Two quick questions to get the ball rolling…By a show of hands, how many people here sleep with their cell phone within arms reach? Ok, now for a slightly more personal question…how many people take their cell phones to the bathroom with them at least some of the time? We titled this presentation “Does Your District Need An App? Look around at the raised hands and you have got your answer.
Here are some numbers to go with those questions I asked earlier. That last fact is very important for districts with immigrant communities because going mobile will help you to close the engagement gap. A good mobile app will not only permit people who do not own a home computer to access district information, it will allow them to access it in their native language.
You can see here that acording to the Pew Internet and America Life Project, in May 2013, almost two-third of all cell owners were using those cell phones to go online. The days of using your cell just to make a call or send a text are over. 60% were using their cells to go online and 52% were using their cells to check email.
There’s been an explosion in the mobile app market.
Native Apps are fully integrated with the user’s device. So you can tap on a name in a directory and the phone will call the number of the person who are trying to reach or if you have a feature on your app that allows you to submit tips about good or bad things in the district, you can take a photo and send it with a tap of the screen along with the tip.
Mobile web is not an app. It’s a website that looks and feels like an app. I think as mobile continues to grow we are going to see districts offering both responsive web and native apps.
Here is a sampling of mobile apps. I would suggest downloading these as well as apps for any vendor you are interested in and using them for a while to determine how well they work. The first is a mobile website from the San Diego Unified School District. The second is a generic app offered by a mobile company, but you download their app and then search for a school district there once the generic app is downloaded. Another way to categorize the variety of apps out there is by mobile website, generic or template apps, and branded apps.
Ev You want to look for a few very important things when shopping for an app. Easy access and integration with your staff contact directory, lunch menus, sports schedules, and your school and district calendars. You want to make sure that your app delivers alerts like weather notices, closings, etc. Push notifications are no important now. If you’ve been using the NSPRA app, you probably understand now what push notifications are all about.
Make sure your app integrates with your student information system, so that parents can check on grades, attendance and cafeteria balances. You can do this in a second phase with some app companies. Native apps integrate pretty seamlessly with your student information system and there will be very little for you to do.
Ev You DON’T want your app to be your website and contain ALL that website information.
Both screenshots show how the stream works – it pulls from your school calendar (left), your Facebook page (right), Twitter, your news feed (RSS), etc. The stream is really important because your PARENTS can choose what they want to see in their Stream.
Ev This is LaSalle Academy in Providence, which used another app company to build its app. They created a virtual tour of their campus, which is pretty large, so that you can look at the buildings and fields on the campus. On the right, you can scroll around and look at the stadium, for example, just like you might do on a realtors page when looking at homes to rent and buy.
Ev Until recently, many apps provided you with a half dozen buttons and a template and not much more than that. Today, app companies are being a lot more responsive to our needs and they’re giving us back-end access to their apps so that we can make changes and/or updates if we want to customize the app more as time goes by.
The ParentLink app offers translation of every app page in 60 different languages. This is decided by parents/students when they download the app. Don’t know this off hand.
The smoother the launch, the more people will download and use the app. So, it’s important to test it before going public. I usually recommend that districts give the app to central administration staff and let them use it for a few weeks to work out the kinks.
Ev This is Fort Worth ISD. They have a user-friendly web page that shows step by step how to download your app and then customize it and receive push notifications.
Ev This was press coverage when Papillion La Vista in Nebraska launched their app. They will also be holding a student app download day in the fall and the app already has been downloaded 8,000 times in its first year.
When it comes to promoting use of the app, I have found that making the app the first way to learn about weather events and schedule changes is enormously effective. Even though most districts use a notification system that calls every phone a parent has, people still seem to prefer the push notification that arrives on their cell phone. I think that’s because you don’t have to answer it. You just look at your phone and see the notice.
Ev This is a parentlink provided video that was done by the Fairbanks School District.
NSPRA Presentation 2014: Going Mobile
Does Your District
Need an App?
Evelyn McCormack, Southern Westchester BOCES
Ellen Lane, Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES
Where to Find This
• More parental involvement & engagement
• The world has changed
• Delivery method is arm’s length & convenient
• Parents expect immediate and customized news and
• Mobile apps reach a greater and more diverse
• English and non-English adoption
Because They’re There
• Smartphone sales have risen 85 percent year
• More than 1 million devices activated per day.
• By 2015, nearly 1 trillion apps will be
downloaded globally, compared to 7 billion in
• Average American spends two hours/day on
mobile device. 57,293 hours over a lifetime.
