Last spring I attended a conference session on using Skype as a tool for tutoring online/distance classes. This fall I attended a conference session that discussed using Google tools, specifically GoogleVoice, as an additional contact point with students. This semester, I am going to experiment with a combination of the two.
Skype is great for video calls (or audio only if you’re camera shy), but to use other features like SMS offline and calls to landlines or mobile phones, there is a fee. Another thing I like about Skype is that you are able to share your computer screen. This works great for tutoring or troubleshooting in computer applications courses, because you can show someone how to complete steps as if you were in the same room. There is a mobile app for Skype, but it does not accommodate video and is much more limited than the Web app.
Google Voice, on the other hand, gives you the ability to set up a specific phone number and use it for calls and texts without the need to give out your own personal number. You could also set up a number (custom, if you prefer) so that no matter where you move or which phone/cell provider you use, you always have the same number. Google Voice gives you the ability to screen calls, organize contacts into groups, send texts to email (they are automatically transcribed), and return texts from your email. There are other features that are perks, but I’m not sure I would use them. Features like being able to transfer a call from one phone to another (i.e. from land line to cell phone on your way out), add up to four people to a conference call, set up custom rings and greetings for groups, do not disturb, and merge phone with browser. Somethings that I WILL use, though, are the ability to send and receive texts with students and send texts to multiple recipients at the same time. Another advantage of using Google Voice for texts is that they are free – they do not count against any limits with your particular cell phone plan. Believe it or not, not everyone has an unlimited text plan. I don’t have a teenager on my plan, so 200 texts per month is more than enough. Free fits my budget really well.
I searched for comparisons and for Google Voice vs Skype. Though Skype scored high, Google Voice came out on top because of the additional features, flexibility, and free – the most important “f” word. To meet my objectives, at least as I see them now, I see Google Voice as a primary contact point with Skype as a supplement as needed. This is my first experiment with either, so I’m sure that I’ll find that the use of either or both will be tweaked as I go.
The point of this is to try to improve communication with students, online students in particular. This continues to be a challenge. A couple of years ago, I set up closed Facebook groups for my Microcomputer Applications classes for an additional contact point with both me and the class as a whole. That experiment has been a success. The students are on Facebook more often than they are in the college’s LMS. They also tend to answer each other’s questions more quickly than I can because of this. I’ve had many students voice their appreciation for incorporating Facebook discussions in the course, and I have even had students who have taken additional classes with me request a Facebook group for the class. It might seem like, if that’s working, just stick with it. The problem is that I know I am still missing some students, and one thing they do more often than check Facebook is text.