Archive for the ‘Cell Phones’ Category

Tools of the Trade:

Since the demise of one of my favorite Web services PingMe was announced, I’ve trialed many different SMS/email reminder services, and finally decided on the aptly-named  In my last post, I spoke to the potential value of such a service for students (and occasionally-absent-minded school psychologists).  Here, I’d like to take you under the hood of MyEmailReminders, but first, my standard disclaimer for whenever I write about specific services: I have no connection to this service whatsoever other than as a satisfied end user.

Getting Started

All you need to sign up for the service is an email address.  If you wish to use the SMS reminder feature, you’ll need your mobile phone handy as well, as you’ll be sent a confirmation code via SMS.  This is important if you plan on using this service with more than one phone (e.g., a spouse, multiple students, a student’s parent, etc.) – you can connect one account to multiple phones, but you must have each phone handy in order to get the confirmation code.

Existing Reminders

Upon login, you are presented with a list of existing reminders.  You can choose to view these as a list (see below) or on a calendar.

While this is fantastic for reminders you set to repeat, the list can get cluttered if you don’t manually delete those one-time reminders (“pick up eggs and bread on the way home!”).  If you don’t see yourself pruning your list every so often, you may want to opt for the calendar view.

In list view, you’ll also see the frequency you’ve set for each message (more on how to do this in a bit):

Setting a New Reminder

Click “Add” on the upper right-hand menu to add a new reminder.  You’ll see a pretty self-explanatory set of text boxes:

I don’t categorize my reminders, but some folks may wish to do so.  Note the warning: if you have your reminder sent by SMS, only the “Title” field will be sent.  If it goes to email, you’ll also get whatever you type in the “Description” field.

Setting the Delivery Date

MyEmailReminders gives you several options for setting one-time-only and repeating reminders.  For something like a homework reminder, you may choose the fifth option down and check off every weekday.  Another example: I have yearly reminders set for the first days of March and December that remind my wife and I to make appointments to get our cars inspected.

Setting the Delivery Time/Method

Here’s where you decide if you want your reminders sent via email, SMS, or both.  As you can see from the options, you can choose any time of day (in 15-minute increments), and you can also have reminders sent prior to the event.  You can check off as many or as few of these boxes as you like.

Add Another Recipient?

You can send reminders to multiple recipients.  Anyone you designate can receive reminders via email, but as I noted above, only registered mobile phone numbers will receive SMS reminders.  As you can see from the screenshot, I’ve registered my wife’s phone so she can receive the occasional SMS reminder as needed (er, not that you ever need it, honey!).

After these steps, just click the orange “Add Reminder” button at the bottom of the page, and you’re all set!


As I explained last time, I like the idea of email- and SMS-based reminders due to the relative ubiquity of access and platform agnosticism.  Anecdotally, I can speak to the benefits I’ve derived from these reminders – in fact, sometimes the simple act of setting the reminder was enough to make me remember what I needed to!  If you use a similar service, or if you decide to start as a result of reading this, please leave a comment and share your experiences!

Text Messaging and Executive Functioning


PingMe is a service that allows users to schedule reminders to be sent via SMS, email, and Twitter. I’ve been a loyal user for over two years now (according to my archive, the first reminder I sent myself was to prep then-newborn Kiera’s bottle at a certain time) primarily because of the several similar services I tried, PingMe was consistently on time with its reminders, as opposed to several minutes early or late (or not at all, like some of its competitors). It is easy to use, dependable, and best of all, free.

Correction: was easy to use, dependable, and free.

I got an email earlier this week or last from parent company Zetetic announcing the closure of this project (see the announcement on their blog). While I am very disappointed, this is the risk we run with free web apps, which is why it always pays to have an alternative service in mind (I eventually did find one, but that’ll be in my next post).

The closure of PingMe hit me much harder than would, say, a service like Wordle or a Quillpill because I have used their service in both my professional and personal lives, and found it to be invaluable in helping me remember to do everything from getting money from the MAC machine (ATM or cashpoint to you outside the Northeast United States!) to picking up milk on the way home to making an important call within a certain window of time.  I’ve used it to remind myself of important work-related issues that had to be attended to at specific times, too.

