Cellphones in the Classroom

As I recently noted it's the time of year for publications to put out their lists of recommended back-to-school apps. These are all well and good if you have a smartphone, but the lists tend to overlook what is one of the most common, and in my opinion, most under-utilized tech tools: SMS.

Earlier this week on MindShift, I pointed to some of the recently released statistics about cellphone ownership to make the case that schools must address phones in the classroom simply by virtue of the devices' ubiquity. But it isn't simply that "everyone has one" that will convince administrators and teachers to loosen the restrictions on students bringing their phones to school and using them in class. It's that the devices are powerful computing and communication tools.

Students and Texting

It's that communication piece, alongside cellphones' popularity, that gives text-messaging so much potential in education. Text-messaging is, as we already know, is the primary means by which many teens communicate -- at a rate of about 100 texts a day. It's how teens communicate with each other, sure. But it's also how they communicate with parents and -- thanks to several new startups -- it's how teachers can communicate with students and parents as well.

Yesterday, on MindShift, I took a look at Celly, a Portland-based startup that's enabling group messaging via SMS.

Remind101: How It Works

Today, I want to look at another startup in the space, Remind101. I first wrote about the startup earlier this year, but according to co-founder Brett Kopf, the tool has been rebuilt from scratch since then.

The idea for Remind101 first came to Kopf when he was a student at MSU and in typical undergraduate fashion found himself overwhelmed and unorganized. When he received a text message from a friend, it was his "a ha!" moment that SMS was the ideal way to send students reminders about assignment deadlines and the like.

But Kopf says that while the first iteration of the product was, in many ways, aimed at solving students' needs, the product now is aimed at solving teachers'. The startup has talked to hundreds of teachers, he says, as they've worked to redesign Remind101 -- with an emphasis on making it easy and safe for teachers and students to communicate this way.

Via the Remind101 website, teachers can add their class, creating a unique code that enables students and parents to sign up via text message or email. Then, when a teacher sends a message via the Remind101 website, that person will receive it via their preferred method: text message or email. Teachers can have up to 10 classes in the system; there's no limit to the number of members in each class; and parents and students can unsubscribe to messages at any time.

One of the key benefits of a tool like Remind101 is that teachers can communicate via SMS without having to share their actual phone numbers. As it currently stands, students cannot message back to the teacher or the class.

Remind101 is free for now (although the standard text messaging fees do apply), although Kopf says down the road the startup may add premium features. It currently works in the U.S. and Canada, but the startup recognizes there's potential for its usage internationally as well.

But it's the potential for usage here that's really important that we recognize too. Before we dismiss things like text-messaging and email and Websites because of the shiny appeal of apps and smartphones, I think we need to make sure that the educational tools we're building and we're offering for our students and communities are accessible to all -- not just those who can afford the newest devices.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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