How Colleges Can Use Texting to Stay Engaged with Students, Staff & Faculty During a Crisis
The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the higher education industry like never before. This is the first time we have seen a mass closure of campuses all around the U.S. and the world.
With students, faculty, and staff all shifting their classes online and working remotely for the unforeseeable future, it’s more important than ever to have an immediate and reliable channel for communication.
Schools are now shifting their work and curriculum through digital channels. We are very fortunate to be living in a time where we have various options for communication. For colleges and universities, every digital form of communication must be deployed to keep classes going and communication flowing between students, parents and staff.
Text messaging is one form of communication that is essential in our daily lives. This is especially true for the younger generation of students as two thirds of incoming college students and their parents find text messages with key information or important dates helpful (University Business).
Texting can improve communication with students as well as internal staff and faculty. The versatility of texting for one-way mass notifications as well as two-way conversations makes communication quick and efficient.
Here is how colleges and universities can engage students, staff and faculty during a crisis like Covid-19:
Creating a Text Communication Plan
If a school has never texted with students and staff before, it’s important to plan out how texting will be used for communication during a crisis. By simply sending out a mass text message to students and staff without proper warning and context, it may cause confusion and frustration.
Before sending text messages, identify what information will be sent and how will the recipients benefit from it. By segmenting your audience between students, faculty and staff as well as the different categories within each segment, you can be targeted in your message and not come across as an annoyance.
Promoting your text communication will be an important part of planning. In order for students and staff to know that text communication is available, it needs to be promoted in various ways including email, website, voicemail greeting, and social media.
Whether you are planning on using texting for one-way notifications, two-way texting, or both, make sure you use and promote the type of phone number that is appropriate for each as short code phone numbers are meant for mass text messages whereas long code numbers are used for one-to-one conversational messaging. (Learn more about short code vs. long code)
Sending Text Updates and Alerts
If you are planning on sending one-way text notifications, using a short code phone number along with a keyword makes it easy for people to opt in to receive your messages. Short codes are 5 to 6-digit phone numbers that are used to send mass text messages.
If you try to use a long code to send a mass message to hundreds or thousands of people, mobile carriers will most likely flag it as spam and potentially block the message from being sent. This will not happen with short codes as they are designated for sending large volume of messages.
There are a variety of text message notifications that can be sent to students, faculty and staff to keep them informed. These include:
- Online class schedules
- Virtual event reminders
- School closure updates
- Assignment due dates
- Exam dates
- Learning resources
- Quarantine tips
- New Covid-19 case updates
- Emergency alerts
- Motivational messages
- Admissions registration reminders
- New program announcements
- Financial aid reminders
Having Two-way Text Conversations
Keeping in contact with students and staff can help reduce the effects of social distancing and isolation as everyone is craving for interaction during this time.
Using a long code phone number or enabling your existing school phone number for texting allows schools to have two-way text conversations with students and staff. Long code numbers are traditional 10-digit phone numbers that people are used to calling, but can also be used for one-to-one texting.
By allowing students and staff to text in with their questions and concerns, school administrators can create a more efficient way for communication and get questions answered faster than phone calls or emails.
When utilizing two-way texting, it’s important for school administrators to create a schedule for staff/faculty from different departments to respond. This ensures that when people are texting in with their questions, the right person is able to respond quickly.
For example, you can divide the schedule up with AM and PM shifts where different personnel are monitoring and responding throughout the day. For messages received after operating hours, autoresponders can be set up to reply to messages letting people know their message will be responded the next morning.
Two-way texting is beneficial for students and staff looking to get a quick answer without having to call or send an email. Some popular use cases for two-way texting include:
- General school questions: Enable students and staff to ask administrators questions about overall school schedules, online class availability and office hour schedules.
- Counselor questions: Allow students to ask questions to their counselors about selecting classes for next semester, dealing with financial aid, finding career opportunities as well as general guidance on adjusting to life outside of campus and how to manage this situation.
- Class specific questions: Students can text professors or their assistants with questions about a specific topic, assignment or upcoming exam.
Having designated office hours for students to have one-on-one engagement with professors is extremely important for student success during this time of isolation. Web conferencing is a great way to achieve this, but it’s limited to how many students can participate at once. By offering texting during office hours, it enables professors to communicate with multiple students at once at a one-on-one level and get more questions answered.
Currently, there is no definitive time for when colleges and universities will open again. However, schools need to continue, and effective communication is critical to ensure the safety and success of both faculty and students during this time. Utilizing text messaging as an additional communication channel can help better inform everyone about updates and create an open line of communication that we all need right now.