How Voxer Supercharged My PLN

Voxer JHVeal

     I was first introduced to the Voxer app fall of 2014 at a Saturday PD I attended near my home town. It was described in a “this app is on its way out” way because, at that time, Apple had just released iOS 8 which possessed competing voice messaging features in their new updates. Fellow workshop attendees briefly described Voxer’s attributes and dismissed it as quickly as the app had been brought up.  

     In short, Voxer is a walkie-talkie app that allows users to communicate via tap-to-talk voice recorded messages, unlimited length texting, and picture posts too. Despite the dismissive nature of my introduction to Voxer, I decided to investigate it anyway, especially after hearing how a connected educator in my school district used it to connect with her PLN. I downloaded the app along with a colleague and thus began my Voxer plunge!  

     My first forays into Voxer started off by joining a pre-existing group of educators. Over several weeks, I listened in on the conversation, feeling more like a voyeur, and left a few Voxes (that’s what you call a voice message on Voxer). My first impressions with Voxer left me thinking several things: This is remarkable, but who has time for this; I’m so nervous leaving a voice Vox; I don’t know these people, but they seem to be pretty connected. I ended up leaving that group and joining a few different groups, committed to giving it a fair shake at finding a group I connected with. I also used Voxer to communicate directly with a college who was a Voxer newbie. We eventually stumbled upon a newly forming group doing a book study on Eric Sheninger’s book Digital Leadership. We both joined the new Voxer group at the start of 2015, engaged in the book study that ended up lasting several months, and from that point I was sold on Voxer!  

     Since that time, Voxer has become a mainstay app for me, soon finding its way into my iPhone’s Dock as one of the four chosen Apps of Honor. I also took the plunge to become Pro, which was probably the most I have ever spent on an app, but was money well spent in my opinion.  

1 Voxer Quote

     When people ask why I’m so in the tank for Voxer I gladly explain that it played a vital role in my journey as a connected educator. It is the tool that propelled my Professional Learning Network into a Powerful & Personal Learning Network. Pre-Voxer, I connected on Twitter much like many other educator. As regularly as possible, I participated in Twitter chats such as #EduCoach and built a traditional PLN by following and learning with/from educators who inspired me and were experts in their fields. I also shared out things I was learning and helpful resources that were meaningful to me with others.

     Twitter was a great place to connect and grow, but I did not recognize what I do now. It was challenging to forge a PLN with authentic community and connectedness via Twitter alone. For me, Twitter was as wide as the east is from the west, but rather shallow when it came to deep connections. I felt limited by the 140 characters and rushed by the fast pace of most chats. So much of the interaction I experienced on Twitter alone was surface deep. Please don’t get me wrong though, Twitter did and continues to play a critical role in my growth as a connected educator, but I attribute Voxer with propelling me to the next level of connectedness. Voxer is where my PLN shifted from being strictly a P(rofessional)LN via single tweets of interaction to being Powerful and Personal, increasing in depth via the variety Voxer provides for communicating and connecting. Voxer has allowed me to interact far beyond a tweet by connecting at my own pace and utilizing a mix of text, voice message, picture, and resource sharing.

     Today, I wouldn’t be the connected educator I am without Voxer. It has afforded many unique opportunities such as growing with the LeadUpNow tribe as a founding member of their Voxer group, co-blogging with Bethany Hill, co-presenting at my state technology conference with Matthew Arend, Ryan Steel (both whom I met via Voxer), and Nancy Alvarez, and meeting  Eric Sheninger as a result of the Digital Leadership book study Voxer group (which is now reading his new book Uncommon Learning).

2 Voxer Quote

     I can now say I know, I really deeply know the people who make up my PLN. We aren’t just a brief bio and profile pic to one another, but friends who share about our families, our personal hurdles, our professional triumphs, our areas of growth, and our dreams and work as educators.

     Have I mentioned the incredible growth Voxer has afforded me? Thanks to Voxer, I experience powerful, impassioned, just-in-time professional growth from educational thought leaders across the country on a daily basis! I equate it to on demand PD, anytime and anywhere! All these reasons combined lead me to believe that Voxer is an app that is here to stay for quite some time.

I want to share some of my favorite ways to use Voxer and why I think it’s an app that could help propel your PLN too!

Groups

Collaborating in groups is my favorite way to use Voxer! I participate in several groups on a regular basis, but my core PLNs are the ones I spend the most of my time interacting with, those being the ECEchat and LeadUpNow groups. As a Voxer Pro subscriber, I am able to create and administrate the groups I create. I also connect with my own campus’s Leadership Teams as well as the Assistant Principals in my district via a Voxer group. We are able to communicate and collaborate as a group on an ongoing basis using this versatile and free app.

Book Studies

Voxer is a great platform for a book study! A group can come together to read a book over a period of time. As mentioned, I did a book study with a group reading Eric Sheninger’s book Digital Leadership. He actually was a part of the group too and would chime in from time to time. Recently, the group reconvened to read his second book, Uncommon Learning, and Eric is participating with us again. What an unique opportunity that only Voxer affords! We use a repeating set of questions allowing members to chime in each day to share their response to the question and interact about the content of the chapter for the week. Doing book studies on Voxer has been a great way to gain greater insights into the professional books I read, connect and grow with people in my PLN at a deeper level, and have accountability for reading and implementing new learning.

