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SJ3 Mobile App: Standing on the shoulders of giants’

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SJ3 Mobile App: Standing on the shoulders of giants’

Posted by: School Jotter Team
Category: Jotter Mobile, School Jotter

The History

The original Jotter Mobile app, as part of the School Jotter 2 suite of products, was a ground-breaking innovation which changed the market for school mobile apps. The app was deeply integrated with school’s websites and provided a real benefit to parents and schools alike, namely that content could be shared directly into the pockets of parents, instantly, and for a far cheaper price than traditional printed letters in school bags.

The original app was deployed at more than a thousand schools, and used by hundreds of thousands of parents across the United Kingdom. The app has met with acclaim with more than 3,400 reviews and has averaged 4.6 stars across both the Apple App Store and Google Play, and could be found amongst the Top 20 educational apps on the App Store.

Since its launch in 2016, the app has been improved a number of times. The original concept of many separate apps was changed and apps combined into one, benefitting parents with children in multiple schools needing only a single app to access all of school life. Features such as direct messaging were added, and even a unique video-calling option was developed to support remote education during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Opportunity

Our investment in the School Jotter 3 platform presented an opportunity to take stock of the success and consider feedback, both the good and not-as-good, that we received from the parents and schools who used the original mobile app. 

As we began the School Jotter 3 project we were able to factor in the mobile app from day 1, whereas with School Jotter 2 we had to bolt on the mobile app functionality after the platform had been in use for a number of years. This allowed us to change the way that content is built within the new School Jotter 3 content modules and syndicated to both the website and the mobile app.

Logins by Default

One of the core differences is that we now require logins for all users of the apps. This change was done to ensure that the app would work consistently for all users and to provide the best long-term user experience. With the School Jotter 2 app, logins were optional, however, we found that this could confuse parents who might miss messages as they did not realise they were not logged in.

Our approach is akin to Facebook – you log in to the app and then remain logged in until you want to log out or switch to use a different phone. If you are logged out you will see the login box, which is clearer to a parent than showing a padlock in the corner of the home screen. This decision was the result of many discussions as we were aware that this requires a little extra setup initially.

To ease the onboarding of parents we have switched to generating registration codes, using MIS data, rather than requiring schools to set up and maintain usernames and passwords. These registration codes can be sent to parents as letters by mail merge (or via a text-messaging platform) and parents are then free to register with their own email address and a password of their choice. This also simplifies password resets as parents are in control of their accounts.

Modern Design

A new app was a new opportunity for a redesign, again giving space for us to rethink the choices we made the first time around. Our new design strives to give parents clear and immediate access to the information they need, while still keeping enough branding so that our customers feel it is an accurate representation of their own identity and ethos.

When designing the new app we decided to take a content-first approach. This included a pared-down design that doesn’t distract from the content that schools are presenting to parents. Of course, the app still makes use of the school name, logo, motto, and colors – but in a way that is sympathetic to the content itself. In order to validate the designs we built the whole app using Adobe XD to prototype the look and feel of the app, and the feedback to this from customers and user groups was overwhelmingly positive.

As with all technology, the last 6 years have seen significant progress in terms of tools, trends, and evolving user expectations. In building the new app we aim to have taken advantage of the best progress made, and we intend to keep building upon this over the lifecycle of the new app for many years to come. Our new design allows us to make changes down the road without negatively affecting the branding, which we think is a better prospect for our customers.

Content Targeting

It is important with any communication tool to make sure that the right messages and content reaches the right audience; the opposite is also true – our lives are busy and hectic enough already without unwanted pings from irrelevant push notifications interrupting our days!

With the original app, there were settings for parents to opt-out or opt-in to categories of content, with categories being set up for year groups, classes, or anything else a school decided. This worked well in theory, however what was seen was that near-universally parents never changed these settings from default. This meant that parents received all the updates, even those which were not relevant to them and their children.

A key change in the School Jotter 3 mobile app is that content can be targeted to parents based on what is relevant to them, crucially – without any setup required by the parent themselves. We achieve this by allowing all content to be tagged as public or private, and being associated with a particular group or groups of parents. This works for the content that is shown within the app and for the push notifications which are triggered when content is added or scheduled to appear. By syncing data from the school’s MIS and linking up parents, students, and classes the majority of the ‘hard-lifting’ is automatically done by the system.

The Future

With the new mobile app being introduced at the very start of the School Jotter 3 lifecycle, we envision that the new app will have a longer lifespan than its predecessor. This allows us to take a long-term view on the roadmap of the product, and the app that parents use in 5 years will not necessarily offer the same features of the app today.

By building the mobile app in tandem with the new platform we can ensure that any new features added to the School Jotter 3 system can also be adopted in future versions of the mobile app. This could involve messaging, booking parents evenings or booking equipment, payments, or things which aren’t even on our radar yet.

We are excited and proud to launch the new mobile app and we look forward to schools joining us on the next major chapter of our School Jotter platform. To find out more or for a demo of our app please call us on 0113 3200 750 or email info@schooljotter.com.