"A safe way for teachers to text message students and stay in touch with parents. Free." www.remind101.com
Today's column is intended not only for teachers, but for anyone with a child in school.
Let's face it; the cell phone is ubiquitous in schools. Beyond, say, Grade 5, cell-phone presence might even be at or near 100 per cent. Certainly in informal polling I conduct with students in Grade 11 and 12 classes I teach I might have just one or two students not having a cell phone with them in the class at that time.
Enter Brett Kopf, co-founder of Remind101.com, former student, longtime cell phone owner, and just like all students, expert texter!
While still a junior at Michigan State University it dawned on him that it would be useful to be able to receive alerts on his mobile when he needed to study or had something due.
"I had hundreds of things on my calendar: classes, quizzes, and exams, and no way to manage them. In a particular moment of frustration, I had a friend text me, and the idea hit me like a ton of bricks."
Kopf and his brother set out to produce a text-messaging system that could be used by teachers, students, and parents. Key to the Remind101 approach is that phone numbers remain secure and known only to each individual. Teachers don't know student phone numbers, students don't know teacher phone numbers.
Teachers create classes on the Remind101 website. Each class is assigned a unique code. For instance, I might create a physics class and assign it the code "ph12." To ensure an available code a teacher might include a name in the code, say "vogel-ph12."
Teachers distribute the Remind101 phone number and the assigned code to their students, who then send an application text message to the service. They receive this sort of reply message: "Mr. Vogel needs to know who you are before adding you to @vogel-ph12. Please reply with your full name."
That initial exchange populates the class list. Once complete the teacher can use the service to text the class, and parents who might sign on as well, as needed. Texts can even be scheduled for later transmission, a very useful feature indeed.
Remind101 also supports email distribution for those without a texting plan. An email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org would sign up a student or parent to receive messages in my hypothetical class.
Kopf notes that Remind101 at present supports over 200,000 teachers, students, and parents, collectively sending millions of messages every month. "Our product is very simple; it shouldn't take more than a few minutes to set up."
Remind101 is strictly a data dissemination service, from teacher to student and parent. Students and parents cannot reply to the teacher.
When asked which segment of the education market was adopting the Remind101 service most aggressively, Kopf noted, "High school teachers tend to like it best because their students love to text, while parents still want to be involved from a distance."
As for the elementary level, he noted that the company observes a lot of K-6 teachers communicating, especially with parents."
As with any free web-based application there comes a point where a revenue stream is needed. In the case of Remind101 the Kopf brothers have recognized that the education sector can be fickle. "We will never charge teachers. We're very understanding of the value of a free product in education. Eventually we plan on adding premium features for parents."
Amy Simon, a math teacher and coach in Waller, Tex., uses Remind101. "I use it to inform my cheerleaders of practices and events," she noted. It's a great tool; they all have phones and texting plans."
Carolyn Jensen, an alternative education teacher, counsellor, and administrator in Spruce Grove, Alta., weighs in as a parent. "I liked Remind101. I knew (from the text messages) that my 13-year-old had homework, but not too much detail, so it was still his responsibility."
Although the service started out web-based, an iPhone app has been released and an Android version is on the horizon. Teachers here will be pleased to know that the company recently added a Canadian phone number for its text messaging, thereby eliminating a problem for students with texting plans that block out-of-country messages.