Saturday, December 19, 2009

Five Ways Innovative Educators Can Use Texting As a Professional Tool

Text messaging is the dominant form of communication for cell phone users who are sending more text messages than they are making phone calls, according to a Nielsen Mobile survey. This trend has caught on with educators who are becoming increasingly reliant on texting as a form of communication that is often more appropriate then a phone call, email, face to face visit, or letter. The first step for becoming comfortable with using cell phones as instructional tools is for teachers to use them, themselves. This enables educators to harness the power of these personal learning devices even in schools where students may be banned from bringing digital devices to school. Here are some ways educators can use texting in particular and cell phones in general as powerful and effective professional and educational tools.

Texting as an Efficient and Effective Communication Tool

Texting has become a dominate communication tool for educators because it has proven more efficient and effective then other forms of communication among colleagues. Few schools were ever able to succeed in installing landline phones in classrooms. Instead they use a disruptive announcement system that detracts from learning to communicate with students and staff even though the message usually only pertains to a small portion of the school population...or in some cases just one person i.e. "John Smith, please come to the main office." This instructional intrusion is no longer necessary as texting enables educators to communicate short, efficient messages to one another without robbing students of instructional time. It also enables educators to communicate with one another, when necessary, outside the school day without interrupting their personal lives. In short, educators can text at times when it would be inappropriate to talk on the phone and it's quick.

Enhancing The Home-School Connection

For educators in schools,Meet the Parents texting has become more and important as sms notification tools are increasing parental involvement in their child’s school life and text and email alert systems increase home - school communication. While most schools initially get notification systems for emergency situations, they often end up using it for everything else. In New York City, many schools use SchoolMessenger to communicate through multiple modes: text, voice, mms, email, etc and get messages about all types of things including attendance, truancy, school meetings, and emergencies (techomnivore.com 04/29/08). The Journal has an excellent article on how schools are using notification tools for more than emergency alerts. In fact some schools are using it in a way that can revolutionize parent involvement moving beyond basics using services such as TeleParent (thejournal.com/articles/22398 04/01/08). In addition to the basic emergency notification TeleParent with its Situational Student Messaging gives parents a daily student profile that includes information like tardiness to class, participation, homework, and conduct. This moves the mundane conversation that usually goes something like, Dad: "How was your day?" Child: "Fine." To something more like, Dad: "I see you are work on a self portrait in art class and that you are having some difficulty with your science project. Can you share more about this?" which can lead to a robust conversation and focused launch into looking at and/or discussing this work. The emphasis on parental involvement is a wonderful bridge to success for students. According to the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory study, “Students with involved parents are more likely to attend school regularly, earn higher grades, and have better social skills.”

Free Audience Response System
Poll Everywhere provides educators with a simple method to share their voice and ideas right from their phones. If an educator wants feedback on any topic, they can use this tool. With Poll Everywhere everyone's voice can be heard by texting 99503 and texting in your vote just like they do on American Idol. No equipment needed or software to download within seconds educators have audience responses. Another nice feature is that it doesn't matter what cell phones people use. Responses are instantly combined. Educators can use this nifty tool in a variety of ways. Here are just a few. 1) It's cold outside and there is going to be an indoor lunch. Survey the teachers for which movie their class wants to watch. 2) School question of the day. Teachers select one student each day to highlight. That student is given the phone and enters their answer which is sent to Poll Everywhere along with the answers from other classes. This feeds into one stream that can be displayed on digital monitors in every classroom and the building entrance. 3) Use Poll Everywhere to send a schoolwide get well to a sick student or teacher. Each class crafts a message and the link is shared with the absent student or teacher. What a great way to wish a student or teacher well.

SMS Tweeting from Your Phone to Gain a Collective Intelligence on Topics of Importance

Twitter is a great tool for schools to use to share interesting and relevant information with the student body, staff, parents and family. No software to download and with just one teacher cell phone per class, a lot of contributing can be done and modeled anywhere, anytime. There are three steps to follow to get started. 1) set up a twitter account 2) enable texting updates from your phone 3) select your tag. Here's how you do this.

