5 Questions to Consider When Choosing Your School’s Mobile App

In today’s interconnected world, school decision-makers—including admin, staff, faculty, and parents—are increasingly faced with decisions about technology, but many fear their lack of tech knowledge could prevent them from properly evaluating the options.

Yahoo’s Flurry Analytics reports that 90 percent of time spent on mobile devices is spent in apps, so it makes sense that schools are following the lead of early adopters, choosing school mobile apps as a key tool for encouraging lateral partnership and parent engagement. But when it comes to making that choice for your school, though, you might be wondering where do I even begin?

The partner you choose will play a critical role in how effective your mobile strategy becomes at promoting and supporting the success of all students. You want a solution that will:

  • Support and sustain your mobile engagement strategy
  • Enhance parent-teacher-office communication
  • Keep parents in the loop about news, events, and other activities
  • Enable easy financial transactions
  • Bridge the gap between the campus and the community

And you want all this while providing a world-class user experience that parents are used to in the other areas of their mobile lives.

A 21st century education requires that schools find the right partners. You need partners in the technology sphere that are as committed to supporting you as your faculty and staff are to supporting your students. You wouldn’t bring in a new team member into your learning community without getting to know them first. You’d want to know their background and talk to others who had worked with them. You’d want to look at their track records, and most importantly, you’d want to know what they can do to support your students.

When you’re looking for a solution that will help your school go mobile, you’ll want to do something similar. You’ll want to ask the right questions to make sure they’ll be strong partners.

Here are five critical questions you need to ask before partnering with a mobile engagement solution:

1. Is their system secure?

Your school has a lot at stake when you choose a mobile engagement solution. It’s not even primarily about the cost and effort of implementing the system—though, of course, those are close to the front of your mind.

Your first concern is the privacy of students and families.

Jeopardizing private information will not only damage your reputation, but it will also risk the safety of your students. Moreover, if you are using the app to collect money, whether for the boosters club, the PTA, a fundraising effort, or tuition, you need to make sure your system protects the financial data of your community. The security of your mobile solution matters.

But what makes a mobile solution secure?

When you ask an app provider about their system’s security, you’ll likely get an alphabet soup response. They’ll use phrases like “PCI DSS Level 1 Compliant” and “256-bit HTTPS SSL connection.” These sound very impressive. And they are important to understand—but they won’t help you discriminate between secure and risky providers.

Here’s why: PCI DSS Level 1 Compliant stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards. It’s simply the credit card industry’s standards related to whom they will accept credit or debit card charges. If a company processes more than 6 million transactions a year, they are given the Level 1 designation. Being PCI compliant is the bare minimum security required of credit card companies. Every company you look at should be PCI compliant.

The SSL connection speaks to the kind of encryption that takes place between the giver and the company’s servers. Most website encryption levels will be either 256-bit or 128-bit. Financial institutions, like banks, have the 256-bit encryptions. But the bottom line is nearly every mobile giving provider you’re looking at will offer this level of encryption. It’s the cost of doing business in the financial sector.

It’s critical that you confirm a giving solution is both PCI compliant and securely encrypts its data to and from your device. If you’re looking to partner with a company that can’t confirm they have this, drop it from your list. Every competitive giving solution should offer similar protection.

But there’s a bigger question when it comes to security. It’s a question you’ll want to ask any potential education technology partner: Does the company have enterprise-level security?

In other words, does the company have an operation big enough to provide solutions for problems you don’t know you have yet? You don’t need a bare minimum solution. You’re working with students and families who need to know that their information is secure. You need to partner with a company that can provide help for whatever comes your way.

Your school needs what the tech world calls an “enterprise solution” for mobile engagement. Pick a company that has the resources to deal with whatever may come your way. That’s why you must ask any company with whom you partner how many developers and engineers they have on their team. You need to know who has your back, and who can keep the data across your school community secure.

2. Will they still provide a viable solution for your school in 3, 5, or 10 years?

You’re not just partnering with an education technology solution for what they can offer you today. You want it to be a long-term relationship. As you know, technology is advancing at mind-boggling speed. Though mobile is here to stay, what that looks like in coming decades will change.

You need a partner that invests in innovation—not one that will be out-of-date in a few years. How do you know about how much they invest in innovation? Again, ask how many developers and engineers they have on their team. Innovation requires infrastructure.

But go beyond that one question: Try to find out how they’ve innovated in the past. A company that regularly provides new features before anyone else will likely continue to do so.

3. Will they provide a branded, customized, mobile-first approach?

Think about your experience with apps: apps like Spotify, Instagram, Uber, and Starbucks. What apps like these have in common is they are uniquely branded, cleanly designed, and easy to use. They don’t require a course on coding. Even young children can learn to use them like it’s second nature.

In order to engage parents, you want an app like this. You want an app that stands out on the screen—that is uniquely yours. Along those lines, you want an app that offers a centralized place for parents to get information and to access the various platforms integrated in your school. When you get your app, you want the advantage of a system that interlinks the individual pieces of your school communication efforts and drives parents to mobile, encouraging greater interaction.

