Friday, October 9, 2009

Five Ways Innovative Educators Can Use SMS Texting to Enhance Their Work.

Text messaging is the dominant form of communication for American cell phone users who are sending more text messages than they are making phone calls, according to a Nielsen Mobile survey. Innovative educators in New York City with employer-issued cell phones may be disappointed to learn that the NYC DOE has decided that,
ALL TEXT MESSAGING capabilities for DOE account holders will be disabled because it is the DOE position that communication thru text messaging is primarily for “personal use."
I'm not sure how the NYC DOE determined that text messaging was being used primarily for personal reasons (no one I know of was asked), but the decision to disable text messaging may be a wise one to save money for cash-strapped businesses whose employees have not discovered how to use the simple messaging service (sms) feature on their phones as a powerful and effective professional and educational tool. I am disappointed that in my organization this occurred without employees being provided an opportunity to state their case because turning off this feature has become disruptive for innovative educators who have come to rely on sms to enhance their teaching, learning, and leading. However rumor has it that the New York City Department of Education realizes there are educators who are using sms for professional and pedagogical purposes. As such I have heard they've agreed to consider reinstating the feature for those who make a strong case outlining how they are doing so. This decision makes a lot of sense (even if the timing doesn't) as it puts the onus on the user to make a case for utilizing this feature in their work. While I'm unsure that the method for stating a case or the person to state the case to has been shared publicly, the sentiment could be a smart one as it might be powerful to apply this type of reasoning before issuing any innovative tools and technologies.

School systems could save thousands by providing innovative tools and equipment only to those who really want it and can explain how it will enhance their practice. Those who don't bother to make a case don't get the resource. That said, I'm hoping the rumor is true, and that I've stated a good case. I'm making this case not only for myself, but also for other innovative educators at the NYC DOE and beyond who want to make a case for providing educators with funding for tools that should be as commonplace in schools as they are in the workforce.

The case is an easy one to make for innovative educators who have become reliant on sms a form of communication that is often more appropriate then a phone call, email, a face to face visit, or letter. For innovative educators and managers, utilizing sms text messaging as part of their professional lives has become increasingly prevalent for a unique set of reasons. Here are five of them.

Five ways innovative educators are using text messaging to enhance their work.

Efficient and Effective Communication
The first reason is simple. We use it as a primary way to communicate as it is often more efficient and effective then other forms of communication. For example as an educational administrator I often need to communicate short efficient messages to colleagues. Because most teachers and many administrators do not have access to a school phone and talking on the phone is not conducive to the work they do, texting has become the most efficient means of communicating. It also enables us to communicate, when necessary outside the school day without interrupting the personal lives of others. In short, you can text at times when it would be inappropriate to talk on your cell phone and it's quick. Additionally, it is platform agnostic i.e. iPhones, T-Mobile, Blackberries, etc can all speak the same language without requiring access to the internet.

Increasing the Home-School Connection

For educators in schools, this has become increasingly important as they learn SMS Notification tools are increasing parental involvement in their child’s school life and Text and Email Alert Systems Can Increase Home - School Communication. This is something innovative educators support school-based staff in using. In addition to the obvious communication advantages of texting, the educational applications of sms have grown exponentially over the past couple years. The advantage of sms over other forms of communication of course is that it is the most ubiquitous technology available to students, parents, and educators. Additionally, when conducting meetings or classes, or workshops, while often many participants do not have laptops with them, nearly all have cell phones.

Free Audience Response System – To Those Who Can Text
Poll Everywhere is a great tool that can be used by anyone who knows someone with a cell phone they can send a text message from. It provides participants with a simple method to share their voice and ideas right from their phones enabling the presenter and audience to have a clear sense of where they stand on topics being discussed.

To use poll everywhere you can set up an account where you'll be assigned a number for participants to send their answers. Within the message participants enter the code corresponding to their response. This looks similar to what you see on popular shows such as American Idol. Without any additional equipment or need to download software within seconds educators will have audience responses. Another nice feature is that it doesn't matter what device your participants are using. Responses can be instantly combined.

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

Twitter is perfect if you want to know what your audience is thinking, feeling, or seeing. No software to download and all your audience needs is a cell phone to contribute anywhere anytime. Simply go to and set up an account. You can Tweet from your phone by entering your number at When exploring a particular topic, you need 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 (i.e. Marta Valle High School might be MVHS). Users can contribute by simply sms texting on their phone. You can capture the Tweets in any number of forms. The easiest is to do a simple Twitter search for the tag. You can click here to see what the Tweets from a recent conference look like. Of course one of the more famous tags that made Twitter popular was IranElection. You can read how a group of school leaders used sms Twitter to follow conference activities and share reflections and plans at Leading By Example - Transforming Education for the 21st Century.

