17 March 2016

Class Messenger

I have always been a bit wary of the influx of corporate business funding into education. I'm not  anti-business by any means (and I know that in this climate, schools need all the financial assistance they can get) however I think education is served best by a separation of school and business. My classroom experience with Scholastic has been less than exemplary (selling programs to schools that might not fit the curriculum, but hey, they are a business, and the number one goal of businesses is to make money) so I was a bit tentative when I heard of a new web tool/app launched by Scholastic. The tool is titled "Class Messenger" and boy is it fun! Class Messenger was originally developed by Keith McSpurren, with the unfortunate title "WDWDT?" (What Did We Do Today).

Scholastic liked the app so much that they invested a cash influx into the company. What a wonderful investment! The app works as a reminder service for both students and parents. Teachers simply create a class tab for each class they teach. Once the classes are created, the teacher sends or prints a link for the students and parents. They then can either go to the Class Messenger website or download the incredibly useful app.  Teachers can send a number of varying messages through this tool.  They can choose to send a general reminder (below):

As you can see, there are options to send messages to the entire class, only students, or only parents. You can also send messages or pictures of student work to specific recipients (see the camera and the attach buttons in the bottom left-hand corner). Sending general messages, homework notices, and reminders all look like the screen above.  But wait, there's more! You can also invite students to donate items or volunteer time to extracurricular activities (see below).

Basically, this allows the teacher to organize activities and donation drives with the tap of a finger. The donation option lets you list which items are needed and when they are needed by. Once a student or parent chooses an item, it will no longer be able to be selected by another person.  The volunteer tab works in much the same way. Say you need a few volunteers to help organize an after school club; simply select how many people you need, the duration of the activity, and the time. Once the volunteer slots are filled, your golden! 

You can also create surveys to find out any number of things.  You can organize after school clubs, find out the best time to give a test, and even allow students to decide what the next topic covered in class will be (ok, the last one might be a bit risky but big risks return big rewards!) See below for an example:

Finally, you can send personal invitations to meet with parents and students regarding school.  You pick the person to receive the message and the date and they respond if they can make it (a caveat: I wouldn't use this option if you are having difficulty with a student's behavior or performance. E-mail is still the best policy in this case). 

So how do the students and parents receive all of these informative messages? There are multiple options for delivery, making Class Messenger a truly diverse application. You can receive messages by e-mails (which pretty much covers everyone in the industrialized world).  You can also receive messages by text.  Finally, you can choose to receive messages from push notifications (the little numbers that pop-up over an app when you have a notification).  The final method requires you to download the app (free!) and is probably the easiest way to use this technology. The best part about the message exchange is the fact that at no time is the teacher's phone number visible.  All e-mail, text, and push notifications are sent through Class Messenger.  Parents can respond, but only to through Class Messenger.

It is my contention that this technology is truly a transformative change in the teacher/parent/student dynamic. Are there any possible downsides to this application? Of course. Getting parents and students on board could be a bit of a problem but once they see how easy other parents and students are receiving real-time updates on the class, they will jump over each other to sign up. Another issue could be in giving parents this much access into your classroom. Some teachers might feel that with the overabundance of helicopter parents, they are simply asking to be overwhelmed with messages. This is quite possible. However, the easy-to-use nature of Class Messenger, coupled with the informal mode of communication (as opposed to the more formal e-mail response) makes it very likely that this will actually lessen the time teachers spend interacting with parents while multiplying the information shared. Did I also mention that it is not tied to any e-mail or phone number. The only way parents or students can contact the teacher is through the app. 

(Below is a link to a teacher reference guide to learn more about Class Messenger)

Check out the video tutorial of how Class Messenger works!


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