New Blackboard notifications: Customizable, quick, and mobile

Blackboard Connect lets administrators translate messages from English to Spanish.

College students already inundated with eMails and texts to their smart phones now can decide when they get campus messages blasted out to the student body using Blackboard Inc.’s latest iteration of its emergency notification system. Emergency alerts, regardless of customization, would still be sent to everyone.

Officials from Blackboard’s Connect division announced July 11 that new features available through the company’s alert program would include customization, easier targeting of specific student groups, and the option of sending messages via Apple mobile devices.

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Blackboard’s updated notification system uses technology from AlertNow, a company used in more than 2,200 K-12 school districts that was bought by Blackboard last year.

Ed Miller, president of Blackboard Connect, said in an interview with eCampus News that since everyday announcements about campus events are sent to everyone on campus, educators wanted a system that allows users to tell the school not to message them at certain times.

“In this era of info overload, you’ve got to give them the option of sending them information many different ways,” Miller said. “We’ve heard [students] say, ‘Don’t overwhelm me with information that’s not pertinent. Don’t text or call me at night when I’m at work.’”

Miller said Providence Equity Partners’ recent $1.64 billion acquisition of Blackboard wouldn’t change the price of the company’s Connect system.

“People get that message,” he said. “Virtually nothing has changed.”

The growing number of campuses using notification systems was evident this spring, when schools across the Midwest kept students and their parents updated about school closings and weather warnings as tornadoes ripped through towns and cities.

Blackboard’s Connect system dispatched more than 18 million school alerts in a single day in May.

College and university officials who manage notification systems won’t have to be at a desktop or laptop computer to schedule or send the eMails and texts anymore.

The new Blackboard Connect lets administrators cue up a message and blast it to all students, or just certain students, while walking around campus, for example.

“The folks that have iPhones think they’ll use that as much as anything else,” Miller said. “You think about urgent situations, and there are a lot of educators enamored with the idea of sending it out this way.”

Miller said migrating notification services to a mobile platform was important for emergency alerts, since Blackboard research showed that about 25 percent of households don’t have a landline phone.

The newest version of Blackboard Connect also lets campus administrators translate voice messages from English to Spanish, ensuring the emergency recorded phone call is understood by everyone who receives it.

Emergency alerts in higher education have become commonplace on campuses of every size, but message delays during dangerous weather or security emergencies have raised alarm at some schools.

In February, officials from IntelliGuard Systems, which provides campus communities with a keychain that rings when it receives an emergency message, said it avoids delays by sending thousands of messages over a private wireless network.

Instead of connecting to a myriad of mobile devices – all with different internet protocol addresses – the company’s RavenAlert system sends the college’s alert to thousands of keychains with the same address.

And the message is usually received in less than 20 seconds, said Roy Pottle, chairman and CEO of Intelliguard Systems.

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