Reminding Students

“The kids are telling me that email is old-fashioned.”

The message popped up in my Facebook chat. It was one of our high school teachers.

“They say they don’t use email. Should I be setting up a Facebook group instead?”

I didn’t like where this was heading. Setting up a Facebook group would likely mean teachers and students friending one another. While I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, it also gives teachers access to their students’ semi-private information. Does that put the teacher in a position of having to monitor student activity, or having to act based on the postings of their students? I could see cases where students post about destructive choices (underage drinking, drug use, sex) forgetting that their teacher is among their Facebook friends. I didn’t want to put the teachers in that position. Plus, Facebook is blocked at school, and I’m not ready to fight that battle (yet). So I steered the conversation in a different direction.

“You should text them.”

“How do I do that?”

This is a question I’ve been asked at least half a dozen times. It’s one I’ve never been able to answer well. See, I was pretty late to the texting party. Until last June, my phone was just a phone. I could text, but I didn’t have a texting plan, so I never did. I could take photos, but there wasn’t any reasonable way to get the photos off the phone. So I just used it to talk to people.

That’s why, when I started using Twitter, I focused on the web tool (and, later, the desktop applications). Go to the Twitter web site. Sign up for an account. Start following people. Hopefully, some of them will follow you back. Start posting interesting things. Build your network. I totally forgot that Twitter also does SMS. But for some reason, this night, I remembered.

“Twitter. Just use Twitter.”

He stopped by my office bright and early the next morning.

“Do you have a texting plan?”


“Do this: send a text to 40404 that says ‘follow schinker’.”

He did. I updated my Twitter status. He got a text message.

“Set up a Twitter account for your class. Have them follow you by sending a text to 40404. Promise them that you’ll only send a few texts per week. Then, when you want to remind them about an assignment or a project or an upcoming test, just tweet it.”

The students don’t have to sign up for Twitter accounts. They don’t need to use the web interface. They don’t have to have a username and password. It just works. They can also unfollow you with “Leave (username)” and turn on and off updates with the ON and OFF commands. The full list of SMS commands for Twitter is on their site.

The other thing I like about this solution is that it’s opt-in. The students control whether or not they get updates. If they don’t want them, they can turn it off. That’s much better than an SMS distribution list, where you have to find the right person to take you off the list.

Sometimes, we look at tools from our own perspectives, and we don’t necessarily see how they could be used in different ways in different contexts to solve real problems.