Home Technical Support Communication Apps Districts Can’t Live Without

Communication Apps Districts Can’t Live Without

by Miguel Guhlin
communication apps

Are you the go-to person for getting the word out to others on your campus or district? Let’s consider that you may be responsible if you have any of the following roles: district technology director or coordinator, human resources director, superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, or classroom teacher. Yes, that’s right. Almost everyone is responsible for ensuring positive, engaging communications with parents and community. In this blog entry, we’ll explore some services and communication apps that make it easy to get the word out.

“Our district app is attached to our website. The admin office is the one who updates the website and app, and I get alerts when needed announcements are made through the app. We have a district Twitter and Facebook for official communication to the community.”

App #1 – Mobile App for Parents

Looking for a mobile app that parents and students can load on their smartphones to keep up to date? Several school districts rely on a large company to create their app. These school apps provide a wealth of information, including school news (which could be an RSS feed from your organization blog or content management system) and important notifications (e.g. hurricane alerts). School communications apps make it easy for parents to access grades, cafeteria menus, and campus event schedules. Let’s take a quick look at two well-known app providers.

Blackboard is one such school app provider. For those relying on Blackboard for services, a mobile school app may be available from Blackboard at an additional cost. From their website:

A beautiful mobile app can help bring your community together with the latest news, schedules, and school information personalized for every parent. The Blackboard Mobile Communications App, formally ParentLink, integrates with all the school tools you need—from websites, social media, and mass notifications—for a more streamlined communication experience.

Schoolway serves as cost effective alternative. From their website:

Unlike open forums like texting, Facebook or Twitter, SchoolWay gives your school the best way yet to inform and alert your school community with the content of your choice. From everyday information to important alerts, SchoolWay has you covered, safely and securely. Schools control the content, parents choose the content they wish to receive. From classwork updates to sports scheduling, lunch menus, scores and event updates, SchoolWay delivers…Your teachers, coaches, clubs and administrators can manage their own content independently. Then, parents and students can choose the content they want to receive. The app is also customized with the colors and logos of the schools in your district.

Schoolway is available at no charge if the district has a Jostens’ yearbook contract. If not, an individual school can expect to pay approximately $500. School districts may pay $1500 (these are ballpark figures).

“For parents/students, we have been using Twitter, Remind 101, and Facebook. For teacher/admin communication, we have been using GroupMe.”

Other school mobile apps that provide parent access include School Messenger, CampusSuite, and Como (formerly Conduit Mobile featured in Judson ISD’s initial effort) .

Responsive Web Design Lowers Cost of School App Adoption

A low-cost alternative to purchase of a school mobile app involves using responsive web design. It is an approach defined in this way:

Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design which makes web pages render well on a variety of devices and window or screen sizes. (Source: Wikipedia)

It’s not an app, but rather a mobile-friendly website. Twitter Lite, for example, isn’t an app. It was designed to provide access to twitter on mobile devices that lack an app store, are in low bandwidth situations, and require fast loading content. Going “lite” on for school mobile can save you money.

In terms of what’s easy to use to create a lite site, take a look at the “New Google Sites.”  You can embed RSS feeds for updates from blogs or content management systems (a.k.a. website tools like Blackboard, edlio, etc).

App #2 – Remind

Appropriate for classrooms, campuses, and group communications, Remind.com offers a simple solution. Used in seventy percent of U.S. schools, Remind has become synonymous with school communications. Teachers and principals rely on Remind because it makes sharing information easy and safe. Although teachers can start out with a free account, school plans are available. With safety in mind, Remind earned the iKeepSafe COPPA Safe Harbor Seal.

I appreciate the short Remind texts about a lesson that was taught so that I can initiate a conversation about a specific moment from the school day. They’ve helped to change the conversation with my child at home from ‘Eh, my day was fine’ to one where they share details—and at times, excitement—about what they learned. – Gwen Pescatore, mom of three and PTO president, PA

Remind is remarkably easy to set up for communications. In fact, every day, I receive an update via Remind keeping me up to date.

App #3 – Class Dojo

Another favorite for the classroom, Class Dojo has gained a following. Designed primarily for elementary students, it facilitates monitoring of student behavior throughout the school day and week. More importantly, parents can see how their child is behaving through the app as well. Many educators and parents love Class Dojo. It is a great tool to help students monitor their behavior throughout the day/week. Make sure to get approval for use of this tool from your school district first, however.

App #4 – Miscellaneous Communication Apps

There are a variety of apps available to facilitate communications among team members. These include free walkie-talkie apps like Voxer and Zello and group messaging apps like GroupMe and Telegram. Each has its own strengths. For example, if you need to be able to rely on passworded groups with text and audio options, Voxer, Zello, and Telegram will meet your needs. Zello’s benefit is that it doesn’t require users to share their mobile phone number with others. All apps listed work via the web, as well as on your mobile device of choice.

Having used all of these, my current favorite is Zello, a favorite for many others as well. If it worked for them, it should work for you.

Create Your Unified Communications Plan

While Twitter hashtags can unify a campus, and a school district Facebook page is a requirement today, these three apps can facilitate communication in an academic setting. Whether you are using an industrial strength mobile app or relying on a coordinated text messaging app like Remind, parent communication has never been easier. Develop a social media plan that relies on simple tools to get information to the people who most need it.

Note: This post was updated on February 28, 2018 to include additional school mobile apps.

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