Monday, December 23, 2013

Schools and SMS messaging have revolutionized student communications.

Teens and technology seem to go together like peas and carrots. According to a Pew study, 78% of teens own a cell phone, with almost half owning a smartphone. Of that group, three out of four teens are mobile internet users. For the older set who have graduated high school and attend college, 69% own a smartphone, according to media firm re:fuel. These numbers show that the cell phone has become an extension of the person who owns it. It is kept within reach nearly 24 hours a day, everyday and has become not just a major or main source of communication, but connectivity to the world through the internet and social media.

Furthermore, the most popular form of communication is increasingly via SMS text messaging. Nearly 100% of text messages are read within just minutes of receipt. In fact, 49% of people aged 15-24 cite text messaging as the most important feature in determining their choice of cell phone.

The ubiquity of the cell phone in school yards and college campuses is useful to educators who need to communicate regularly with a large number of students throughout the year. The days of mass emails and cumbersome pamphlets has been made faster, easier and cheaper via SMS messaging. With such a high 'open' rate, text messages are viewed by more of their target audience than any other form of mass communication. Whether it's an emergency alert or an event reminder, text blasts are the quickest way to inform a large group.

The SMS text message is no longer just considered a convenience. The U.S. Department of Education has imposed a legal requirement on colleges and universities to stay in touch with their student-base in the event of an emergency. According to the Clery Act, educational institutions must be able to issue ‘timely warnings in a manner likely to reach all members of the campus community.’ The availability of text alerts means such warnings can go out within minutes.

A number of schools have already adopted bulk SMS messaging as the go-to solution. By using a bulk SMS platform, they can send out one message to all relevant parties instantly. High schools can inform parents directly that their child will be returning home with information from the school regarding things such as:

  • Absenteeism/Truancy
  • Sporting Events
  • Parent/Teacher Meetings
  • Outstanding Fees

The reduction in expenses and man-hours can free up crucial funds for budget-conscious schools. There is less waste in terms of phone bills and paper used for photocopying, printing and direct mail campaigns. More importantly, parents can be more closely involved in the day to day schooling of their children, and stay on top of last minute scheduling changes or event cancellations.

Bulk texting is being used in a range of innovative ways in higher educational institutions too. Colleges and universities are using the technology for a wide range of purposes:

  • Notifying students of term dates, exam timetables and other vital information
  • Prompting students to make appointments with tutors
  • Providing links to grades or course information
  • Keeping students up to date regarding AGM and social dates

SMS messaging is even helping to reduce and prevent bullying. In Boston, public schools have trialed a two-way texting service called the TipTxt program, and to great effect. This program offers students a confidential platform through which they can send messages regarding fellow pupils’ conduct. The program forwards messages from students to a dedicated email inbox, filtering them according to keywords and triggering an automatic response which school administrators can use to check on the child's welfare.

Developed by Blackboard and offered free to all K-12 schools, dozens of Boston Public Schools are leading the way in bullying prevention and reporting using the system, according to Blackboard's product marketing manager Jennie Breister.

“By using mobile technology to help combat bullying, districts like BPS, are making a valuable service available to any and all parents and students that simply have a phone, that’s powerful,” says Breister. “It helps increase the likelihood that students will reach out for help and not have to handle issues alone... the flexibility of using a mobile device to report incidents allows students to feel in control of the challenges they witness or experience, without the fear that sometimes surrounds a meeting or phone call.”

Text messaging APIs are helping educational institutions across the board to integrate mobile emergency alert systems with in-house software. School and college administrators can create unlimited categories for students and parents alike, ordered by grades, location, club membership, extra-curricular activities and more. With fraternities, sororities and other student bodies also benefiting from the technology, the future of schools and SMS messaging looks to be a two-way street serving both educators and the educated.