This summer, after a spring of emergency Zooming, my graduate students were tired of staring at a screen with countless pairs of eyes looking back. They missed a community of talk. Academic talk. 

To build a community of learners around a community of new practice, I replaced the traditional discussion board in my summer course with a walkie talkie app called Voxer. The app invites you to speak a message to anyone in your contact list, much like you would write a text. It automatically records the message so that you can listen to it later. Users can add texts, photos, videos, and GIFS alongside their voice. 


At the beginning of my summer course, I randomly assigned students to Thinking Partner groups. Students downloaded the free Voxer app, found each other based on user names, and created a group chat. I asked each group to also add me.

As part of the course, students read assignments with guiding questions. Each week, students commented on the guiding question with their Thinking Partner Voxer group and shared ideas, questions, or other a-ha notices from the reading. 

Within a few days, students embraced the Voxer space to riff on an idea, entering a dialogic thinking context while they weeded the garden, walked the dog, chopped vegetables, or sat on the patio. 

A quick survey of my students at the end of the course resulted in this feedback about Voxer’s usefulness: 

  • Students can use it when it works in their schedule. 
  • The app encourages students to think about ideas. Listening to a voice controls information output in a novel format.
  • Students prefer Voxer to how they would interact in a face-to-face class. 
  • Instructor feedback was immediate. I could track small group conversations as a means of formative assessment. My replies modeled the way I wanted them to react to each other and set a tone for class culture.
  • Voxer builds community. One student noted that hearing their peers’ voice helped “bridge the gap” of remote learning and pointed out the ability to notice emotion and nonverbal cues like sighing or laughing or pausing, which created a “more comfortable and personal” interaction. 

Using an application like Voxer allows for exploratory talk where speakers arrange their thoughts, muse outloud, and gather feedback in a conversational style. 

Littleton and Mercer (2013) call this process “interthinking”: thinking and discussing socially to develop understanding and to solve problems. Communities who think well together have an advantage because they develop meaning from a shared experience and their history of talking together. Conversations remain recorded in Voxer, so students can review their thoughts from earlier in the course and note their own growth and new understandings. This adds to the reflective nature of collaborative thinking and makes student learning visible.

A few tips might help you get started:

  1. Be sure all students groups include add your name, which allows you to help reinforce the types of conversations you want to encourage and helps build the culture for your classroom.
  2. Create a task. Students need to know what they should talk about and the purpose of each conversation.
  3. Tie the conversation to your learning targets for the week or unit. Use the dialogue as evidence of learning and be clear about how you are listening.
  4. Give students time to become comfortable with the app before asking them to talk about content. Assign some get-to-know-you topics at the beginning of the course.
  5. Respond as immediately as you are able, on a consistent schedule. The more closely the app mirrors real conversation, the more effective it will become for academic dialogue.

We have been missing the dialogic talk of the classroom.  A walkie-talkie app like Voxer promotes the cyclical and responsive nature of conversations that lead to learning. Students became aware of each other during a collective activity, using language to describe their problems and welcoming the expression of possible solutions.




Littleton, K., & Mercer, N. (2013). Interthinking : Putting talk to work. Retrieved from

Published On: June 24th, 2020 / Categories: Blog /