Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Using SMS Texting for Reference Help with Udefn

Many educators have posted about the benefits of using Google SMS to help students with reference needs such as translation, weather, local information, stocks, currency exchange rates, and more. Recently Lisa Nielsen wrote a wonderful post about what Google SMS can do and how the tool could be useful in education. My only issue with Google SMS is that the "keyword" is set up by Google, and thus you have to remember a vast number of "keywords" to use the service. For example if you want information about converting currency you have to text Currency Conversion-9 usd in euros. If you just text currency, you will not receive the conversion. While the text is similar to what you want to do (such as Airline for flights), when there are over 20 different texting keywords it becomes difficult to remember. Also, Google SMS does not allow you to create your own feed for text referencing. For example if you would like the headlines from the New York Times, you would have to try the Q&A and see if you get what you are looking for. A good alternative to Google SMS is Udefn. In addition if you want local information you need to specify your location or you will be given more generic information. Again it is a lot to remember.

Like Google SMS, Udefn is a SMS text message referencing tool that is free to anyone. The difference is that YOU create the keywords. For example if I want weather reports, my keyword might be "w". In addition, Udefn allows you to add your own RSS feeds and create a keyword for them. Therefore I could create a keyword for my favorite blogs, wikis, NPR reports...etc. I am not limited to the Google keyword list!

A few of Udefn's Keyword Options
  • Gmail: Create keywords to read your email! You do not need to have mobile Internet on your cell phone to read your email. Just set up a keyword at Udefn and text each time you want to catch up on your email!
  • HTTP Uptime: Check up to 3 websites at once from one keyword!
  • RSS: Create your own keyword for your favorite RSS feed!

How is this helpful in Education?
First, I love that students can pick their own unique keywords. Just as students learn differently, they will remember keywords for different reasons. It gives them some choice and authority over their learning.

Second, Udefn includes a message history, so the teacher can check to see when keywords were sent and the messages received!

Third is Email accessibility. Since there are more students with cell phones than have Internet access, the text option to read email allows for accessibility to email without the cost of mobile Internet.

Integration Ideas
Lisa Nielsen posted some great ideas on using Google SMS and many of those ideas apply to Udefn. Check those out here.

Below is one idea that works well with Udefn.
Current Events
Using the RSS option, students can keep up with current events; news, stocks, innovation, local happenings via SMS on their cell phone wherever they are. This is nice for any class that integrates current events into the curriculum. By creating their own RSS keywords, students can follow their own choice of newspapers, blogs, and web resources to get their current events. They could even compare and contrast the accuracy of the news and the reporting with each other.

1 comment:

Lisa Nielsen said...

Great post. I will definitely check out this resource. Thanks for referring to my post about Google SMS as an education tool. Good point about the Google key words. I am going to paste those into the notes section of the Google SMS entry on my phone. I don't know why I never thought to do that, but after reading your post, it came to me. Looking forward to looking at udefn more closely soon.

Lisa Nieslen
Blogging about educating innovatively at

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