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College Text Messaging

SIUC plans text-messaging service for students Class announcements would be delivered to users' cell phones


CARBONDALE - In 1995, Gordon Bruner established a Web site for a college course he taught.

He says he was one of the first professors in the nation to do so, and he didn't expect students to pay attention to the site.

"That was back in the dinosaur days (of the Internet)," said Bruner, a marketing professor who specializes in technology at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. "I updated announcements regularly even though no one was reading them."

He just wanted to learn the online ropes early, because he felt Web use would soon explode in academia.

Bruner was right. These days, course Web sites are as common as college students with cellular telephones - who just happen to be Bruner's next targets.

Since last April, Bruner and David Bouhl, director of information technology at SIU, have spearheaded the development of Dawgtel, a text-messaging service that will instantly deliver administrative, academic and commercial announcements to students' cell phones.

SIU's system is patterned in part after a similar program at the University of South Florida. But while USF's service focuses exclusively on advertising messages, SIU's will be the first in the country to concentrate on academics.

"Our emphasis at first is going to be professors getting in touch with students," Bruner said. "Sometimes schedules are changing quickly. Professors don't want to dial numbers for every student in a class, and students aren't necessarily checking their e-mail."

The academic side of Dawgtel should be operational sometime this semester, with the marketing side following as soon as the fall semester.

When the system becomes active, students will go to a Web site to opt-in to the free service. Once students have registered their cell phone numbers, professors can access class rosters through a computer database.

So, should Bruner need to cancel a meeting of his Marketing 363 class at the last minute, he can fire off a text message that will immediately reach only the affected students.

The system also could be used for communication between SIU employees and for alerting the campus population of an emergency, Bouhl said.

Nearly 80 percent of SIU students are cell phone users, he said. Because most cell phone plans include free long-distance service, many students have forsaken the use of campus-provided land lines to call home.

In an effort to recover the lost long-distance revenue, Dawgtel eventually will probably be open to area businesses, which could send messages through the database for a per-message fee.

"If it's a snowy night in Carbondale and it's 10 o'clock and a pizza place hasn't sold any pizzas," Bouhl said, "(the pizza place) can go into the database and send a message that pizzas are two for the price of one."

Merchants will have access to the phone numbers, but not the names, of receivers, Bouhl said.

The marketing angle concerns some prospective registrants, who don't want to open their phones to unsolicited messages similar to the "spam" that clogs e-mail in-boxes.

Bruner and Bouhl are taking steps to avoid such a problem. Bruner said the USF registration process is extensive, allowing registrants to choose what kinds of businesses - restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc. - they wish to receive messages from.

SIU's system should include a similar opt-in process. In time, such options could become even more detailed, Bruner said. For example, if a receiver wants to receive messages from pizza restaurants, he or she could even select individual restaurants - yes to Pizza Hut, no to Papa John's - to be contacted by.

All such information would be loaded into the database, and a business could tailor messaging to as wide or narrow a group of receivers as it wants.

There will be no charge to register for the service, and it will be available to people outside the Carbondale campus. The system is intended for use with cell phones, but Bouhl said receivers also can choose to have messages delivered to PDAs or e-mail accounts.

Messages sent through the system will be subject to cell phone service providers' text-messaging rates. | 0 Comments

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