Using SMS to communicate with Students

8640105865_b579fcbf76This blog post displays some of the results from a SMS Pilot study on the use of text messaging as a means of communicating with students to aid retention. This study was run in 2011 and was primarily carried out to scope views and perceptions of mobile devices within the University of Huddersfield under the project lead of Abdul Jabbar. The detailed final report can be found by clicking here.

The mobile phone has become an important aspect of a student’s daily life. Katz and Aakhus (2002) argue that Mobile phone technology is one of the most effective methods of communication in the world today.

Research has proved that higher student satisfaction leads to improved retention. Students are often dissatisfied at classes being cancelled or the time/rooming being changed, not because of the change itself, but because of how and when it is communicated (or not) to them. Similarly students often claim not to be aware of hand-in dates for assignments, or of personal tutorial arrangements, resulting in dissatisfaction and time being wasted for both staff and students.

This study aimed to address some of these issues and try to identify problems with student satisfaction and staff time. The pilot system that was utilised as part of this project was a system called JanetTxt. Though this was not the tool that was finally implemented.

Main findings

JanetTXT system has been used for a variety of purposes within the Business School. It became apparent very early on the importance of finding a balance between what can be communicated via e-mail and what can be communicated via text. The academics were conscious of the need to use the technology in a responsible manner and to not fall into the trap of accidental “spamming” this can occur when texts that are not directly relevant or information which would have been better suited to other methods of communication are sent.

The text messaging tool has been used to:

  • Prompt students to check their email if important information has been sent out.
  • Relay timetable information, room changes, notify students that a staff member is ill, snowed in or unavailable and the lecture has been cancelled.
  • Chase up students with poor attendance
  • Confirm student appointments
  • Remind students to approve panel minutes

The outcomes of using the system for the purpose stated above are:

  • This has allowed academics to reduce time in updating students on class change etc.
  • Less time chasing students for their assignments/work
  • Quicker turnaround of student paperwork e.g. student panels etc.
  • Effective in enforcing retention strategy
  • Time not wasted on students not attending appointments
  • Less class time wastage

Anecdotally the students have been very satisfied with the system. The feedback in general has been very positive and there is a clear demand from the students for this type of technology to be implemented. However for the success of the system to continue all academics agree that the system needs to work closely with the University internal student records system. This will require more admin input but will provide an overall efficient service with more accurate and timely data.

The lack of a Business School Alphatag confused the students. The Alphatag is the identifier that lets the student know who sent the text. A minority did not realise that “JanetTXT” was the Alphatag for the Business School and accidentally deleted the text. The main cause for a lack of an Alphatag was due to cost. The contract with the company supplying the SMS text was prohibitive and expensive when used in conjunction with an Alphatag. Any system trialled or implemented in the future will need to have this functionality as standard.

These are just some of the findings of our report, It is intended to develop this discussion in more detail at a later date. If you have had any similar experiences please do share.

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