The Use of Targeted Bulk SMS Texting to Enhance Student Support, Inclusion and Retention Brendan Riordan Head of Database and Distributed Systems School of Computing and IT University of Wolverhampton, UK B.Riordan@wlv.ac.uk Abstract The University of Wolverhampton serves a region of considerable social, economic and educational diversity and disadvantage in the UK. The University is aware of the potential of mobile learning, teaching and administration in addressing the needs of its students and it has national Centre of Excellence (CETL) status for using innovative technologies in its work. After several pilot projects with handheld computers and mobile phones (cell phones), it is now moving to a large-scale scheme that will use targeted bulk SMS texting to enhance student support, inclusion and retention. This paper examines the range of technologies and pedagogies that underlie the educational use of texting, the institutional issues that the proposed large-scale texting scheme must address and the interim results and progress of the scheme prior to its launch at the start of the academic year 2005/2006. suggest that SMS texting must also fit somewhere in addressing UK higher education‟s most pressing problems, namely increased student participation and retention. John Traxler Learning and Teaching Research Fellow Centre for Learning and Teaching University of Wolverhampton, UK John.Traxler@wlv.ac.uk 2. The Technologies In order to send SMS text from a computer, institutions and organisations can choose from various technologies. A very rough classification of the choices might be: Bought-in standalone SMS texting systems Component systems that integrate SMS functionality into other applications Existing systems that offer SMS texting as a feature to enhance their core functionality. Any of these systems will enable a user to send an SMS text but the user will also need to have bought messages, preferably in bulk at a discount. It is the role of „aggregators‟ to act as intermediaries and buffers between the networks and the customers (since the customers cannot anticipate the exact mix of networks of their recipients). In order to exploit the full educational potential of SMS texting it will be necessary in the future for higher education to involve the value-added service (VAS) providers that work alongside the aggregators. These providers are responsible for the development of all the enhancements to basic SMS that are now very apparent in the retail, media, business and leisure sectors such as voting by SMS, gaming by SMS, weather forecasts, news alerts, sports results and share prices by SMS. In practice of course, some providers offer all three of the services outlined above. 1. Introduction Most people including educators and their students are unaware of the facts that SMS text messages can be bought in bulk at a considerable discount and can be written and sent from a conventional computer, for example a networked desktop PC or wireless-enabled laptop PC, using an interface no more complex than a standard office email client. This opens up enormous possibilities for using mobile phones, as cell phones are known in the UK, to enhance, supplement and support student learning. There is a convincing educational argument that we outline below that SMS texting must fit somewhere, however small, within every institution‟s blend of learning and an equally convincing business case that sets the costs of bulk SMS text messages against student fee income and Standalone systems are widely available, usually as a download. Once installed they appear as an other personal information management application or via a file, often CSV, created specifically for this purpose by the other application, otherwise created by hand, and containing a minimum of names and phone numbers. The application will also minimally contain the functionality to create and send an SMS text. The vendors will obviously sell bulk messages at a discount and may also charge a fee for using the software – the situation varies from vendor to vendor. In the case of UK further and higher education, a variety of institutional software systems may offer SMS functionality as an extra. These include university or college library management systems, students‟ academic records databases and virtual/managed learning environments (VLEs/MLEs). In general it is fair to say that the vendors and developers of many of these types of systems are grappling with the challenges presented by mobile devices (both handheld computers and mobile phones) and by mobile learners. There are many technologies that move the educational use of mobile phones beyond the possibilities of 2.5G, for example WAP and MMS. The key feature of SMS and 2.5G technology is that it is the most ubiquitous and hence most socially inclusive of all the current phone technologies. This has enormous ramifications in terms of any business model, and in terms of staff and student acceptance. application that will contain a simple address book, perhaps imported directed from an to SMS text to support their studies. The following figure shows results from a typical module: Which would be useful ? Help with Studying Room Changes Appointment Reminders Library Recalls Revision Tips Assessment Reminders Assessment Marks Timetable Changes Assessment Feedback Ignores 1 – 3 unknowns per row Yes 51 38 49 39 42 52 52 53 41 No 8 21 8 18 15 6 7 6 17 This survey followed one of students involved in the earlier pilot in the School of Computing and IT at the University that showed the participants in an SMS pilot generally felt it had been a useful and helpful experience. 