• One of every four online searches takes place
on mobile device.
--Gartner Inc., Berg Insight, onlineschools.org
• 75% use smartphones while in the bathroom.
• 83% of young people sleep next to their mobile
• Young adults, non-whites, and those with relatively
low income and education levels are particularly
likely to be cell-mostly internet users.
--Pew Research Center, convinceandconvert.com, onlineschools.org
What’s Right for Your District?
• Native Apps
• Mobile Website
• Hybrid Apps
• The rise of mobile is changing the story. Groups that
have traditionally been on the other side of the digital
divide in internet access are using wireless connections
to go online.
• Among smartphone owners, young adults, minorities,
those with no college experience, and those with lower
household income levels are more likely than other
groups to say their phone is main source of internet
• Both African Americans and English-speaking Latinos
are as likely as whites to own any sort of mobile phone,
and are more likely to use their phones for a wider
range of activities.
• -- Pew Research Internet Project
• Created for a specific platform
• Downloaded from an app store like
Google Play or Apple’s App Store
• Live on device & can use its features
• Allow for personalized experience
• Work offline
• Push notifications
• Better user experience
• Websites that look and feel like an app
• Works across platforms
• Written in HTML5
• May increase website visibility in search
• Does not work offline
• No Push Notifications
• Installed from an app store
• Cheaper to create than native app
• Can use many of the features of the
• Rely on HTML being rendered in your
• Combine elements of native apps and
What to Look For in an App:
• Easy access to school addresses, staff/contact
information, calendars, sports, lunch menus.
• Delivers alerts (weather notifications, school
closings, athletic scores, significant events) in
real-time using push notifications.
• Integrates with 3rd-party technologies so
parents and students can access records,
grades, calendars, attendance info.
• Integrates w/district social media sites.
New families button
Student Information System customized for
Staff directory with names
and head shots
• Well designed & easy to use so parents, students &
teachers can easily adopt.
• Easily downloaded from iTunes® and GooglePlay® at
• Access to critical information/resources on district
website, so stakeholders can keep up with what’s
happening when they’re working, traveling, away
• Provides ad-free zone.
• Delivers familiar experience with updated feed,
(similar to popular social media).
Customized “stream” of news items of interest to the user
Features & Customization
• Brand the app with district colors, themes, logo
to match website.
• Vendor/provider frequently updates app to
introduce new features and functionality.
• Do-it-yourself capabilities, including ability to
add icons that give users easy access to
information, including calendars, lunch menus,
online payment systems.
• Allows you to reconfigure links as often as you
Can parents configure the app
in their native language?
English is not the primary
language spoken by 21% of
American parents. (US Census)
The English Language Learner
K-12 student population in the
US has grown 10 times faster
than non-ELL population from
3.5 million in 2000 to 5.3 million
Service and Support
• Vendor has 24/7 support, resources and expertise
to maintain app throughout its lifecycle.
• Vendor configures and launches your mobile app,
and sets up your information in Apple and
GooglePlay app stores.
• Look up app ratings and pay particular attention to
apps that get four star ratings.
Rolling Out Your App
• Test app on multiple devices & make
adjustments where necessary before rolling out
• Choose popular school event that attracts
large audience to announce and/or display
your app. Back-to-school night, concert, etc.
• Create flyers or postcards for parents to take
home with all pertinent information on how to
download app. Hang signs in windows near
• Create a QR barcode that users can scan to be
directed to your app on the app stores.
• Create video to introduce the app
• Add a page to website to explain features of the
app and provide instructions on how/where to
• Hold parent technology night to help parents
develop a comfort level with app. Tech-savvy
parents can serve as trainers outside school hours.
• Unveil app at a Board of Ed meeting & televise.
• Include updates & links in newsletters, Twitter page,
Facebook, district blogs. Design FB banner like the
one on next slide.
• Check with vendors. Some provide you with
promotional materials and links.
• Make the app the first way to learn about weather
events or schedule changes
• Chippewa Falls USD received local press about their
app = 1,600 downloads.
• Baldwin County Public Schools sent out text and
email notifications about their new app = 6,000
downloads in one day.
• Papillion-La Vista Public Schools posted banners in
all their school buildings = 8,000+ downloads
• McKinney ISD notified their sports booster and PTA
organizations = 20,000 downloads.
Mobile App Vendors
• School Messenger
• Willow Tree
• School Connect
• School Info
• Allerton Hill
• Ellen Lane: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Evelyn McCormack: email@example.com