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How text messages help mentors connect with students in Idaho


By Nichole Dobo
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The text message is a powerful tool in an unconventional high school program in Idaho.
 
The technology allows mentors working with PTECH Idaho to reach high school students in far-flung places in this sparsely populated state. The high-tech, one-on-one mentoring is part of a pilot program that aims to help students discover and prepare for a career that they can embark on right out of high school, or with minimal post-secondary training.
 
“They don't know what they want a lot of times,” said Alan Millar, executive director of PTECH Idaho, so the mentoring provides “a caring adult to talk about goals, reaffirm them, and make concrete steps how to get there.”
 
In a state like Idaho, where rural students greatly outnumber those in urban centers, reaching students with the right message at the right time is part of a larger effort to prepare students for life after high school. PTECH Idaho works with industry leaders to figure out what jobs are in demand locally, and what skills are needed for them. In return, it helps students who are interested match with the experiences (academically and socially) they need to get into those careers.
 
The concept of using text messages to guide students has been backed up by research. Electronic, personalized messages have helped boost student activity during summer months, encouraged parents to do activities that improve early literacy and caught students on the verge of dropping out of high school. It is not just the act of sending a message that matters. The information in it – and the time of day it’s sent – can make a difference.
 
PTECH Idaho’s mentoring program makes use of InsideTrack, a company that assists with personalized mentoring. Students are also being mentored via an online group – sort of like Facebook – where they interact and do activities. And the mentors are available by phone, too.
 
Dave Jarrat, a vice president at InsideTrack, said the company had discovered, through work that included mentoring programs at large, well-known universities, that electronic modes of communication allowed them to work with more students more effectively. Some students prefer to talk via text message, for instance, and they open up more to mentors when contacted that way.
 
“Technology has really helped with that,” said Hayley Kimble, a PTECH mentor from InsideTrack. “Get on the phone and it’s just one-word answers. But I can text back and forth with a student and they won't lose focus.”
 
That’s not to say the technology simply serves messages in the most comfortable format. The mentors (they call themselves coaches) ask questions to determine the goals of each student. Some students need to be pushed outside their comfort zone. Kimble worked with one student, who had been homeschooled, on his telephone skills, which were sorely lacking. Improving that skill was important to the student’s success after high school.
 
Send story ideas and news tips to dobo@hechingerreport.org. Tweet at @NicholeDobo. Read high-quality news about innovation and inequality in education at The Hechinger Report. And, as always, here’s a list of the latest news and trends in education technology.
 
1. Wash, rinse, repeat: Digital Promise, a nonprofit that helps schools develop and share best practices in education technology, released a new guide for running a pilot program (aka testing something before buying it). Check it out.
 
2. Social circles: Could social media networks be to blame for “disrupting” our other interpersonal networks, asks Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. “For anyone living through the past decade of innovations, like smart phones and social networking sites, these trend lines present a puzzling question: How could a world that is technically more connected than ever be so socially disconnected and divided?” Read more.
 
3. Data clean up: Bill Fitzgerald, an education technology privacy expert, urges schools to clean up the data they are storing. “Ideally, demographic data can be used to ensure that students and schools get resources they need,” he writes, “but in some cases, the same demographic data used to help deliver services could also be used to help identify parents or families that have stayed past the time permitted on their visa.” Keep reading.
 
4. Comfort the afflicted: Some children were frightened after Donald J. Trump was elected, according to reporting in a variety of news outlets, including The Hechinger Report. It was a divisive election, to say the least. The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education offers an online collection of resources to help educators with students who are afraid.
 
5. Screens and reading: Learn how children make the switch between digital and print resources in a free webinar Dec. 1. “The Evolution of Literacy in the Digital Age” will feature Lisa Guernsey, deputy director of the education policy program at New America; Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center; and Barb Pellow, group director at InfoTrends. Here's the link to sign up.
 
6. Mea culpa: In last week's newsletter I included a link to a prior year's blended and personalized learning conference. Here's the correct link
 
Stories you need to read
 
Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, For Better And Worse,” via NPR

The Binge Breaker,” via The Atlantic

How a researcher used big data to beat her own ovarian cancer,” via The Washington Post

Getting schooled in social media,” via The Hechinger Report

Revisiting the Digital Native Hypothesis,” via The World Bank

A Measurement Agenda,” via EdTech Digest

A silver lining for online higher education?” via Brookings Institution
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