Get Inspired Jerry Lieveld 13 Mar 2017
School apps are on the up as more and more schools are developing mobile apps to communicate with parents and students. How do school apps function in everyday life? And do apps really prove their worth?
How can we improve our communication with parents? Many school boards are dealing with the same issue. A school app proves to be the best solution: the parent’s smartphone takes the centre stage in all communication. Apps are fast, reliable and comprehensive in everyday life. Parents seem to read better and remember more when school communication is channeled through their mostly used device. And the attention value of push messages exceeds that of emails or paper notes by far.
Many school apps have been built after the publication of previous our article about the benefits and possibilities of school apps. Let’s now see how they work in practice. We asked an expercienced reseller, a first time app builder and a school vice-president.
“A school app proves to be of greater effectiveness than sending e-mails, handing out notes or publishing news and photo’s on a website, cause people just don’t read that old school media,” says app builder and reseller Jacy Toetenel of Melange Design. Jacy has built several websites and school apps for a broad range of clients and is well aware of the average school need.
“A school website is a marketing channel for new students,” Jacy says. “If parents are looking for a new school, they go to Google and open your website. So you must keep your website up to date and attractive. But daily or weekly communication with parents? The smartphone app proves to outclass every other channel. You don’t want to rely on your website for news, activities and an agenda because you´re sure to miss half of your audience. With an app you claim your prominent spot on the parents’ smartphone.”
Vice-president Gerwin Kets of primary school Florencius also sees a clear distinction between website and school app. “We use our website exclusively as a marketing tool for new parents. We prefer the app for communication with parents of our current students as a an app is the more contemporary and faster communication channel. That´s where we publish our newsletters, photo´s, our digital bulletin board et cetera.”
A mobile app is the most versatile communication tool,” appbuilder and AppMachine reseller Jacy claims. “Information is more accessible and interaction is stronger. Ok, people don’t forget the standard school holidays, but the incidental day off? Many parents turn out to be unpleasantly surprised that they’ve missed the announcing mail or note. ‘O, no, how do we arrange child care on such short term? Can’t you take a day off?’
With an app you send parents a reminding push message just a couple of days earlier. That message appears directly on the smartphone screen, making its attention value much higher. “I’ve seen many schools scheduling various push messages for the whole year,” says Jacy.
Another advantage that proves to be working well is the use of various forms in the school app. Parents are pleased to find all school forms available on their smartphone. Ask for special leave? Register for extracurricular activities? A few taps on the screen will do the job.
Reporting an absent sick child also becomes easier with an app. You don’t have to call school, or wait for someone to answers the phone (they hardly do at 7.30 AM, right?) Just open the app, tap on the icon and send the message. For the school administration the absence of all those incoming calls can be a relief.
“How do you tell parents their child needs to bring a bike, a toy or an instrument to school Tuesday,” app builder Jacy continues. “Put it on your website or send a mail and half of the class shows up empty-handed. A push message to the parents it concerns turns out to be more efficient. In the app CMS you can define your own users groups for push messages so you´re not annoying others with irrelevant messages.”
Jacy uses the AppMachine CMS to make native school apps which he extends and customizes with online services. “About 90 percent of the average app is AppMachine native, the other 10 is an online addition such as a payment service for the school fee, an online planning tool or a link to my own form system. It´s a great way to tweak my apps to my clients´ wishes,” Jacy says.
Small Dutch primary school ‘De Schuthoek’ has experienced a mobile app can generate more parent commitment and even can lead to a better school reputation. “Our school has been classified as a weak school in the past,” explains Remmy Pieters, app builder and treasurer of the parents board. “When a school gets such a classification, there´s an increasing demand for consistent communication. So we updated our old website and created a mobile school app for direct communication with parents.” Remmy has made the school app with AppMachine because “I could make the app myself and I did not have to pay during the design process. With the previewer I was able to show a fully functional app.”
“Parents appreciate the app and the fact we’re putting so much effort in our communication”
The school app has become the No. 1 communication channel for OBS De Schuthoek. “It just works so well,” Remmy says cheerfully. “News items, school trips, a theatre show? No more emails, no more paper notes that get lost. All our school communication is now centered in one place. And we use push notifications to draw attention for urgent matters. Parents appreciate the app and the fact we’re putting so much effort in our communication. The app is a positive contribution to our school reputation.”
App builder Remmy Pieters is also the treasurer of the parents board. and the school app has a welcome addition for him as Remmy has made declaration procedures more efficient with the app. “I now get all declarations through a form in the app, including a photo of the receipt. That’s a real time saver! ”
The school apps mentioned in this article are publicly available in the app stores. But that doesn’t mean all information in the app accessible for everyone. The vast majority of school apps have very limited public information and shield most content to guarantee student privacy.
Parents mostly can access parts of the school app – teachers phone numbers or student photos- only with a username and password. Or schools limit the visibility of certain meeting reports to whom it concerns.
A password protected login is just one of the options AppMachine offers to protect areas of your app. Other ways to shield information are a QR code, GPS location or the level of user authorization. You may even define your own user groups to whom you can send specific push messages.
What other advantages do school apps have? What features are available? Read our previous article School App: The All In One Solution