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Case Study

Text Messaging Service Keeps UF Students in the Loop

How many times have the University of Florida Gators been in basketball's Final Four tournament? The UF student who was first to text-message "4" in response to that trivia question won a $50 gift certificate to a local restaurant recently.

The message was sent to UF students who subscribe to Mobile Campus, a cell phone messaging service the university offers to students, faculty, and staff. The service, which costs the university nothing, allows "members" to connect through their cell phones using text messages. Unlike e-mail, text messaging is nearly instant, and cell phones, of course, are ubiquitous on campus.

The university is currently using Mobile Campus as one more way to broadcast general campuswide messages, such as hurricane warnings. Off campus and commuter students in particular are more likely to receive that kind of last-minute message than they are e-mail. "It's part of our formalized communication plan," says Chris Cupoli, director of student involvement at UF.

Professors can use the service as a handy way to send a batch message to everyone in class, notifying students quickly if a schedule changes, or if class is moved or canceled. That makes contacting a large class relatively easy. "A professor can type in one [message], and it goes to all 1,200 students in class," according to Cupoli. "There's a lot of potential there for professors."

There's no charge for Mobile Campus because the company makes its money through select offers from local and national vendors to student members, such as digital coupons and other incentives. The service can be used by anyone at UF with a cell phone who chooses to sign up, regardless of the service provider. Students choose the groups and offer categories they're interested in; the university tells student members to expect no more than two offers a day, plus any messages from specific groups they sign up for.

To encourage use of the service, which it introduced in 2005 and has been gradually using more since, UF sends periodic campuswide messages, such as the basketball trivia question. Last December, students who had signed up for the service got a pleasant text message: To help them through finals, the student center was offering free "finals packs," complete with study aids and Red Bull energy drinks.

The university has also sent text messages to remind students about drop/add periods and other registration deadlines, as well as messages reminding students of sporting events, concerts, organization meetings, and even safety tips during big events on campus.

At UF, about 10,000 of the school's nearly 50,000 students have subscribed to Mobile Campus since it was introduced. More telling, 75 percent of the incoming first-year students, who are most comfortable using cell phones for text messaging, signed up for Mobile Campus last fall. Most students sign up for the service during registration, when Mobile Campus staffs kiosks around campus.

At the beginning of a semester, professors or teaching assistants who want to use Mobile Campus can create a class "group." Once students subscribe to that group through an area on the university's website or by sending a short text code, they can receive class notifications and alerts. The service can also be used by university clubs and organizations, and even local stores and restaurants. Since students choose which groups to belong to, they select who can text message them through the service.

"We keep thinking of new opportunities" for using Mobile Campus, Cupoli says. UF has used the service for purposes as diverse as advertising orientation session locations and information, or a Sheryl Crow concert. Eventually, Cupoli says, he'd like to get parents to sign up for Mobile Campus as well, since many students are on "family plans" through their cell phone providers. That would allow the university to quickly reach both students and parents with specific text messages as needed.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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