A Look at Modern Communication Tools

By Rob McCaffrey

One of the great things about blogging my meetings is I get to share information with you at a very early stage. What follows is an example – it’s a product that only just was presented to members of Valencia’s senior team this week. I’m going to describe some of its features, but I’m less interested in selling you on a particular product than in getting the concept of modern communication tools out in our community for discussion.

This particular tool is called Blackboard Connect. You can see a 10-minute video presentation on it here, but I’ll cover some of the features in broad strokes below.

Blackboard Connect has a minimum functionality as an emergency message system, but since that functionality exists, they decided to leverage it for a wider range of communication. Here are some of the results of that:

  • The ability to send, from a single computer or mobile application, messages that are received simultaneously via fax, email, RSS feeds, pagers, SMS text messages, CAP systems (like our campus billboards), TTY (messages that could scroll on all computers in our network), and on social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
  • The ability to create dynamic groups of recipients. For instance, we could set up groups of prospective students who haven’t yet submitted an application to Valencia, or a group of students who have declared for a particular major. These groups wouldn’t need to be changed manually, they would automatically update based on information we have in other systems.
  • The ability to do polling responses…that is to say, prompting message recipients with a simple poll and sending new messages based on that poll. To look at the example from above, we could send a message to potential students who didn’t submit an application asking, “Are you still planning to come to Valencia? Press 1 for ‘Yes, 2 for ‘No’.” Students who answer ‘no’ could receive a new message asking “Where did you decide to go?”
  • The ability to translate messages—recipients can set this preference ahead of time and receive your original English message in Spanish, for instance.
  • The ability to recognize bad phone numbers and prompt recipients to update contact information.
  • The ability to track notifications— to be able to tell, for instance, that someone received a voice message on a particular day and listened to a certain percentage of it before hanging up.
  • The ability to send pre-recorded messages once certain criteria are met. An example might be a video welcome message from the campus or college president to students once they have been accepted to the college.
  • Communication tools that can reside inside our learning management system. These tools would allow professors to send and track multiple email, text or social media messages simultaneously from pre-designed templates within Blackboard. These messages would not reveal personal data to the group, but would allow the professor to track where the messages were sent.

The price for a system like this is based on how much of the functionality we want and how many students and employees are in the system, but the suggestion from the meeting on Monday was that we could get the highest level of function, including 100,000 outgoing text messages annually, for around $70,000 per year.

Again, the point of this post isn’t to sell you on Blackboard Connect. I think the opportunity here is to understand what tools exist and discuss what we think they would be worth to us.

One way to do that would be to comment below. Another would be to email me at rmccaffrey@valenciacollege.edu and I’ll carry the message to the appropriate individuals.

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