As of January 2014, nine out of 10 Americans own a cell phone, with almost half using a smartphone (Pew Research, 2014). Given the ubiquity of mobile devices, it makes sense for instructors to leverage this technology to improve communication with students.
Remind (formerly Remind 101) is a free one-directional text message application that instructors can use to communicate with their students in real time. Although it has been used in traditional college classes and the K-12 community for some time, I’ve noticed fewer online faculty adopting the technology in their courses. However, like face-to-face students, online learners could benefit from receiving regular updates, reminders, and announcements.
According to Kearns and Frey, “communication processes support and contribute to the overall satisfaction and learning within the online modality” (Kearns, et. al., 2010, pp. 11). Remind allows instructors to provide a seamless approach to ensuring students have up-to-the-minute information while learning within the asynchronous environment. A major incentive to using the application is the system’s ability to assign a specific phone number for the communication. Therefore, students do not receive the instructor’s private/personal cell number.
Getting started with the Remind app
To get started, the instructor downloads the Remind application onto his or her smartphone; the app is free in both the iTunes and Google Play. After creating an account, the instructor posts a short code for students to use when registering (this typically happens at the beginning of the course). It is important to note that students are not required to download the app on their side. Instead, the messages come to their device – smartphone or otherwise – as standard text messages. Once students send the code to the number provided (which the application generates automatically), the system immediately responds to each participant requesting a name or avatar to facilitate the development of the course roster on the application. After the set up process is complete, the app is ready for use.
Through the use of Remind, instructors can connect, motivate, and provide guidance to small groups in an asynchronous environment. As Bolliger and Inan note in their survey, “…considerable concerns emerge about student feelings of isolation and disconnectedness in the online environment” (Bolliger & Inan, 2012, p.1). An important feature of the app is the option to message small groups of students within the course roster (at least three students need to be selected for this feature). I’ve found that the level of collaboration and interaction spikes when students have an immediate outside prompt regarding their online course.
One drawback to this system, however, is the inability for students to respond back to the message. In using the system, I’ve found that I need to remind students throughout the first several weeks not to reply to the messages and instead refer their questions within the actual class. Furthermore, like most supplemental support systems and opportunities, many of the students who could really use the support are often the ones who do not take the time to learn it.
I have had tremendous success with implementing this free app to use for my online courses on a voluntary basis. Even though students are spread throughout the country, it provides another way for them to feel connected to me as their instructor, the materials of the course, and their peers.
Bolliger, D., & Inan, F. (2012). Development and Validation of the Online Student Connectedness Survey (OSCS). The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 41-65. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1171/2206
Kearns, L. R., & Frey, B.A. (2010). Web 2.0 Technologies and Back Channel Communication in an Online Learning Community. Techtrends: Linking Research and Practice To Improve Learning, 54(4), 41-51
Pew Research Internet Project (2014). Cell Phone and Smartphone Ownership Demographics. Pew Research Centers Internet American Life Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/data-trend/mobile/cell-phone-and-smartphone-ownership-demographics/
Brandon Juarez, M.Ed., manager full-time faculty, online instruction, College of Education, Grand Canyon University.