30 Aug 2016 20:12 IST

Re-Mind it! This app can dramatically improve campus communication

This US-based start-up is revolutionising the way teachers and students interact

If there’s one thing that continues to be frustrating on an Indian college campus, it is that communication outside the classroom has not improved. Like in the old days, students trudge along to a previously scheduled event only to find through word of mouth that it has been cancelled, rescheduled or moved to a different location. Faculty and college administrations struggle to communicate simple, mundane messages to students and rely on inefficient means such as printed signs placed on department notice boards or emails to student coordinators to get the word out.

Of course, they could also be using updates on social media such as Facebook or WhatsApp, two apps that are mainstays on every student’s smartphone; but although these apps are incredibly powerful, most people do not conduct serious business through them, preferring to use them more as recreational apps. WhatsApp has now become the default app across the globe for sending inspirational messages and jokes — messages that would have cost too much had they been sent as SMSes.

Enter Remind, the brainchild of a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs supported by a few venture capitalists who first invested in Google and Facebook before they became the giants they are today. The company - Remind101 - promises to revolutionise campus communication like no other; and the best part is — Remind is free for teachers.

Jugaad principles

Like Twitter, Remind exploits the SMS platform, and therefore will have an immediate appeal in India, a country that has used jugaad principles to out-innovate every other nation when it comes to SMSes (or text messages). SMS technology makes a poor man’s basic phone as powerful as a smartphone. Using an SMS, Indians can order refills of a gas cylinder, change phone plans, make mobile money transactions, or even check on train/bus arrival times. Similarly, without SMS, the entire One Time Password ecosystem used by banks would crumble.

Remind lets teachers reach students (and parents) on any device — computer, smartphone or a basic phone with bulk messages. This is powerful and a threat to the big Indian telecommunication carriers which charge a bundle to send out bulk SMS messages, a charge no institution or college professor will want to bear. The company says that the tool was created as a result of too many email messages going unread and printed newsletters being crumpled and lost in a bin.

With Remind, a professor can type out their “Class cancelled” message as an SMS limited to 160 characters, either from the Remind app on his smartphone or from a desktop. Subtracting the 20 characters that Remind reserves to identify the professor and the class name, it still leaves the sender with 140 characters. If this too is not enough, senders can include a link to a website, and because Remind shortens the URL to just 21 characters, senders have 119 characters to direct their reader to the link. Anyone who has “signed up” for the professor’s announcements instantly gets the message using three parallel streams: an email, an update on the Remind website and as an SMS. Students too can respond to the teacher, if necessary, with all history saved on the teacher’s dashboard.

Another powerful feature the app offers is that professors can attach photos, videos — and unlike Whatsapp — even PDFs when they send their messages. The only restriction is that files shouldn’t be larger than 10 MB, a generous limit.

Remind messages are free to send out if the sender is a teacher or a member of an administration. To sign up to receive messages, students log into the Remind website and search for their teacher, by institution. And with one click, they can subscribe to Remind updates from that professor. There is no limit to the number of teachers that one can sign up for. One can even subscribe to updates from another college teacher across town, although there is little reason to do so.

Security and accountability

The company says that it is not possible to delete Remind announcements or messages once they have been sent. This is a superb feature because there is never any confusion about a message that was broadcast. Also, the sender’s dashboard will contain delivery receipt information which will state if the message was delivered to an individual, and also if it was read.

A student can never ever claim that he was not aware of a message because all messages sent are visible when teachers print message history. This level of message security works both ways. If a professor commits a gaffe and sends out wrong information, that message cannot be revoked. The only way left for the professor is to send out a correction.

There are a few Remind features — such as the ability to sign up for Remind via SMS rather than on the web, and using Remind as a way to raise funds — that are limited to users in the US and Canada. But every other feature is available to all international users, for free.

The company says that in the US, 3 out of 4 school districts use the tool. Over 2 billion messages have been sent and received, so far and the only constituency served are teachers all over the world.

If you are a B-school student or a recent graduate, consider showing your favourite professor this article. It is a small step that you can take to help change the way people communicate on campus.