Feedback from the summer on Remind, a free messaging service
About two weeks ago, I finished up an online summer course where I used Remind, a free texting service, to keep students updated about the course. I have previously written about texting with students, and I think it’s a useful tool for social work educators. I learned about how to use Remind from Dr. Natalie Jones who wrote a blog post for me about her experiences with the service in her online and face-to-face courses. I was open to trying Remind myself because of research that suggests students who take online courses highly value course announcements and reminders (Ausburn, 2004). While I frequently respond to students who text me, I was anxious to learn if students would want or appreciate the group text messages.
As a free texting service, Remind is very easy to use and sign-up for as an instructor and student. Texting fees associated with mobile phones still apply, but I did not consider this a disadvantage as most mobile plans having unlimited texting or the student could sign-up for emails in lieu of texts. I liked that I could schedule text messages to be sent a later date. As an avid Twitter user, I also appreciated the character limit (140 characters) for each text. It forced me to focus on the most important information I wanted to relay to the students. Remind had iOS and Android apps, and you can create texting feeds for multiple classes. Finally, Remind is confidential and safe. No personal phone numbers are exchanged between the instructor and students. So at the end of the course, I asked students to send me their comments about the use of Remind in the course (what they liked, what they didn’t like, and how could I use the service better in the future). Most students liked the immediacy of receiving text messages about the course. This got me thinking more broadly about notification (when and how to send or receive reminders) as a tool of student engagement in both online and face-to-face courses. Personally, I like it when my hair stylist sends me a text about an upcoming appointment, but hate the little red circles on my phone apps telling me I have 20 new updates on Facebook. I want to be in control of when, how and what needs my attention and focus throughout the day. Howard Rheingold (2010) considers our ability to pay attention as one of five important digital literacy skills for the 21st century digital learner and citizen. I wondered if students in my class felt the same way about notification. Did they want to control when and how they receive notices from me? Based on their comments (a very small sample size of graduate students, N = 10), I have developed a non-validated, just for fun typology of student’s preferences for course notifications:
1. “I never go anywhere without my phone” Student Type: These students reported that a text message two or three times a week helped them to stay on top of assignment deadlines, review new content and reminded them to respond to discussion forum questions throughout the week. These students said they were very busy, juggling multiple classes with work and life, and disclosed that they easily forgot about assignments and due dates. A text message is a quick and efficient way to communicate with this type of student, who just wants the gist of a message. As one student commented: “Short and sweet! It was nice to get a reminder without reading a paragraph.”
2. “I don’t have my phone with me at all times” Student Type: These students liked email messages and preferred to access reminders about the course from their computers or web-based applications. While they are also very busy with work, school and life, they demonstrated strong organizations skills through comments like “I check online for course updates on a regular basis” or “I schedule time each day to check the course and read my emails.” For these students (who tended to be older), a text message may be distracting when they really prefer emails.
3. “I will control my notifications” Student Type: These students did not even want to sign-up for a texting service and don’t want a lot of emails filling up their inbox. They didn’t like the redundancy of getting the same information via a text, email and maybe even a course announcement. They preferred to make their own decisions about how and when they will access information about the course. I found these students to be very knowledgeable about notification settings for different web or computer-based platforms, and they also were very organized and self-reliant.
Given the diverse nature of these types (again, not validated), here is what I would recommend to other educators considering Remind for their courses:
1. Educate students about notification settings for your institution’s learning management system. Stress the importance that they need to learn how to control the flow of information coming their way, and that they need to take responsibility for it. This fits in nicely with a discussion about digital media literacy.
2. Make it voluntary for students to sign-up for Remind, and use it in conjunction one (and only one) other notification method within your institution’s learning management system. This gives students the opportunity to make a conscious choice, and ultimately gives them control over their notifications.
3. Keep your reminders short and simple. No matter how students elect to get their notices, they will appreciate a clear and direct message. I know I do.
I will continue to use Remind with my courses and how to find other ways to better utilize different features of the service. It would be great to hear from others who are using Remind or other texting/notification services with their students. Please leave me a comment or send me a tweet (@laurelhitchcock).
Ausburn, L. J. (2004). Course design elements most valued by adult learners in blended online education environments: an American perspective. Educational Media International, 41(4), 327–337.
Remind. (n.d.) Learn More. Available at: https://www.remind.com/learn-more
Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies. EDUCAUSE Review, 45(5), 14.