While I’ve been utilizing SMS & email reminder systems in my personal & professional lives for years now, I’m certainly not the only one. In fact, multiple studies have shown SMS reminders to have mostly high (but admittedly varying) degrees of efficacy in increasing desired behaviors, including:

  • adherence to medical treatment schedules (Jacobson & Szilagyi, 2005; Kollmann, Riedl, Kastner, Schreier, & Ludvik, 2007; Liu, Abba, Alejandria, Balanag, Berba, & Lansang, 2008; Strandbygaard, Thomsen, & Backer, 2009;  Hanauer, Wentzell, Laffell, & Laffel, 2009)
  • attendance at doctor & specialist appointments (Downer, Meara, Da Costa, & Sethuraman, 2006; Koshy, Car, & Majeed, 2008; Chen, Fang, Chen, Dai, 2008; Foley & O’Neill, 2009; Kruse, Hansen, & Olesen, 2009)
  • participation in exercise regiments (Prestwich, Perugini, & Hurling, 2009; Prestwich, Perugini, & Hurling, 2010)


I’m thinking that this is a potentially powerful tool for students with weaknesses in organization and executive functioning (read Rebecca’s post about planning her wedding for a good overview of what executive functioning is).  Off the top of my head (and please add your own suggestions in the comments), email/SMS reminders could be used for:

  • homework assignments
  • project due dates & reminders
  • standing appointments in school
  • reminders for students with home-based PT regiments
  • facilitating home/school communication

These are very broad categories, and could take many different shapes based on the needs of individual students or the framework within which they live & attend school (e.g., would the teacher set the reminder, would the student set the reminder, etc.).  Also, if I may bemoan the loss of PingMe once more, it had a great ‘repeat’ function which would persist in sending texts until the recipient replied with a specific command to shut it off.


As I said when I wrote about this a few years ago, privacy concerns are an issue.  Sensitive information probably should not be sent through these third-party services (although one might argue that they’re just as susceptible to security breaches as sending unencrypted email between two parties).  Also, I understand that texts do cost money to send and receive.  While I’ve limited my research to services that send texts for free, there is always a cost associated with receiving texts, either per message (usually $0.10 – $0.20 per) or in the shape of an unlimited monthly allotment.  While I can’t make that charge go away, the ubiquity of text messaging means that more and more people are moving in the direction of unlimited plans (at least in my entirely anecdotal experience).  Schools may also find it a worthwhile investment to purchase cheap handsets and provide prepaid service under the umbrella of assistive technology, treating the device more as a PDA than a phone.

But I Know a Great iPhone/Android/BlackBerry/WinMo App That Does This!

Congratulations; so do I – I have one on my Android phone that works quite nicely. 🙂  The point of using the SMS method of communication is that it is platform agnostic; that is, it doesn’t matter which type of phone one has, whether it’s ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’ or iPhone or Android or whatever – the vast majority of modern phones can send and receive simple text messages.  There’s no need to outfit the entire 10th grade with iPhones for just one app when an SMS can be sent to any one of the phones already in their pockets.

In my next post, I’ll provide an overview of the service that has supplanted PingMe as my reminder utility of choice.


Chen, Z., Fang, L., Chen, L., & Dai, H. (2008). Comparison of an SMS text messaging and phone reminder to improve attendance at a health promotion center: a randomized controlled trial. Journal Of Zhejiang University. Science. B, 9(1), 34-38. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.

Downer, S.R., Meara, J.G., Da Costa, A.C., & Sethuraman, K. (2006). SMS text messaging improves outpatient attendance. Australian Health Review, 30(3): 389-96. Retrieved from PubMed database.

Foley, J., & O’Neill, M. (2009). Use of mobile telephone short message service (SMS) as a reminder: the effect on patient attendance. European Archives of Pediatric Dentistry, 10(1): 15-8. Retrieved from PubMed database.

Hanauer, D.A., Wentzell, K., Laffell, N., & Laffel, L.M. (2009). Computerized Automated Reminder Diabetes System (CARDS): E-Mail and SMS Cell Phone Text Messaging Reminders to Support Diabetes Management. Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics, 11(2), 99-106. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Jacobson, V.J., & Szilagyi, P. (2005). Patient reminder and patient recall systems to improve immunization rates. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3): CD003941. Retrieved from PubMed database.

Kollmann, A., Riedl, M., Kastner, P., Schreier, G., & Ludvik, B. (2007). Feasibility of a mobile phone-based data service for functional insulin treatment of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus patients.  Journal of Medical Internet Research, 9(5), e36. doi: 10.2196/jmir.9.5.e36.

Koshy, E., Car, J., & Majeed, A. (2008). Effectiveness of mobile-phone short message service (SMS) reminders for ophthalmology outpatient appointments: observational study. BMC Opthalmology, 31(8):9. Retrieved from PubMed database.

