The poster campaign to get students to sign up didn't work, not one response and I suppose fittingly it was only when I sent out a block SMS to all the students at the school that I got some kind of response.
In fact, I've now got 12 students signed up and I expect at least a few more over the next few days. I've capped the group at 20, though I don't think I'll get that many.
Ok, now comes the tricky part working out how to structure it. My basic idea for the group is to set up one or two core streams of information and communication. Initially I thought about relying purely on SMS with members communicating with each other and me through texts. I abandoned that idea when I realised it might prove quite expensive for some of them. I'm on an unlimited text plan so it's not a problem for me, but I'm sure that's not true for most of them and sending out group texts might prove expensive. I really want to minimize as much as possible their costs for doing this.
So I did a bit of research and came up with the idea of using a private Twitter group as the main form of communication. The main benefits of this are: firstly, most phones (even lower end ones) have some kind of twitter client available to them, and secondly, it's possible to send and receive tweets from the group via SMS. This means that the students can send one SMS message and it will be received by all the members of the group, either via their twitter client or their SMS inbox. There may be better solutions available, but this seemed the best temporary way to get around the range of handsets and dataplans they have.
This of course is probably the biggest challenge of setting up a mobile group. Some of the students have the latest handsets with all the newest features (wifi, 3G, Bluetooth, GPS etc) and all you can eat dataplans. Others, however, are using minimal data on Pay As You Go and have basic handsets with only voice and text functions. While mobiles can be seen to democratize the learning process (available all the time), those with more money are still likely to get a richer experience. So, by using Twitter groups I'm hoping to level things out a little for the members of the group.
So, this week will be spent setting up a private Twitter group and then trying to explain to them how to sign up for it - a not inconsiderable task given the range of English levels and technical knowledge among them. I really want to do as much of it as possible via their phones, though to sign up for twitter some of them are clearly going to have to use a computer. By the end of this week I will be very happy if every member has posted just once to the group!
In the following weeks I will then experiment with a variety of mobile learning opportunities - IM chats, sending quizzes/materials via SMS, polls via SMS and others I've yet to research. But student feedback about these, any messages from me, indeed any random thought they want to share can be done through the Twitter group. We'll see how it goes, I'm genuinely very excited about this...