Last year a friend told me about this neat application called Grand Central that gave you a centralized phone number which, when called, would ring to any phone number(s) that you wanted. When I heard about this I immediately went to sign-up. Unfortunately at that point Grand Central was defunct. However, Google had taken it over and there was a post stating it was coming soon and I could sign-up to be notified when it was ready. Of course I did. Now, a year later, Google Voice is finally up and running. Although if you go to sign-up it does say “by invite only”, but don’t be deterred; it’s my understanding that the invites are being sent out rather quickly. So let’s look at how I believe Google Voice is going to help educators, even more so than any other group.
I have taught at four schools in my career and at each of these schools getting to a phone to call parents was a challenge, to say the least. At my current location there is ONE phone for all 70 teachers to use. In addition, my current location utilizes an answering system that is simply a nightmare to traverse. Parents hate it, teachers hate, it’s pretty ugly. A couple of years ago those issues drove me to add another cell line onto my service; one that would be used exclusively for work. It was convenient, however I frequently forgot to turn it on or off, or charge it, etc. So I eventually dropped the service and told parents they would have to contact me exclusively via e-mail. That has worked out, but there are still times that I need to call them. So do I schlep up to the office and hope the one phone isn’t being used? Or do I take the chance and call from my cell or home, allowing the receiver to now have my personal contact info.? Neither option is appealing. Does any of this sound familiar? This is where Google Voice comes in.
With Google Voice I am given a phone number (actually I was given a huge list of numbers to choose from), I then added what numbers I want to ring when someone calls my Google Voice number. I can add and delete these numbers at will. At this moment I only have my Google number connected to my cell, but again, it’s totally flexible. One of the top features that I appreciate is a phone number that will never change. For various reasons I have had a few different cell numbers in the past few years. Now I can just give everyone my Google number and it doesn’t matter if any other number changes, the Google number will always remain the same.
Here is where I am excited about using in my job. When a call comes through I have the option of accepting it, sending it straight to voicemail, or, the real fun one, listen in on the voicemail (BTW as you are listening in you can jump into the call at anytime). Think about it, if you have a call come in and it only shows the number on the caller ID, you can now listen in and decide if that is someone you want to talk to immediately. It’s like when you screen your calls on your home answering machine.
Okay, here is the really great part about the whole thing: written transcripts of all voicemails! Unfortunately we live in a day of “CYA” when it comes to parents, students and administrators. Allowing calls to go to voicemail simply adds an extra layer of protection so that no one can say “I didn’t say that”.
Placing calls is another reason I love this for work. You can place a call in a few different ways, depending on your phone. A few days ago an app was released for Blackberry and Android phones. So if you use one of those you are pretty lucky. 🙂
The rest of us will need to access a web browser to place a call. If you use a cell phone with a web browser, like iPhone or Palm, you can access your Google Voice account that way. Or you can simply sign in to your account via your computer and initiate the call that way. When you sign in there are two buttons at the top left, CALL & SMS:
When you click on the CALL button a pop-up appears with your options:
It asks the number you want to call, then the number to ring. After you fill those in and click connect your phone will ring (in my case my mobile), then your call begins. Now remember, even though you are physically holding your cell or home phone, you are making a call from your Google Voice number, so that is the number any caller ID will pick-up, thereby saving you from giving out your personal information.
Another feature that I love, while not all that handy for my work, is the SMS. I get to send FREE text messages. Of course I have to do it through the web (either computer or phone), which isn’t as convenient as hitting the iPhone SMS button, but it has allowed me to shave $10/mo off my cell phone bill!
There are so many features like call screening, personalized voice greetings, conference calling and notifications. Honestly the features are so rich that I still haven’t explored them all. You should check out the feature page. It has cool YouTube videos that show everything in detail.
Here’s the bottom line: Google Voice can be a serious helper when it comes to giving out a phone number to parents and students. Even though using it isn’t as easy as pressing a button on your phone (unless you are a lucky Blackberry or Android phone user), the features you get with the service far outweigh the tiny amount of “inconvenience”. I really see this as a service every educator should be racing to sign-up for. Oh, and I forgot the best part: It’s FREE!