46 Returns Are you pleased you took part in the experiment? Did the experiment help in your studies? Would you recommend the experiment to other students? Yes, Definitely 43 40 Maybe 2 5 No Way 0 0 Did not Answer 1 1 38 7 0 1 3. Student Reactions One of the key issues in implementing any scheme of large-scale will be student acceptance and engagement. There have been several surveys that help to define the extent of student reaction and hence the envelope of possibilities. An early survey took place at Kingston University (Alsop et al, 2002 ) where feedback from students showed a wide acceptance of personalised, timely, non-„spam‟ SMS text and a preference for “push” technologies over “pull” technologies, that is SMS and email over web-sites and notice boards, as a way of receiving information. A large and complementary survey by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (Attewell & Savill-Smith, 2003 ) of 18-24-yr-olds showed a universal acceptance of SMS and a preference for mobiles phones and games over handheld computers. In anticipation of the initiative described in this paper, a survey across large first-year modules in most Schools of the University of Wolverhampton showed that undergraduates were positively disposed Another question looked at the typology of SMS uses Which messages are most useful ? 46 Returns Urgent admin, such as room changes General reminders, eg coursework deadlines Teaching materials such as revision tips Individual feedback on coursework Individual admin such as appointments Most Useful 29 Fairly Useful 13 Useless 1 Did Not Answer 3 25 19 0 2 39 33 18 7 12 24 0 0 0 0 0 0 All this survey work suggested that there was a role for institutional SMS text within the University of Wolverhampton. 4. Recent Work Some examples of the recent use of SMS text for learning and teaching include a scheme to assist tourists arriving at Athens for the 2004 Olympics to learn Greek at the Olympics (Pincas, 2004 ). On registration, the tourists received a daily quota of Greek vocabulary and using an intelligent back-end to the system could receive SMS text to learn additional Greek words. The m-learning project did something similar with substance-abuse education for young people (http://www.mlearning.org/index.shtml). Posters were produced with an eye-catching MCQ test and young people were invited to try the quiz by texting their answers to the number given on the poster. They then received feedback. SMS texting has been used to provide daily support for teaching Italian vocabulary to Australian language students at university (Levy & Kennedy, 2005 ). This particular account also draws together one of the best current reviews of the literature of SMS in teaching and learning. Another account talks of using SMS to teach literature in Germany (Hoppe, 2004 ). There are also several informally documented accounts of SMS use: one is from Knowsley in April 2001, an area of Liverpool, UK (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1296942.stm), another from Wales in February 2003 where there are reports of a BBC scheme to teach Welsh using SMS linked to face-to-face sessions (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/2798701.stm). Blogging (and self-evaluation, reflection) are supported by an increasing variety of SMS technologies (as well as other mobile phone technologies) (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3497596.stm) reported on 10 Mar 2004. Google, the widely used Internet search engine now has an SMS interface available in the USA giving in the first instance limited functionality. CAL packages or virtual learning environments. Mobile learning with SMS text already offers a similar range of choices. Discursive learning focuses on learners, perhaps facilitated by a teacher or a moderator, coming to a greater understanding of their subject by shared discussion. In face-to-face teaching, this takes place using seminars, discussions and tutorials. In the course of the last ten to fifteen years, the use of technology, especially networked computers working with distance learning students, has provided increasing support and richness for this discursive element of learning. Technical advances have added visual and aural dimensions to the originally textual format of web-based meetings and conferences in synchronous and asynchronous modes. SMS texting is beginning to support this form of learning. The strategies to support and enhance online educational conferences and meetings are now relatively stable and established (Salmon, 2004 ) and depend crucially on the idea of an “e-moderator”. Within the technical limitations, for example usability, we should look to extend these ideas into mobile learning, specifically SMS texting, with mmoderating. The University hopes to develop both these strands of teaching and learning once the infrastructure and the operational uses are tested and established. 