Forget email. If you want to get through to students - wherever they might be - the best way is by texting them on their mobile phones. And further education colleges are already proving much more ready than schools to exploit the fact that virtually all students now have mobile phones, and that this can be a good thing.
Steve Sidaway (pictured) was at the Handheld Learning 2008 conference in London last year, and will be at BETT 2009, to show the clever things being done with the Edutxt service to take texting way beyond the niche truancy services that have been adopted by some schools for texting parents. Texting students is the real challenge, however, and Steve Sidaway says it is a far more inclusive way for schools to communicate as long as the the "digital divide" means that significant numbers of students don't have access to computers for email outside school.
More important, a useful technology known as RSS (really simple syndication) allows teachers to instantly podcast new learning materials and tasks to groups of students as soon as they are created or updated (see video above, recorded at an Edutxt conference in Glasgow). Students can see them immediately on their phones if they support internet connection; if they don't, they can just go to a PC and use the link in their phone.
It's easy to discover how it works by simply texting the message "yccpodcast" to the number 88020. Within seconds you get a link to hear a podcast of Mick Mullane, from Yorkshire Coast College in Scarborough, explaining how it all works. And take a look at the video below, recorded at a conference in Scotland.
All a teacher has to do is set up as group of students in the Edutxt browser window. They can set up the group themselves or just import the data from the school's management system. They just need the names of the students and their mobile numbers. Then they can provide an RSS link (a subscription) to the materials they want to share - in FE colleges that's likely to be something they have created in the Moodle virtual learning environment.
Because the group of students now has a live RSS subscription to the teacher's materials for the group, as soon as the teacher makes a change or posts new material the students get an update on their mobile phones. These services are moving into universities and further education at an increasing rate, and schools are now ripe for the kinds of services that they have only previously experienced with niche products for issues like truancy.
BETT stand T25