Google SMS as an Educational Tool That Can Be Used Directly From Your Phone
Anytime, anywhere you have access to a cell phone, much of the vast amounts of knowledge and information formerly available to only those with the internet are now available directly through sms texting. Educators can put a limitless amount of information at the fingertips of themselves and/or their audience by asking them to take out their cell phone and text "G-O-O-G-L-E" (466453). A FREE or inexpensive service to anyone with sms access.

Here's what you can access with just using GOOGLE text messaging listed by "Search Feature" and "Sample Query" below.

Search Feature - Sample Query
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 |

You can see a demonstration of how this functions at There is endless pedagogical and professional value of having the ability to access this type of information anytime anywhere. Whether it’s to help ELLs translate another language, support literacy by instantly being able to define or look up words and terms, help global studies or math students have knowledge on currency or metric conversions and more.

As more and more innovative educators lose some of their digital as a second language accent, sms has become a powerful, effective, efficient, convenient, and affordable educational and professional tool that has become integrated into the work we do. Employers of educators using sms features on their phones in innovative ways such as these are making a terrific investment in ensuring their staff have the tools they need to do their work effectively. Now that I've made my case, I can't wait to get this service turned back on.


  1. Great suggestions Innovative Educator. In addition to being the preferred mode of communication with digital natives, cell phones make great teaching tools. Actually, we shouldn't even call them phones anymore because they offer more than just person to person connection. With twitter and other text message driven domains, they are really global communication and collaboration machines. One use that fascinates me is the poll everywhere and how it can be used to extend learning beyond classroom and school day. I envison students texting to teacher-created online polls answering questions such as: What part of my lesson do I still need help with? or What was the most difficult part of my school day today?

    In a learning community all texts are professional because communication is important to bringing people together which increases engagement, productivity and effectiveness.

  2. @Anonymous, thank you for commenting and sharing how you envision using sms as a free option for collecting student responses and feedback. Good ideas. I also love your point about all communication being professional. The more we communicate the better we get at communicating and developing and sharing ideas. The lines between personal and professional have become almost non-existent in my life and I have heard the same from many other innovative educators. Businesses need to start realizing that the lines have blurred and understand that, that’s a good thing.

  3. I hope that the DOE policy will be revised. Having DOE present on Facebook and on Twitter indicates that we are moving in the right direction. I understand all concerns about personal use at public's expense but for many of us the line between personal and official use is less and less defined. Education done right is less a job and more a lifestyle choice. The amount of time I spent talking about my work when I am away from my school makes my time off more like professional development than relaxation which, just for the record, I don't mind at all and even enjoy. Perhaps allowing texting and estimating the maximum number of messages which will be billed to the employer with the rest being paid by the user could be a good compromise. The benefit for using texting are to overwhelming to throw this innovative baby out with the bath water

  4. I just tried the Google search using SMS as described about. It works like a charm. So much information at your fingertips wherever you are at the moment. In general, as an administrator in a busy urban school I use texting all day long to communicate with everyone inside and outside of the building. In our busy lives we hardly have the time to get on the phone just to confirm the location of a meeting, or ask about a simple update on something we are working on. Texting is so much faster and more efficient and allows us to communicate with more than one person at a time, and with twitter this number can amount to millions. Honestly, at this point, I can't imagine doing my job without SMS. I am encouraging everyone to text me if they want me to stop by to see a learning activity or sit in on an impromptu meeting or if they need my assistance such as emergency class coverage, student behavior issue or a parental concern which needs to be addressed immediately. Texting is a great way of coordinating with others as I experienced it at a conference I attended a few months ago. People in our group were using texting to inform each other of the last moment schedule and room assignment changes, coordinate meeting and dinner times and locations remind each other about daily schedules. We even used it to share quotes from the keynote speeches if one of us was unable to attend.

  5. We use SMS on an informal basis at our school, both Staff/staff and admin/staff. It certainly cuts down on unwanted announcements and gets rapid response. We also are experimenting with student google search under supervision and web-enable ipod touches.
    We had a visit from a New South Wales, Australia group of educators and they call this openness "platform agnostic digital learning". I like the sound of that and am pleased with what I see around our building.

  6. Right on, i totally agree with the value. Website does similar things to one of the sites you mentioned.

    Check out my blog posts at for some more thoughts on the matter.

  7. We have hundreds of teachers, students, administrators (college and high school) using our group text messaging services to promote interactive learning and communication within schools. Not only do teachers use our text message tools to communicate with their students, but also with parents and other teachers (intra-department communication).

    I would love to share you the many use cases of TextMarks ( and share our Education materials with you.

    We have a special site for teachers specifically at

    We offer special Educator pricing for schools and districts who want to use TextMarks throughout their classrooms.

    Each teacher is able to have their own unique keyword (APENGLISH, PROFESSORSMITH) which students would text to 41411 to subscribe to group classroom alerts.

    Please email me I would love to connect further:, 415-424-5588.

    Denise Terry
    TextMarks Education Partnerships

  8. We used Text Messaging Company to achieve this

    they offered us marketing, 2 way communication and surveys aswell.