The easier communication between the school and the home is, and the more it can be tailored to your school and its needs, the greater success your school will see in app adoption. Communication and key information updates are, after all, the most regular way your school will engage the broader school community with a mobile device.

Easily-engaged parents, particularly those involved with your various parent boards and organizations, will want to use the app on a regular basis, so you will want the app to be flexible enough to fit the needs of your community. This core group will be much more familiar with finding information quickly, communicating effectively, and using the various channels on the app.

If your engagement solution drives them to your mobile application (not a series of disjointed applications or confusing websites), you’ll drive them to everything else your school has on the app. Over time, that will lead to higher mobile engagement rates throughout the whole school community: the app will become the hub for your school’s community outside the classroom walls. Ask the company to show you a demo of the app and see for yourself how easy it would be to find information and to use the app for communication.

4. Will they strategically drive users to mobile devices?

Within the next few years, you’ll need to transition engagement efforts with parents to primarily mobile avenues. In fact, if you haven’t started, you’re already behind.

As early as 2012, there were more iPhones purchased every day than babies born that day, and over three-quarters of Americans owned a smartphone by the end of 2016. In December 2016, PEW Research Center found that 51 percent of US adults have used their cellphones to make purchases, and nearly one-quarter of American’s make no purchases using cash in a given week.

There’s no question that the time for mobile is now.

Specifically, the time for mobile support for financial transactions is now. Schools might not be for-profit, but that doesn’t mean they are exempt from dealing with finances. From fundraising, to tuition, to field trips, to art supplies, to sports uniforms, all schools, private or otherwise, are mindful of their fiscal sustainability.

Whether it is from expected tuitions or generous donations, your students’ families are making significant investments, financial and otherwise, in their students’ educations. It’s the school’s responsibility to make those investments efficient, easy, and secure.Whether you use the financial side of the mobile app to collect tuitions, to encourage easier and more frequent donations, or to cover new uniforms for the band’s state performance, a world-class user experience supported by executive-level security makes payments and donations easy for parents.

Whether you use the financial side of the mobile app to collect tuitions, to encourage easier and more frequent donations, or to cover new uniforms for the band’s state performance, a world-class user experience supported by executive-level security makes payments and donations easy for parents.

When schools enable financial transactions to occur easily through their mobile app, they are encouraging parents not only to invest financially in their children’s educations, but to see their financial investment make essential contributions to that education in real time. This creates a sense of stewardship and involvement not only in the classroom, but in the school community as a whole. Make sure to ask how potential mobile partners will ensure that financial contributions are efficient, easy, and able to engage parents in the larger school community. By driving families to your app for financial interactions, you are directly connecting their money with the positive outcome it has for their student’s educational experience.

5. Will they help you increase parent engagement to support the success of all students?

Engagement doesn’t end with parents finding the information they need. As an educational leader, you know that engagement has to be encouraged. You want parents to not simply know what their kids are doing at school but to collaborate with the school in their children’s mental, social, physical, and psychological development.

With the mobile shift, ease of use and centralized lines of communication are a must for your mobile engagement and financial solution if you are to drive families to use your mobile app. You want to know if the mobile solution you are considering offers a centralized hub that provides parents with information about school activities, events, tuition notifications, and opportunities to volunteer or watch the championship game.

When information isn’t centralized and easily accessible, parents think it isn’t important. When you have too many avenues of communication, you can’t be sure that any of them are being heard.

In order to effectively engage parents, less is more.

Choose an app that is intuitive, easy to use, and acts as a central communication hub that can send messages to all groups or individual parents, reminding them of important dates, events, permission forms, tuition payments, fundraisers, and school success stories. Rather than asking parents to dig through the website, give them what they need, when they need it, where they can find it. When you centralize your interactions within one simple app, families get easy access to anything they need to know. This, in turn, enables them to support their students’ educational careers.

A 21st Century Education Requires the Right Partners

Thanks to mobile technology, schools have the opportunity to engage parents in 21st century way. Creating a single, centralized mobile app for your school puts you ahead of the curve when it comes to encouraging lateral partnership between the home and the school.

You don’t need to develop your mobile strategy on your own, either. By choosing partners like Pushpay, you can help your school make the most of mobile technology to better engage and communicate with your parents.

Ultimately, technological advances facilitate a more immediate, human, and individualized educational focus—one which places the student in the center of our efforts and concerns. Moreover, these mobile advances do not limit conversations to the screen. They enable conversations, information, questions, and successes to be mere inches from our hands. They enable you to create a community through connection, giving your students and families a sense of belonging that reaches far beyond the screen.



Marina Olson
Guest Writer

Marina Olson is a high school English and remedial math educator who has worked in public, private, and charter secondary schools, as well as in Washington, DC, with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, advocating for higher education reform. She has authored multiple ebooks on education and faith topics, including 7 Types of School Parents and How to Connect With Them. She is currently on hiatus from teaching to pursue her PhD in Politics at Hillsdale College.

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