A teacher’s complete guide to using Google Voice to collect classwork and homework

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This entry will guide you through the process of setting up and using a Google Voice account for the purpose of collecting spoken homework, such as for a language class. After reading this guide, you will be ready to configure your Google Voice account and collect your first round of homework. The focus of this entry is not to give an exhaustive list of all the contexts and ways in which Google Voice can be used in education, however! Use your creativity and share your ideas in the comments. :)

Google Voice is a completely free service which gives you a local telephone number with voicemail service.

Students can call your Google Voice number from their own phones, be directly connected to voicemail, and record messages up to three minutes long. You can then listen to their recordings on any computer and even e-mail your students their audio files with your feedback.

To create an account:

  1. Go to http://voice.google.com/
  2. Log into a Google account. I suggest using a separate “professional” account rather than your personal Google account.
  3. You will see a message saying Getting Started: Set up your Google Voice number.
    1. Choose “I want a new number.”
    2. Type in the area code that you want, click “Search numbers”, and choose any one from the list. (The listed location of the number, such as “Oakmont, PA” or “Clairton, PA” is not important.)
    3. On the next page, choose a four-digit PIN for your voicemail and accept the terms and privacy policy.
    4. On the Add a forwarding phone page, you must type in your own normal phone number for now, whether it be for your private cell phone or for an office phone. Don’t worry- we will remove it again soon so that this Google Voice number acts only as a voicemail inbox.
    5. On the Congratulations! page, click “Finish.”
    6. On your Google Voice inbox page, click on the gear icon toward the top-right of your screen and choose “Settings.”
      1. Under “Forwards calls to:”, uncheck the box next to your private phone. This will ensure that when students call your Google Voice number, they are directed immediately to the voicemail box.

To set up your outgoing voicemail message:

  1. On your Google Voice inbox page, click on the gear icon toward the top-right of your screen and choose “Settings.”
  2. Click on the “Voicemail & Text” tab
  3. Click on “Record New Greeting”
    1. Type in a title for the greeting (optional) and click “Continue.”
    2. Under “Phone to ring,” Select your private phone from the list. Click “Connect.”
    3. Your phone will ring. Answer your phone and follow the instructions to record your greeting. You might want to say something like this: “Hello, {Language} student! This is your teacher, {Name}. Please say your name and then record your speech after the beep. Thank you.”
    4. Close the “Record your greeting” popup on your computer.
    5. To test your voicemail greeting, click the “Play” button next to the “Voicemail Greeting” item on the “Voicemail & Text” settings tab.

To share recordings with your students:

  1. On your Google Voice inbox page, find the recording you want to send to a student.
  2. Click on the blue “more” button.
  3. Choose “email”.
    1. Type in your student’s e-mail address, a subject line, and a message.
    2. Click “send.”

Things to consider when implementing Google Voice in a language course:

  1. Make sure students have phones. It’s good to double-check that your students have some kind of phone access before giving them a Google Voice assignment!
  2. Keep the recording limit in mind. The maximum length of a Google Voice voicemail recording is (a frankly quite generous!) three minutes. This ought to be enough recording time for most small homework assignments, but be careful not to use this method for speeches which may exceed three minutes.
  3. Using Google Voice to collect herpetology homework. Photo: Twak, CC-BY-2.0

    Make sure students say their names. Include that instruction in your voicemail greeting message. There’s nothing worse than getting three or four anonymous recordings and then painstakingly trying to match the sometimes poor-quality recordings with your students’ voices. Most of the idiomatic features which make our voices unique are in very high frequency bands, and phones filter those frequencies out entirely. That’s why it’s so easy to mistake your aunt for your mother on the phone.

  4. Use Google Voice inside or outside of class. Your Google Voice voicemail box is a wonderful tool for enabling students to make recordings outside of class for homework. However, during class, it can be used to record multiple simultaneous speeches or role plays. For example, I sometimes give my students an impromptu speaking topic, give them half a minute to collect their thoughts, and then direct them to call the Google Voice number all at the same time to record their responses.
  5. Allow for students’ ability to prepare their speeches. Keep in mind that you cannot control how long students take to prepare their speeches outside of class, so for assignments intended to test a student’s on-the-fly language performance, this method should be used sparingly—perhaps only at the beginning of a semester.
  6. Assess content, not pronunciation. Collecting pronunciation homework over the phone is not ideal because phones filter out or compress so many frequencies. Because of this, Google Voice pronunciation exercises could be good for practice, but don’t rely on it for assessment.

Have you ever used Google Voice to collect spoken homework? If so, what was the assignment? How did it go? And if you haven’t tried it out yet, what activities in your class could you use Google Voice for? Sound off in the comments!

Further Reading:
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February 21, 2013Permalink 23 Comments

23 thoughts on “A teacher’s complete guide to using Google Voice to collect classwork and homework

  1. Just a further note about that… one really nice feature of Google Voice is that if you DO set up call forwarding, you can actually record incoming calls. The limit for THAT feature is 3 HOURS, rather than 3 minutes (http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/voice/BmEOpqXXaWk). Furthermore, there does not appear to be a limit to the number of recordings you can save to your account in this manner, and you can export recordings as mp3s. Finally, you can add notes to each recording which you could use to store transcriptions or a summary of the content of the recording. Students may be encouraged to set up their own Google accounts (in the US the age limit is 13), or you could alter the call forwarding rules to allow different students to use it on different nights.

    See also: http://support.google.com/voice/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=115082

  2. Great point! I’ve never had the occasion to use call recording, but for something like an interview or oral history project, you’re right about its greater flexibility. The only limitation, I suppose, is that one of the parties needs to have google voice and understand how to use it. The voicemail box requires no special knowledge from the student. Still, that’s a great direction to explore!

  3. Oh, I just realized I misinterpreted part of what you said. You suggested there could be one teacher-controlled account which would rotate the call forwarding from one student’s phone to another, allowing each in turn to record a conversation with a third party. Except for the scheduling complications, that’s a very elegant solution! The students would still need explicit instructions for how to initiate the call recording, but that should be manageable.

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  13. Nice job, Bill. I just added this article to my presentation on Google Tools that can be used to meet Common Core Standards. I aligned it to

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

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