Any school looking for the most effective digital means of communicating with students can forget Facebook, eschew email and turn off the Twitter. Simple texting wins, digits down, as the most inclusive form of communication.
At the University of Bath this week (Wednesday, May 19) some of the leading users of texting in UK education will be sharing their experiences and expertise at the free Let's Talk About Text 6 conference organised by service provider txttools Ltd for users of its leading edutxt service. Text services have enjoyed adoption in further and higher education – and as an interactive feature at conferences – but take-up in schools has been slower.
Many schools using text services have taken up ones targeted at issues like truancy, but FE and HE have pushed things much further. For example Mick Mullane, from Yorkshire Coast College, supports teachers to link coursework on Moodle to txttools so that, every time new coursework is posted by the teachers, texts go out to all the students giving them a web address for the brief. Students who have internet services on their phones can go directly to it, while others can go to their PC or one in a library or internet cafe, and catch up. It's also used by student services to suport retention of students.
Mick Mullane, who will be speaking at Let's Talk About Txt 6, is part of a movement that saw 40 FE colleges sending out 1.7 billion text messages in 2009. Moodle isn't the only learning platform that has been coupled to edutxt; other ones like Blackboard and Web CT, both big in HE, are now compatible (both will have conference user workshops), and there's no reason why the learning platforms now found in schools can't be linked either.
'A serious look at this opportunity to improve the student experience'
The keynote speaker is Steve Wheeler, who is senior lecturer in education and ICT at the University of Plymouth, co-editor of Interactive Learning Environments, and chair of the IFIP Working Group on Distance Education. Others include Geraldine James and Andy Ramsden from the University of Bath, Chris Rice from Milton Keynes College, Andy Clegg from Hopwood Hall College, Sarah Williamson from Cardiff University, Brian Hipkin from University of East London and Robin Coe from Bournemouth and Poole College.
The conference themes will be Teaching and Learning, Student Support and Marketing and Student Recruitment. It's the sixth annual event run by txttools Ltd and the focus, says sales and marketing director Steve Sidaway, is on "how it is going, where it is going and why educators should take a serious look at this opportunity to improve the student experience". Steve Sidaway has become a familiar figure at education conferences in the UK where txttools is used for audience interaction.
Audiences are given a text number that they can use to text trhough their questions for keynot speakers and expert panels. The service was sucessfully used for the BESA Keynote Panel, at the BETT 2010 educational technology show, where it generated a healthy stream of questions for the experts on the panel. Significantly, many of the questions were ones that individuals might feel embarrassed to stand up and ask – like "What comes after the Becta void?" - and underline the inclusive nature of the technology.
"Almost everyone, including students, has a mobile phone that can handle SMS text messages," says Steve Sidaway. "It is socially and digitally inclusive and, as well as being highly efficient, can save organisations money when compared to most other means of communication. It's already being used by most of the colleges and universities as well as other public sector organisations. Let's Talk About Txt 6 is our way to share the exciting developments, good practice and expertise within our community."
Let's Talk About Txt 6 is organised by text messaging specialist txttools Ltd, provider of edutxt, in collaboration with Andy Ramsden, head of e-learning at the University of Bath. It is also aimed at "people who are thinking about texting: principals, heads, department heads, bursars, student service managers, marketing managers, quality managers, ICT managers, tutors, administration staff, anyone who wants to improve communication between staff, students and parents".