6. Institutional SMS Large-scale sustained institutional SMS will depend on addressing a variety of non-technical, nonpedagogic factors. These will include: up-to-date data, specifically student mobile phone numbers, preferably from preenrolment web-based enrolling, with an online student update facility address books by organised by course, module, School, campus, year, etc a budget and business case that articulates extent for addressing lost fee income training and staff development that differentiates between administration, teaching and IT durable student support and buy-in further research on the ethnography and pedagogy of SMS The University has a range of measures to explore these and is currently working with a range of small pilots. 5. Modes of Learning and Teaching These examples are probably all, to a greater or lesser extent, a mixture of learning and teaching methodologies, difficult to extricate. We can however examine SMS texting in order to assess its capacity to support a range of theoretical models. The most obvious dichotomy is between transmissive and discursive learning. Transmissive learning focuses on content, for example knowledge, information, facts, procedures and rules, being transmitted from teacher to learner. In face-to-face teaching, this takes place using lectures, books and handouts whilst in technology supported learning it takes place using web pages, 7. Ethical and Legal Issues There is also a legal dimension to our initiative that must be explored: in the UK, the medium with which we communicate to students in itself does not affect the law relating to privacy and security expectations of students. Whichever method we employ, the eight data protection principles will apply as set out in the Data Protection Act 1998. These will have feature in the development of the University scheme. As it becomes more common for SMS to be used as a communication method between universities and students, we feel that good practice would be for students to be informed at the outset that this is a means by which the University will communicate with them. However as students may opt not to provide a mobile number for whatever reason, it is inadvisable for the University to make this the only means of communication - some students may not have a mobile phone, may not use the texting facility etc (both admittedly unlikely these days) or may be unable to read the messages (e.g. because of disability considerations) and thus the University could fall foul of discrimination legislation if an alternative were not made available. We must ensure that any messages relate to university 'business' and are not used as e.g. an income stream for marketing or sponsorship purposes. The latter would then involve legal issues surrounding marketing and unsolicited mail and potentially having to provide opt out opportunities. We recognise that there may also be security issues for the University as the data controller i.e. is the SMS server secure, is storage secure etc - that is to say, the same data protection obligations must apply as already do so for email and snail mail. 9. References  Alsop, G., Briggs, J., Stone, A. and Tompsett, C., “MLearning As A Means Of Supporting Learners: Tomorrow‟s Technologies Are Already Here, How Can We Most Effectively Use Them In The E-Learning Age?” Networked Learning 2002, Proceedings of the Third International Conference on e-Learning in Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, Sheffield, March, 2002  Attewell, J., & Savill-Smith, C. (2003). Young People, Mobile Phones and Learning. London: Learning and Skills Development Agency.  Hoppe, H. U. (2004). SMS-based Discussions Technology Enhanced Collaboration for A Literature Course. Proceedings of WMTE, National Central University, Taiwan:  Levy, M., & Kennedy, C. (2005). Learning Italian via Mobile SMS. In A. Kukulska-Hulme & J. Traxler (Eds.), Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers. London: Routledge.  Pincas, A, (2005), Using Mobile Phone Support for Use of Greek During the Olympic Games 2004 (The Inlet Project), International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, online at http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jun_04/article01.htm (accessed 20 June 2005)  Salmon, G. (2000). e-moderating - the key to teaching and learning online (F. Lockwood, Ed.). London: Kogan Page. 8. Other Institutional Issues There is a range of broader issues associated with the institutional use of SMS. These include: Understanding the cost-benefit relationships, the possible business cases and revenue streams (if any) Accessibility, especially SENDA in UK or comparable legislation relating the equality of access to educational provision Usability, ergonomics and design issues Quality Assurance, and fitness-for-purpose in the context of formally accredited courses and provision in an institutional context Monitoring, Evaluation, Validation issues Equity, especially what about non-owners? Ethics, for example SMS-etiquette, spam, consent These will all need to be addressed within a specific institutional context before the University can proceed with large-scale institutional deployment.