Kruse, L., Hansen, L., & Olesen, C. (2009). [Non-attendance at a pediatric outpatient clinic. SMS text messaging improves attendance]. Ugeskrift For Laeger, 171(17), 1372-1375. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.

Liu, Q., Abba, K., Alejandria, M.M, Balanag, V.M., Berba, R.P., & Lansang, M.A. (2008). Reminder systems and late patient tracers in the diagnosis and management of tuberculosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4): CD006594.  Retrieved from PubMed database.

Prestwich, A., Perugini, M., & Hurling, R. (2010). Can implementation intentions and text messages promote brisk walking? A randomized trial. Health Psychology: Official Journal Of The Division Of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 29(1), 40-49. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.

Prestwich, A., Perugini, M., & Hurling, R. (2009). Can the effects of implementation intentions on exercise be enhanced using text messages?. Psychology & Health, 24(6), 677-687. doi:10.1080/08870440802040715.

Strandbygaard, U., Thomsen, S., & Backer, V. (2010). A daily SMS reminder increases adherence to asthma treatment: a three-month follow-up study. Respiratory Medicine, 104(2), 166-171. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.

PA HB 363: An Update

A few months ago, I wrote about proposed House Bill 363 in Pennsylvania, which, in its current wording, would effectively ban cell phones and computers in public schools statewide.  I wrote a letter to my local state representative in which I voiced some very specific concerns over the possibility that this bill would become law (I included a copy of my letter in the post linked above).

I actually received a reply from my representative (along with a handwritten note apologizing for the delay in responding).  I won’t quote the letter in its entirety, but the main thrust of her response was this: Rep. Paul Clymer, Republican Chairman of the House Education Committee, plans to introduce legislation in the near future that exempts electronic devices “used for solely educational purposes from the ban in House Bill 363”.  My representative stated that she would support such language.

Well, it’s a step in the right direction, I guess, to correct the semantic flaws in the language of the original bill, but for some reason this still doesn’t sit well with me.  It’s entirely possible that I’m reading too much into this, but I’m getting stuck on “used for solely educational purposes”.  I haven’t seen the language of Rep. Clymer’s bill, but based on this response, it sounds like the only difference is that laptops, netbooks, and digital cameras will no longer be unintentionally excluded; it doesn’t speak at all to the creative implementation of other technologies (e.g., mobile phones) and still, in my interpretation, indicates a lack of faith that individual teachers can appropriately implement technology in their classes (and, in a way, completely absolves them of that responsibility/opportunity).

Like I said, maybe I’m reading too much into this.  I suppose it’s also entirely possible that this law will only be selectively enforced.  Guess we’ll have to see.

PA HB 363: If You Can’t Beat ’em, Ban ’em!

Folks were all a-Twitter today about the newly-proposed legislation in Pennsylvania, PA House Bill 363.  My colleagues & fellow Pennsyltuckians Dan Callahan and Jimbo Lamb have already written about the implications of this bill, but the SparkNotes version is that the bill mandates that

cellular telephones and portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material shall be prohibited on school grounds, at school sponsored activities and on buses or other vehicles provided by the school district.

Read the full text of the bill.

I’ve written before about how I think mobile phones can be useful in educational settings, and feeling as I do, I decided to write my state representative, Hon. Marguerite Quinn.  Below is a copy of the letter I sent:

Dear Representative Quinn:

I don’t make a habit of writing to government officials, but this evening I feel I must reach out to you as my state representative.  I am a former high school English teacher and current school psychologist, and I am also a parent of soon-to-be school-age children.  As both a parent and educator, I am deeply disturbed by the introduction of PA House Bill No. 363, which, in effect, would place a state-wide ban on electronic devices in classrooms.  The wording of the bill (as I understand it) makes the following prohibited on school grounds: “cellular telephones and portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material”.

While the bill does make allowances for students with potential family medical emergencies and students who are members of a volunteer fire or rescue squad, my primary concerns about this bill are as follow:

* Although I disagree in principle with banning these devices, I believe the decision to ban them, in part or in whole, should be made at the local level, with appropriate provisos relevant to the local school & community culture

* Banning “portable electronic devices that record or play audio or video material” will effectively outlaw the use of laptop, tablet, and netbook computers in schools.  These devices are often used by students to create multimedia content for class projects, and are capable of not only recording, but also post-production and publication of student-generated work.

* Banning these devices wastes a prime opportunity to teach children about the appropriate use of a tool that many of them use regularly outside of school, and will use regularly after graduation.

