Taking tech-native Gen Z to the virtual classroom with realtime messaging


How the Remind team used Pusher Channels in their edtech platform to appeal to the tech-centric communication habits of young learners.


The rise of digital education delivery marked a turning point for edtech providers in 2020. During the pandemic, sudden school closures propelled educational technology into the spotlight as a vital solution for teachers and students worldwide.

Remind is a communication platform founded in 2011 to help bridge the gap between school and home by reaching students and parents where they are. Two-way messaging encourages meaningful engagement by allowing teachers to communicate with students and their families without exchanging personal information. The app can be used for one-to-one conversations or communication within an entire class, school, or even district; along with chat and messages, users can send documents and photos, set automatic reminders, and create groups.

Remind’s realtime messaging service was built out using Pusher Channels in 2015. At the time, the team was focused on finding a stable product-market fit. “We didn’t want to be adding additional operational overhead, especially for persistent realtime connections,” said Peter Hamilton, Head of Technology at Remind. “That wasn’t something we had a lot of expertise on. All of our tooling was around the normal web request cycle.”

Channels’ integration-ready SDKs allowed for a smooth implementation, which worked on the mobile and web client side. Remind wanted a single tool that already had clients available, and Pusher made it easy for the team to roll out across multiple platforms.

“We’ve barely had to touch our implementation for years,” said Peter. “Even as we added new information, our development cycle remained straightforward: We would send it from the backend, and all of our clients would be able to receive the notification and do what they needed with it.”

Supporting learners during unprecedented times

March of 2020 saw almost every school close across the U.S., with 97% of students moving to learning from home. Teachers and administrators were facing overwhelming communication challenges, even as they worked tirelessly to navigate day-to-day uncertainty, and many turned to Remind.

Facing significant growth, the team had to massively and quickly scale their infrastructure. “In a matter of about 30 minutes, we got someone from Pusher on the phone,” said Peter. “They immediately gave us an increase in capacity to meet our needs.”

The team got to work scaling their infrastructure and tightening resources to face an enormous surge in adoption. “March and April saw our biggest spike ever in usage and traffic. It was the highest volume of messages we’ve ever delivered,” explained Peter.

Initially, the scaling of systems presented a challenge for the Remind team. Unlike Pusher, not all providers are built for easy scaling.

“We’ve had to engineer a lot of complexity to handle that sudden spike in load,” said Peter. “With some of our other vendors, we had to add more capacity and think about the volume we were doing. We haven’t had to worry about that with Pusher.”

Keeping students engaged

In 2020, edtech providers were largely focused on dealing with the challenge of sudden increases in demand. Systems were being scaled at an unprecedented rate. But as the online education boom continues and lasts into a post-pandemic world, other considerations need to be made to hone the learning experience for students.

Regular and personal communication with teachers is essential to student success, especially in the absence of in-person instruction. By making realtime communication on Remind available to access, educators can ensure that students have a direct line to them for support—a functionality built right on top of Pusher.

“Remind has always been focused on breaking down barriers to student success, but the pandemic has raised the stakes and solidified the value of these individual connections,” said Peter. “Along with our core product, we’ve built on this foundation to develop and launch Remind Coaching, an online tutoring solution that connects students with certified K-12 teachers who work with them one on one.”

Looking ahead

For digital natives like Gen Z, tech is likely to form some part of the educational experience even before schooling begins. With disruptions to the education sector showing no signs of slowing down, the surge in digital adoption seems to be here to stay.

Teachers and learners have come to rely increasingly on tech as part of the learning experience. Adoption is up across all platforms and demographics, whether language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, and experts around the world have predicted that the integration of edtech into traditional schooling will endure through the pandemic and beyond.

As Peter explains, these are part of an educational ecosystem that Remind connects to students through communication, whether schools are closed or not. “Our job is to help learners access the teachers, tools, and resources they need to stay engaged and properly supported.”

Pusher Channels is a hosted WebSocket API which allows you to build engaging tools for collaborative learning. Use our docs to find out how you can bring chat, dashboards, live polls, presence, quizzes, games and more to your apps to boost engagement for collaborative users and help students to be successful online learners.