Easier Communication with Students

One thing that should be easier than ever, thanks to the technology that is readily available to us, is the ability to quickly communicate with others, including students.  There are various ways we can get information out to our students using the tools we already have, or by learning how to use some new ones.  Waiting until class starts or having a substitute teacher relay messages is not something that is always reliable, instead we can get our messages out to students quickly and easily.  Look through the following ways, there are many others, and find one that works for you and your students.

Google Group
You can create a Google Group using your student Google accounts so that you can quickly email or share documents with the whole class at once.  You just need to add in all of your students into the Group and decide if you will allow others to be able to email the Group or not.  This Group will then be useful any time you want to email them or share documents/sites with them in Google Apps.  One concern you will want to address is to make sure that the students understand that this is not a list for sending random messages and that this Group is for use in relation to the class.  
You can easily grab the student emails from Infinite Campus into a spreadsheet and then easily create your Group from this list. More directions can be found at https://donovanscience.com/2014/08/11/updated-infinite-campus-roster-export-and-creating-google-groups/.
Google+ Community
A Google+ Community can be a great place to post messages as well as a place to conduct conversations related to the learning taking place in the classroom.  Students could use this space to pose questions to the teacher and to other students, as well as to share out their learning with each other.  The Community can be closed to just the students in the room so their conversations are more private and this can be a great way to continue the conversation that started in the classroom.  This can also be useful if you want to have more asynchronous conversations.
Remind (formerly Remind 101) is a great app that allows teachers to communicate with students/parents using their phones, or other devices, without having to make their phone number public.  Instead they create a “class” in the app and the students join that “class”, the teacher’s number is hidden from the students and the student’s number is hidden from the teacher.  This allows the teacher to send text message reminders and information to students in a safe way.  Remind is a company focused on education and they are constantly adding new features.  Richard Byrne at freetech4teachers.com has a lot of posts discussing the features as they are rolled out.  You can find some one of his most recent postings at http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2014/11/remind-vocaroo-good-way-to-deliver.html.
Mail Merge Add-On
One thing missing from some of the other options discussed so far is the ability to differentiate the message to students in an easy way without having to write out each message individually.  Using a spreadsheet, that includes student emails and the specific information you want to share with each student, you can easily make use of a Google Sheet Add-on that will create an individual email for each person in your sheet with their info in the body of the email.  You use tags to mark where the info from each column in the spreadsheet should go and the Add-on does the work of creating the emails.  We recently used the Add-on to send an email to staff with their location and group for a set of roundtable discussions we had.  Each person only saw what info they needed and it was sent in a much more efficient way than attaching all the info to one email or by creating individual emails for everyone.  You could use this to provide individual feedback to students or you could even use it to help differentiate the work your students do in the classroom.
The video below goes over how to use the Add-on and how you can use it in the classroom.
I originally got started using Twitter to better communicate with my students.  I picked a class hashtag and even had my Twitter feed embedded onto my site so students could see what I was posting.  I would also send out interesting news articles or links that would extend the learning in our class or their learning in some capacity outside of our class.  Our students use social media in a lot of ways and this would be a transparent way you could share information with students, as well as parents or anyone else who wanted that information.  You could create a new Twitter account just for your classes or you could try using a hashtag so students could find the relevant information in your feed more quickly.  This could also help you connect with other educators and classrooms so that collaboration can occur outside the four walls of the classroom.
For resources related to how you can use Twitter in the classroom, check out Cybraryman Twitter Resources
Google Classroom
While Google Classroom is still new, only been out since last August, there are new features being added that keep adding functionality to the tool.  There are multiple ways you can use the features in Google Classroom to communicate with students, from using the announcements feed to sending direct messages.  You can even set it up so students can post their own messages to help create a more collective community of learning.  It is difficult to differentiate using the tools in Google Classroom but you can get around that by either using the workaround discussed by Alice Keeler or by using Doctopus in connection with Classroom.  And remember, any feature you want in Google Classroom may become part of it if you leave feedback in the app or on the site.  Google has been paying lots of attention to the feedback to turn Classroom into a very effective tool for teachers.
(a new blog post with all the updates information is coming soon, for now you can find out more about the updates at http://googleforeducation.blogspot.com/2015/01/A-Classroom-mobile-app-and-new-teacher-goodies.html)
No matter what way you pick, you should have some way that is both efficient and effective to communicate with your students and/or parents.  So much can be improved if we make use of better tools to communicate in a more effective and timely way.  We can no longer rely on the old methods and expect things to improve, we must learn and grow in our use of tools in order to help us create that learning environment we desire for our students and one that they need.

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