To use twitter from your phone go to www.twitter.com and set up an account. Teachers may want to set up a personal account as well as an account for their class where they can Tweet from. Principals may want to set up a school account and give teachers access to send in Tweets. You can Tweet from your phone by entering your number at http://twitter.com/devices and entering Twitter into your phone with this number: 40404. Don't worry that it is only 5 digits. Just send a text to it and it will show up in your Twitterfeed. Next you'll need to to select a short tag (an approximately 6 letters or less searchable word or acronym) and then have your audience’s tweets include that tag. For context one of the more famous tags that made Twitter popular was IranElection. Schools can use an acronym. For example, Barack Obama High School might be BOHS. In New York City schools all have a district, borough, location (DBN) identifier i.e. 06M001. The DBN is a unique tag that could also be used. Users can contribute by simply sms texting on their phone and ensuring the text includes the tag. You can capture the Tweets in any number of forms. The easiest is to do a simple Twitter search for the tag by typing it into the search box on the right side of the page.

Once you're set up, you can start tweeting your way into the microblogging community. Here are some ways you may want to use Twitter. 1) If school staff are attending a conference or professional development activity they tweet reflections, favorite quotes, or reactions to what they're learning. You can read how a group of school leaders did this at Leading By Example - Transforming Education for the 21st Century (http://tinyurl.com/leadbyexample). 2) School staff can tweet interesting announcements, updates, and activities at any time into the school account. This can be fed right into a school website providing the school community, parents, and more with an ongoing stream of updates about school happenings. See how one school does this at www.martavalle.org. 3) Use your class, library, or lab twitter account to share news and information with your students and teachers. For a great example of how this is done, follow Tracy Karas of Marta Valle High School in New York City at http://twitter.com/MartaVLibrary.

Google SMS as an Educational Tool That Can Be Used Directly From Your Phone
Teachers may not always have access to a computer, but most do have access to a cell phone. Today, even with a text-only plan, much of the vast amount of knowledge and information formerly available to only those with the internet are available anytime, anywhere directly through texting. Educators have access to an endless amount of information at their fingertips by texting "G-O-O-G-L-E" at 466453. Once you have GOOGLE in your address book you have untapped an unlimited treasure trove of knowledge and information. Here is what you can access with using GOOGLE text messaging listed by "Search Feature" and "Sample Query" below. You simply type in the query and GOOGLE instantly texts you the response.
Q&A - abraham lincoln birthday | Translation - translate hello in french | Web Snippets - web hubble telescope | Calculator - 1 us pint in liters | Currency Conversion - 8 usd in yen | METAR - metar khio | Local - sushi 94040 | Weather - weather boston |Glossary - define zenith| Sports - score red sox | Stocks - stock tgt | Zip Codes - zip code 72202 |Directions - directions pasadena ca to 94043 | Maps - map 5th avenue new york |Flights - flight aa 2111 | Area Codes - area code 650 | Products - price ipod player 40gb |

To see a demonstration of how this functions visit http://www.google.com/mobile/default/sms.html. There is endless pedagogical and professional value of having the ability to access this type of information anytime anywhere. Here are just a few ideas. 1) You may have a student who is not fluent in English. Hand him the phone and have him text his message to you in his native language. Enter the query translate in Italian before his text and send it off to Google. You will instantly get the student's message back in English. Respond via your phone in English back to the student in his Native language. 2) You or a student don't know the definition of a particular word? Text 466453 with the query "define" and type in the word. You'll get the definition and the source moments later. 3) Perhaps you and your class is reading a book that refers to the metric system and you're not sure how far 100 kilometers really is. Type in 100 kilometers in miles and you'll get you're answer.

In a class where the teacher-only has a cell phone in hand, she'll always be the smartest person in the room.

Starting with the device in your own pocket
Integrating texting into teaching isn't hard. Especially when you start by using the device in your own pocket/pocketbook. By doing so, educators are not only helping themselves, but they are also providing students with a great example of how these tools can be used for more than just socializing. Using and modeling effective, educational, and appropriate use of cells also lays a nice foundation and provides a comfortable starting point for teachers and schools who want to begin incorporating these devices into the work their students do.


Editors note: Unfortunately, even as a Technology Innovation Manager, I have been cut off from using this innovative digital tool since October after a decision was made for NYC DOE employees that ALL TEXT MESSAGING capabilities for DOE account holders will be disabled. It was a NYCDOE policy decision to disable the text messaging feature from all DOE issued devices. The rational for the disabling this service is all devices provided are for DOE business related communication and this communication must be documented. It is also the DOE position that communication thru text messaging is primarily for “personal use." Upon further investigation I learned the service could be restored if a professional case was made for using texting. I made my case more than two months ago and still have no service.
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