Email a Voice Vox

Voxer users are able to record a voice Vox in their “My Notes” and email it to another person even though they may not have a Voxer account. The emailed voice message is played through a Voxer web link. I use this feature to record and email voice messages to teachers after I visit their classrooms to give them informal, immediate feedback. I like that they can hear the enthusiasm in my voice after I’ve visited their classrooms.  

Keeping in Touch with Friends & Family Across the Miles

Voxer is terrific for keeping in touch with loved ones far away. I specifically use it to connect with my mother who lives states away from me. She doesn’t have a smartphone, but she does have an iPad so we Vox on a regular basis. My kids even Vox her sometimes. They especially love sending her pictures. It’s nice that we can send her a quick voice message or hear from her any convenient time.

How do you like to use Voxer? I’d love to hear your ideas! If you have not tried Voxer, I highly encourage you to give it a go. Check out Cybrary Man’s All About Voxer web page to learn more about Voxer and to find a group to connect with today. Voxer’s blog site is also a great place to learn more about the power of Voxer!

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How Ideas Converge on Voxer

This a featured piece I was asked to write for Voxer on leveraging the power of platform for connected educators.

via How ideas converge on Voxer – Voxer.

Assessments: Left Behind

Written by Nathan Lang and Jeff Veal, co-founders of LeadUpNow and #LeadUpChat

We can’t argue that there is a movement to change the landscape of education. Just google search differentiated instruction, authentic learning, or project based learning and you’ll get a plethora of search results. Blogs, models, theories, strategies, challenges and evidence, they’re all there to help support teachers move forward so that students are prepared for the college and career.

But there is still an aspect of the Big Three (Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment) that is left behind. Yes, Curriculum and Instruction have been upgraded to the iPhone 6 Plus, while Assessment is still at a Nokia flip phone. Why is Assessment so antiquated in it’s ways and how do we overhaul it?

It’s the same reason Captain Kirk always flew the Enterprise. (Well, yes there was that one time with the Klingon Bird of Prey…). They’ve upgraded the specs and standards, and installed fancier torpedoes and faster warp drives. But in the end, it it still the Enterprise. It’s all Kirk has ever known.  Even though we have seen teaching strategies come and go, the “test” is all we have ever known.  Many, will say that standardized testing is the reason classroom assessments are “left behind.” It’s time to leave that excuse behind.

The Way It Was…

When we were in school, we probably learned for one of two (or both) reasons. They make the teacher (or our parents) happy. Or earn a high grade (via an assessment/assignment). We wanted directions spelled out and wanted to know exactly what it took to earn an A or high favor with the teacher. This made us “good students.” We knew what the teacher wanted and when it was due. We rarely bought in to the assignment, as it was a means to an end. Why would we take ownership over something that had no personal value to us.  Why would we give more than expected? Be creative? Be rebellious?

The Way It Can Be…

Until now. We now know the impact now of self-directed learning.  Which in turn impacts assessment. Let’s ponder two possibilities…

Create Conditions for Students to Self Assess

If we are self-directed learners, we thrive and crave on feedback. Let’s say we’ve bought into authentic, learner centered instruction.  The data we collect from an assessment can help to inform next steps for students in the learning process but it doesn’t exclusively guide student learning.

A key condition that our students need as they become self directed is autonomy. The teacher as coach or facilitator is more than wordsmithing, but an imperative for the assessment culture to change on any campus. Increasingly teachers serve as coaches to help students take personal ownership. Student autonomy is about providing space and time for connections with ideas and concepts. Self assessments push students as they have to analyze and answer questions exercising their ability to be problem solvers. Additionally, when we foster conditions in our classrooms and school buildings for students to think critically about their own learning we communicate something powerful about the role of reflection. Today’s teacher coach gives permission for reflection to occur and isn’t quick  to “move on” in order to cover the next unit, slow down and savor the learning.

Use Data as a Strategy Tool

There are multiple strategies we can employ such as the power in using student data journals. A data journal can guide students to literally capture the big picture of their goals, outcomes, and feel personal success. The data collected in a journal can drive students to ask reflective questions about their progress. Data can be a powerful tool to help students in the journey of learning, but the constant stream of benchmarks and other “assessments” misses the rich landscape of possibilities. Assessments that are only teacher generated make for an anemic student and not reflective of the whole student.

The Way It Will Be?

Are we still asking students to use an iPhone 6 Plus Monday through Thursday and then asking them to use a Nokia Flip phone on Friday. It’s time to reassess our assessments.  It’s time to provide meaningful feedback in a way that motivates students to strive for awesome. Not to please the teacher, but to push themselves to achieve their learning goals and beyond. We must go beyond.

