Communicating with Students on Their Terms in 2016 – Mobile Apps, Push Notifications and Texting

Submitted by on Thu, 03/03/16

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For Millennials – a smartphone is essentially modern day Swiss Army knife.

They can be used as a medical and fitness device, a camera, compass, source of music, videos, games, and when traveling, smartphones take on yet another level of usefulness, providing language translation, money conversion, you name it.

It’s an analogy that was offered, in part, by Robbie Melton, the associate vice chancellor of mobilization and emerging technology at the Tennessee Board of Regents.

That the comparison comes from the education world makes perfect sense. Mobile apps, and new technology in general, including social media and texting, are poised to make a profound impact on college and university campuses when it comes to student engagement. (And at many schools, have already made an impact, in terms of how students learn and access information.)

A study of technology developments in higher education, compiled by the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, predicts that mobile-related trends in particular will dominate college campuses for at least the next five years.

And with good reason. In these modern times, you’d be hard pressed to find a student who is not connected to a gadget of some sort.

What’s more, and perhaps more importantly, as freshmen enter college they’re faced with a variety of concerns, stresses and anxieties associated with starting a new chapter in their lives.

Technology, as it turns out, can ease these concerns – with apps that now do everything from help students find events and clubs on campus, to waking them up for class and guiding them to the classrooms via GPS.

Successfully engaging a first-year student can set the tone for their entire educational experience, and play a role in student retention.

For all of these reasons and more, colleges and universities are employing technology and social media in increasingly creative ways to improve student engagement and diversify communications channels.

Campus Mobile Apps
The way in which students communicate has changed dramatically. For Millennials, it’s all about mobile technology, including smart devices and apps. Apps in particular are preferred by smartphone users, with over 86% of mobile-device-time spent in native apps, versus mobile web browsers.

In such an environment, higher education leaders and administrators must establish new, technology savvy ways to engage and communicate.

Mobile apps are helping to bridge that gap in countless useful ways. They can be designed to provide students with event info, maps, campus news, social media integration, real time analytics and a variety of social features such as a Q&A wall for freshmen and schedule sharing. Such apps can also issue alerts, smart reminders and push notifications regarding homework assignments, upcoming campus happenings and more.

The result of all this mobile app communication, according to various articles and studies, is a higher level of student engagement, even among the newest of students on campus. Colleges and universities that have successfully launched apps have reported that students often feel more connected to the college community and were better able to meet other students, thanks to the mobile app offerings.

Mobile Texting and Push Notifications Versus Email Communications
E-mail meanwhile, seems to be going the way of the dinosaur, at least among younger generations. As far back as 2011 Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed that e-mail was not a modern messaging system, and would be replaced by a future in which most electronic communication would be brief, informal bursts. Not long after Zuckerberg’s prediction, the New York Times ran an article declaring that for college students, e-mail was most definitely going out of style.

Communicating on student’s terms then, in a modern world, often means utilizing push notifications and text messaging, at a minimum.

A study done a few years ago by the Pew Research Center made the case even more clear, pointing out that 97% of student cell phone owners utilize text messaging.

Some colleges, realizing this fact, have designed their own custom apps to help staff communicate with students via text messaging or push notifications, rather than e-mails and (the even more antiquated approach) phone calls.

Text messaging and push notifications are being used by colleges and universities to do everything from providing students with emergency alerts to reminding them of upcoming deadlines and events, as well as campus deals.

While colleges may still need to maintain more formal channels of communication that have reliable archiving systems, increasingly sophisticated messaging platforms within mobile apps are becoming the preferred way to pass along small bits of information to students.

The Future
Mobile apps, texting and push notifications are merely the current wave of technological trends, likely to be highly visible in 2016. The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative study predicts these developments will be followed by an increasingly sophisticated level of technology integration among institutions of higher learning, that in the coming years will include wearable technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and even 3D Touch. It’s important for schools to invest now in the technology that will keep them connected with students as trends shift and grow.

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1 Comment

  • Leong Siew

    3/15/2016 at 9:37am

    Making good use of mobile apps can be very helpful when you choose to live in a student accommodation facility in a foreign country. As the author points out in this article, it will act as a very vital tool for students just like a Swiss knife for the army personnel.

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