can encourage and correct the students by inserting comments.

Final Thoughts
This collaborative study guide has worked well for me in the past.  There are always students who engage immediately with the document, and there are usually students who need considerable encouragement.  That is not the fault of the technology, but a classroom management issue to be addressed by the educator.

Google has updated their document security interface.  If the steps in the above post no longer work for you, watch this video.  You will want to share the BYO Study Guide as “Anyone With The Link” while also allowing them to edit the document.

Arkansas Technology Institute

April 29, 2010

I got word today that the Arkansas Technology Institute has a few remaining vacancies for sessions in June and July.  I participated in the institute in 2007, and I coached teams in 2008 and 2009.  Participants work together to learn to integrate technologies including video production, web design, and other multimedia into frameworks-based lessons that are then published to the web.

Upon completion, participants return to their districts as newly-minted AETN ATI Certified Institute Trainers who lead sessions for their colleagues.  Participants are reimbursed for travel, lodging, and meals, and they receive 30 hours of technology professional development credit.  Additionally, participants can earn graduate credit through the University of Central Arkansas.

If you’re interested in attending, hurry!  Space is limited.  More information can be found on the ATI website.