As the landscape of learning is changing we are certain of one thing…we are done with traditional, regular maintenance quiz/test checks, which not only lack inspiration, but does little to spur students to spiral deeper learning connections. Assessments themselves should ignite learning not extinguish it.

This post is the result of a broader conversation from our Instructional Leadership Series “Rules of Engagement” at #LeadUpChat. Thank you to all the educators who see education differently. 

Seeker

This is part 1 of three parts in a Curious Collective Series:

Some of my fondest memories involve taking teams of high school students out of the country on summer trips to do acts of compassion, several weeks at a time to 3rd world countries. On one such summer night, a group of my older high school boys decided they wanted to take the younger freshman guys “snipe” hunting. You could just see the excitement in the younger guys, the thought of getting to do something so cool sounding with the older teens and a sense of adventure.

Now, I hope that I am not giving it away when I say that there is no such thing as a “snipe.” Yes, a bit of fun at the expense of some naive boys I will admit. The older teenage boys had asked my permission, I allowed it as it was all in good fun, plus I didn’t want to miss out on the awesome hilarity that would ensue. For like an hour, I stood and watched as this group of brave hearted boys went snipe hunting with flash lights on an unsuspecting beach. The older guys manufactured quite a show, and had those newbies believing they had seen a snipe, only a mere few feet from being within their reach.

Finally, I had to put an end to the shenanigans and reveal to these seekers of sport that there was in fact no snipe to catch. Man, at first they were not happy to put it mildly,  and of course felt they had wasted their time. In the eyes of a 15 year old maybe…but…

It wasn’t a waste…they were doing important work, they were seeking. photo-1441035245556-b476ee501efa

Agreed, they came up empty handed but everyone including our newest explorers had a good laugh and made a forever memory. What those guys experienced is what we to be more as as educational leadersThe Curious Collective. 

When young teachers enter the profession not afraid to go snipe hunting, they often don’t know what they don’t know. They will chase after wild ideas because they are passionate, believing that in the end it will be what is best for kids, a sense of optimism and idealism that mentors often say, “don’t worry – give it a couple of years and you will feel differently.” This should not be so. As teachers become building leaders, or even district office personnel, the sense of wonder and seeking can to often be replaced by compliance, mandates, and a sense of disillusionment. There is another way.

Instead, we need to be a curious collective, not afraid to:

  1. Give permission – to self and others to seek even if the answers don’t seemingly materialize right away. You have individuals and teams of people surrounding you just waiting for you to say, “yes.” Be known as a gracious permission giver and create conditions where “seeking” is not a lost art.
  2. Go explore – As an/the edleader for your campus or team lead the way to seek out adventure and discover new opportunities to create pathways of learning, innovation, and discovery. Seek out individual and team PD, PLC, PLN opportunities that will elevate the journey for both your staff and students. Be curious with your people.
  3. Ask questions – along the way ask the questions that no one currently is willing to ask. Model risk taking and a growth mindset in your meetings with staff, coffee with parents, and sit downs with students.
  4. Celebrate – be intentional about celebrating the process, the journey that your students, teachers, or other edleaders have been on. When we celebrate we are validating the process. 99% of the time authentically celebrating someone doesn’t take any money just some time and relational energy.

photo-1438480478735-3234e63615bbI want to challenge you to be apart of the Curious Collective as we change the conversation and tone of education. Seek and you will find.

-Jeff  | twitter @heffrey

#Leadupchat Launching

#leadupchatTwitter has become such a powerful learning network for educators, certainly beyond anything anyone would have imagined years ago when it launched. When I first started using Twitter in 2008 it was still text message based, but the opportunity for expansion was evident. I have personally benefited  from the wisdom and leadership of many other ed thought leaders and felt the timing was right to add another layer to the edconvo. Nathan Lang (@nalang1) and myself are launching #leadupchat on March 21 and want to invite you to join us in this journey. This chat will be every Saturday @ 8:30am (CST) and will have a guest moderator monthly just to invite other points of view into the conversation.

This chat will focus on school leadership broadly, culture, changing paradigms, and the growth mindset. We can not wait to learn with those will join us as we explore topics that impact us all in education and the challenges we face as we move forward. Thanks for being on the journey as we grow and learn together. -Jeff

Innovation Happens

I will be the first to admit I love things that are gadgetty (is that a word) or techie because it is just cool, cool, cool. This video reminds me again about how imperative it is connect innovation with education in tangible ways. Elliot Masie says something so key that as educators we must be highly aware, “beyond being cool can it do anything?” We can not become self sufficient on technology as some great teacher in and of itself teacher itself but must provide meaningful connections. If we are not careful we stand as educators on the precipe of deifying technology as the end in our schools and possible future careers for many students. No, it is the beginning.

We are tremendously fortunate to live in the 21st century ripe with innovation, but students of today must know how to do more than manipulate buttons and stare at compelling screens. No, we must help them to think critically about creativity, design, problem/solution, and the greater benefit that results from innovation. We now stand at a place where the makers of today ARE the makers of tomorrow.

Technology + Innovation + Learning

-Jeff