“Rather than see these forms of visual media as leisure-time pleasures, we believe they hold potential to engage students in class and provide another vehicle by which to demonstrate concepts and communicate with each other.” (Reyes, Kaeppl & Bjorngard-Basayne, 2018, para. 1)
In 2018, Faculty Focus published an article titled “Memes and Gifs as Powerful Classroom Tools” where the authors argues that these types of media allowed students to interact with their peers and faculty in a non-threatening (and less awkward) way. Instead of students fumbling for words to express their feelings about specific classroom content they may choose to post a gif or a meme that more succinctly communicates their message (with a dash of humor). This is even more crucial when teaching an online class where engagement and community building are often a struggle. That’s where Voxer comes in!
Voxer is a free mobile application (but can be used on desktops) that allows for team communication in a forma very similar to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The application allows for users to send messages in a variety of formats such as text, text-to-speech, audio clips, videos, photos, and you guessed it – gifs! While Voxer is primarily marketed to businesses who have project teams, it also works well for small groups and classroom discussions in an online environment. Initial setup is quick and the user-interface is straight-forward and user-friendly that it does not take long to begin using it. Once an individual has downloaded the app and signed-up for an account that are able to search for other users and create chat-groups to begin communicating with one another.
So why should educators care about Voxer and using gifs in their online classroom discussions? In 2015, Rebecca Glazier conducted a study to understand how student rapport can be increased in online classes to increase retention rates. Glazier’s (2016) results strongly suggest that faculty who build rapport with their students have greater success in terms of their students performing well in the online classroom. Glazier comments “students notice a difference when a course is taught with rapport-building measures,” such as implementing a tool like Voxer (Glazier, 2016, pg. 13). By utilizing Voxer, faculty and students are able to engage in a much richer format than just emails and standard discussion boards housed within an LMS. Voxer provides the tools for a more ‘human’ feeling connection that includes real-time responses and expressions of emotions and reactions through the use of emojis, images and gifs. Do you have to utilize the gif and image feature to enjoy and benefit from Voxer? No – but you will be missing out on a really engaging feature that sets the tool a part from traditional LMS discussion boards.
I have experienced Voxer first-hand in my doctoral class and found it to be far more engaging (and dare I say fun!) than other discussion based applications that have been used in my program thus far. While it may cause some initial push-back from students who already use a variety of messaging apps, once they start to use it to discuss course content and engage with their peers – I strongly believe they will forget that they were ever resistant. As an instructor, I believe that I will utilize this in my online classes moving forward, rather than the standard discussion board posting as it seemed to create more meaningful and natural conversation about the topics at hand, rather than students simply mirroring what they read in their articles/textbooks. I can not recommend this tool enough for online discussion with adult learners!
Glazier, R. A. (2016). Building rapport to improve retention and success in online classes. Journal of Political Science Education, 12(4), 437-456.
Reyes, M., Kaeppel, K., & Bjorngard-Basayne, E. (2018, November 26). Memes and GIFs as Powerful Classroom Tools: Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-with-technology-articles/memes-and-gifs-as-powerful-classroom-tools/