Today’s mobile phones are less “just phones” and more like miniature computers; generally speaking, many mobile phones are capable of recording and publishing to the Web audio, video, and text content, at a much lower cost than full-blown digital video or still cameras.  More specifically, they can be used as digital field journals in science class (taking pictures and recording text or audio notes), performance recorders in English or drama class, calculators in math class, and survey responders (via text messaging) in any class (and at a much lower cost than commercial responder “clicker” kits).

As an educator, I can attest to the fact that personal electronic devices, when used inappropriately, can undoubtedly serve as disruptions in the classroom; however, banning them wholesale is not the answer.  This bill implies that the problem is with the technology itself, rather than the inappropriate use of it.  Teaching safe, appropriate use and integrating technological tools into well-constructed lessons will ultimately serve our children better.

Mobile phone technology has great educational potential.  I invite you to peruse any of the following websites to learn more about what innovative educators are doing with mobile technology:

I strongly urge you to oppose this bill and prevent our children from being denied educational and personal growth opportunities like the ones described at the above websites.  I am also available to you at the phone number listed below if you would like to discuss the importance of defeating this bill.

Very truly yours,

Damian N. Bariexca, Ed.S., NCSP
(xxx) xxx-xxxx

Yes, there are much bigger problems facing our schools than this.  No, I don’t think this is the be-all end-all.  The responsible use of technology in education is, however, an issue about which I am passionate, and I just don’t see any good coming from a state-wide ban.  Hell, when I was in the eighth grade, I was stabbed in the back of the neck with a pencil; I didn’t see any legislation coming out banning pencils in schools, and that was much more detrimental to my physical, emotional, and educational well-being than anything a cell phone could ever do.  It’s not the tool, people; it’s how we use it.

Last thing: while I’ve never been one to believe in the power of online petitions and such, if you’re interested in discussing this issue or sharing resources with other PA educators, check out the Facebook group.

Dear Diary

My recent stint filling in as a school psychologist in a maternity-leave position was unique to me for a few reasons.  Not only was it my first “real world” exposure to working in the field (internship notwithstanding), but I was also working within a finite time period.  This job had a “sell-by” date on it, and even if I hadn’t been offered my new full-time position, my time as a psychologist at this particular school would have ended when the woman I was filling in for returned in February.

It’s been a long time since I had a job like that, and if I’m honest, yes, I do think I perceived the position differently than if it was a permanent job.  I don’t mean to say that I slacked off or didn’t care; rather, I think the limited time frame made me a little more aware of my thoughts and reactions to the job on a daily basis.

With this in mind, I decided to document my thoughts at the end of each day a la Doogie Howser.   To do this, I used Quillpill, a Twitter-like microblogging service.   While there are many similarities between the two services, Quillpill is promoted primarily as a story-telling, rather than IM-ish, service.  From their “About” page:

Quillpill supplies you the writer, diary keeper, poet, or reader with access to a unique writing tool for mobile and web. The mobile web offers you a much more book-like experience than even a laptop can, as the mobile phone is the first web-able device that is as portable, accessible, and personal as a paperback novel or your favorite journal. The best part is: You already own it and carry it with you!

There is a web interface, but more often than not, I found myself using the mobile interface to input my daily observations on my Palm Centro phone as I walked to and from student observations, meetings, or even in the car (passenger, natch) or on the couch at home (iPhone users have their own special interface).  Whenever the ideas struck, I was able to reach into my pocket and record.  The 140 character limit also forced me to keep my writing succinct, not a trait for which I’m known.  An unfortunate by-product of such brevity is that without context, entries don’t always come across as intended, but that’s not necessarily a problem if you’re just writing for yourself.

I’m glad I did this because I (and now, you) can look back at my daily thoughts (I think I missed fewer than 10 school days between 4 Sept and 23 Dec 2008).  I’ve made only minor edits for anonymity and clarity (remember what I said about context before you judge me, please!). For those of you who just want the Cliff’s Notes rundown, here are my top 5 takeaways:

  • I hated being new at something again
  • Bureaucracy and red tape were endlessly frustrating, and I sometimes felt powerless to do what I thought would help
  • Parents appreciated me & my efforts much more than I thought they would
  • I observed some double standards in terms of how some teachers conduct themselves & what they expect from their students
  • I really enjoyed being a vocal advocate for kids who needed one

Overall, it was a very positive experience, and I’m grateful for being offered the opportunity to get my feet wet in an environment in which I was familiar and comfortable.  I’ll be starting up in a brand new position in a brand new (to me) school on Monday, 5 Jan, and I’ll absolutely use the lessons learned in this temporary position to guide me as I establish myself in a new branch of my career in education.