The Norman Transcript

February 3, 2012

School districts ready to go mobile

By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — In October, Norman Public Schools introduced an innovative communications tool with School Connect, a mobile app for Android and Apple phones, which enabled users to access virtually any school-related information with a tap on their touch screen.

Since its inception, School Connect has blossomed into a Norman-based private company of the same name, currently serving almost 40 school districts and soon to be launched in more than 100 school districts in Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

“This app is useful for many reasons,” said Shelly Hickman, public information and community relations director. “The Norman school district was the first to launch this app, and we believe the only district in the nation (at that time), which had push messaging.”

The push messaging feature, which Hickman calls the “crown jewel” of the app, sends automated text messages to subscribed users containing news updates from the district and individual schools depending on the user’s specifications.

In lieu of its rapid expansion and popularity, School Connect has developed an updated version of the mobile app, which is more comprehensive and thorough.

“The new platform is very robust, functional and intuitive,” Hickman said.

While the original School Connect is still operational for Norman school district users, it is set to expire next Friday.

As of Monday, push messages will only be delivered to users who have downloaded the new School Connect for NPS, to encourage all NPS app users to make the switch.

“It is a communication challenge to generate this switch, but people will be very, very happy when they see the new version,” Hickman said.

The switch is happening because push messaging on two separate apps was inefficient for the district, and the new app will better serve the high demand — a phenomenon which Hickman said the app’s creators “did not forsee.”

So far, 2,100 users have switched, but 9,000 people in the Norman district are still using the old version.

Like the original app, the new School Connect is free to download.

In addition to the original version’s push messaging, the new app is available in Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic and features online calendars, grade books and lunch menus, GPS mapping for each school site, tap screens to call or email faculty and administrators, and a variety of links and videos posted by the district.

The new School Connect also is customizable for each district, so the app can sport local school colors and special, holiday-related links in its layout.

For example, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the NPS app included a link to an MP3 file of King delivering his famous speech “I Have a Dream,” so students and parents could participate in the holiday by listening directly from their phones.

Though its convenience and communication are outstanding, it’s instances like these that, Hickman said, make School Connect remarkable.

“This app enables the school district to connect students and parents through technology they use every day, outside of the classroom.”

Caitlin Schudalla 366-3541 cschudalla@ normantranscript.com