SMS your students
For several years now I have been administering tests for my mass communications survey class --both the traditional and the online/distance ed versions-- online through Discovery.com. That way I do not take up valuable class time with tests where some students finish in 10 minutes (and usually flunk) and others take 90 minutes (and still flunk). Because students have varying work schedules I usually give them a three-day window to take the tests.
The tests are multiple choice and I allow them to be open book, open note. I long ago got over the fear of cheating or the student who tries to look up answers as he goes because he hasn't read the text. If my students are cheating, most are doing a pretty poor job of it.
A reoccurring problem, though, has been students FORGETTING to take the test. Yes, I know it is college and they should take some responsibility, but I am interested in student success and look for ways to remind them. I have been trying e-mail, but more and more students tell me that they check e-mail only a couple of times a week. Instead, the other day students suggested that I text them on their cell phones. A dinosaur like me start texting? Not likely.
But I found a way to do it through e-mail, something that is called Short Message Service, or SMS. You can type in the students' 10-digit numbers in the e-mail address and the appropriate service provider domains and send a text message to your students in one fell swoop. Of course, it takes a little bit of preparation.
You have to 1) collect all those phone numbers and 2) find out which service provider the student uses. I'm used to collecting e-mail addresses at the beginning of a semester, so that shouldn't be too much extra work. Next you need to know what domain address to send the messages to. I checked Wikipedia and found a pretty good list. Common ones are Cingular (@cingularme.com), Verizon (@vtext.com), T Mobile (@tmobile.net) and Sprint or Nextel (@page.nextel.com).
Of course, typing all those numbers and addresses is just asking for human error. I store all my students' e-mail addresses on an Excel spreadsheet anyway, so I'm just going to add a few new columns. In the first column I plan to type in the cell number (if they choose to give it to me). In the second column I'll type "A" for Cingular users, "B" for Verizon users, "C" for T Mobile users, "D" for Sprint or Nextel users, etc. In the third column I'll let Excel create the address for me by creating a formula (for my spreadsheet, I'll be counting Column C for the phone number, Column D for the Service provider and Column E for the calculation).
=IF(C1="","",C1&"@"&IF(D1="A","cingularme.com", IF(D1="B","vtext.com", IF(D1="c","tmobile.net", IF(D1="D","page.nextel.com")))))If you don't know how to use Excel's "Fill" function to duplicate the formula for as many rows as you need, learn it; it is one of the most useful functions in building Excel spreadsheets.
Now, every time I want to send a text message I can select and copy Column E and paste it into the address field of my e-mail program.
I've only run some preliminary tests on this because it is near the end of the semester and I haven't collected those cell numbers yet, but it sure looks like it will work. Sometimes you can learn by listening to your students.