Three weeks ago, the last day of school in my home district came and went for my two teenage kids with hardly a moment’s notice. Used to their night-owl routine at home, sleeping in, and virtual class check-ins, they acknowledged with lethargic response, that the school year had officially come to an end. Unlike last year when they bounded from the bus, exuberant with joy, this particular Tuesday was almost like any other day. But, certainly the 2019-2020 school year was not like any other year. Students, parents, teachers, and education leaders had made a dramatic pivot, as learning shifted online, seemingly overnight.
Reflecting back on those months, both as a parent and a Blackboard employee, it is clear that communications from school to home were the binding thread. Without the ability to reach out to parents and caregivers, how else could districts have shared the necessary instructions, academic updates, and encouragement that only they could offer? Every day, districts across the US communicate using every tool available – websites, email, phone calls, SMS, mobile apps, and more. At Blackboard, we have usage data that tells us our communications tools were relied upon 3x more in March 2020 than any other month in our company’s history, and usage has stayed almost as high ever since. Clearly, in these times, communication to the home is more important than ever.
Notifications and messaging can have an essential impact on student success. Keeping parents engaged and informed ensures that they are able to support their child, stay up-to-date on happenings, and follow-up whenever there are gaps. As we look ahead at Blackboard, we know that we have an obligation and a responsibility to continuously improve these critical communications on behalf of our clients. Blackboard’s technology portfolio is robust, but there is more that we can do.
Our upcoming roadmap includes two-way communications – those direct one-to-one conversations between a teacher and a parent that facilitate positive connections and are especially critical in a remote setting. These connections can make a pretty remarkable difference in a child’s performance. Data shows that two-way communications between parents and teachers can increase the odds of a student completing homework by 40%. The same data shows that these communications lead to a 25% decrease in the number of instances in which a teacher has to redirect the student’s attention to the task at hand and an increase in class participation rates by 15%. All of these stats were recorded prior to this year, suggesting that in a remote or hybrid learning environment, where the teacher has less face-to-face time, two-way dialogue or chat between a teacher and a parent will likely have an even greater impact.
The Blackboard team is working on designing, building, and launching a new two-way messaging tool that will allow teachers and parents to reach each other and engage in dialogue to support the student. We are targeting Fall 2020 for the initial release. By complementing and augmenting our existing best-in-class technology, we intend to deliver functionality that is safe and secure, on the devices that parents use the most. Important student information will be pre-loaded so that all parents need to do is download the app and log in. With district oversight and reporting enabled, messaging will take place in a safe, familiar environment. We heard from clients and K-12 leaders who shared the need for insight into the interactions and for the ability to protect the privacy of each party involved. By enhancing the Blackboard district mobile app with two-way messaging capabilities, we can help enable all teachers in a district, while the district’s brand is also reinforced. Under our current plans, the first release will offer an initial version of two-way messaging, and we expect ongoing enhancements to continue in subsequent releases, based upon client feedback and usage.
While this school year has concluded, we are looking ahead, not just to Fall 2020 but well beyond. Working alongside our K-12 client partners, we are learning and listening. One important way that we are doing this is at BbWorld 2020, our free, interactive global conference taking place on July 21 and 22. Come see our two-way messaging plans in action and hear more about the Blackboard K-12 roadmap. We look forward to the conversations at BbWorld 2020! Come join us!
*Product Roadmap Disclosure
All statements regarding Blackboard’s product development initiatives, including new products and future product upgrades, updates or enhancements represent Blackboard’s current intentions, but may be modified, delayed or abandoned without prior notice and there is no assurance that such offering, upgrades, updates or functionality will become available unless and until they have been made generally available to Blackboard’s customers.