August 19, 2010

Encouraging students and professors to communicate by texting.

Georgia Gwinnett College is spending $1000 per professor to pay for smart phones for professors who are supposed to respond to student texts within 24 hours. Professors already have computers and respond to email, so what is the point of this? You want students dashing off little notes full of typos and abbreviations and professors struggling with teensy keyboards and adapting to the ultra-concise writing form? And what happens when there are misunderstandings? These are inevitable in texting.

Leave texting to friends and family and to coworkers who interact casually. Professors — however friendly they may seem in person — must relate to students in a professional way.
Tee Barron, an associate professor of mathematics, says she sometimes gets texts from students asking questions that they could easily have answered by consulting a classmate or the syllabus, but that can be corrected with a benign rebuke. “I’ll sometimes text back, ‘Hahaha by the time it took me to e-mail or text me you could have found this out yourself and now you’re going to have to anyway,' ” Barron says. “I think after the first couple times the [students] who are high-maintenance and try that — they start getting it.”
So you're going to taunt and tease them into behaving appropriately? But you're not modeling appropriateness! You're letting them think you have a cutesy, jokey relationship. And who would text the 27 words "Hahaha by the time it took me to e-mail or text me you could have found this out yourself and now you’re going to have to anyway." (I'm counting "hahaha," a misspelling of "ha ha ha," as 1 word.) In the real world of texting, it's going to be more like "get it yrsf" or "u gotta b kiddng" or something even more abbreviated and subject to misreading.

It might work for Tee Barron, a math prof. Maybe math students are coolly unemotional, consuming messages, but I think student-teacher texting is likely to go bad... very bad. And that's assuming fully virtuous professors who don't even dream of entering into inappropriate relations with students.


tim maguire said...

I don't text much, but it wouldn't surprise me if some phones are macro capable so she could just type "cntrl 2"--two keys--and send off that response.

But I agree fully with your main point. The proper thing to do is announce to the class on the first day that you will not read or respond to text messages.

24 hours is plenty of time to respond to an email, even if the response is, "I will address that in class" or "It would be best if you figure that out for yourself, get back to me if you can't" or some such.

Pogo said...

Patients are 'demanding' that kind of access too.

I suggest charging $10 per question received, and $10 per reply for tests, $5 for e-mails. Office visits are free, if of course you ever are actually in your office.

Pogo said...

"WTF?" should be the standard reply.

Big Mike said...

It might work for Tee Barron, a math prof. Maybe math students are coolly unemotional, consuming messages, but I think student-teacher texting is likely to go bad... very bad.

I don't see how it could work for math professors and math students at all. How do you draw a Venn diagram using texting? An integral symbol? A capital sigma? Pi? The backwards capital E that means "there exists"?

Math is why white boards were invented.

ricpic said...

Chatter is the revenge of the thoughtless on the thoughtful.

John said...

$1,000 for a smart phone?

Sounds a bit much to me.

Unless they are going to pay the whole phone bill.

Nice perk. Wish I worked for a company that did that.

Oh, wait, I do. Of course I work for myself so it still comes out of my own pocket.

John Henry

Joe said...

I suspect that the "reson" is that there are funds available for SmartPhones and/or the faculty got no raises, so we decided to give them a SmartPhone as a "perk" now we just need a rationale.

Quayle said...

Actually being in your office during office hours might help communication also.

MadisonMan said...

Students are lazy. Why look things up if you can ask a professor? Now there's just a high-tech way to do it. I will not be incorporating texting into my student communication repertoire. If they can't email me, or phone me, or fb chat me, then they're not going to be able to get in touch with me. (I never see them -- the course is on line)

MadisonMan said...

That $1K for a smart phone must include service for a year. Or did they get the blinged-out versions?

roesch-voltaire said...

I agree this is over the top and not useful. For the last several years, I have asked my students to send me an email at the end of the week summing up the take home points discussed in class and any further questions that they may have. As a result of this exchange, I have a sense of what was taught well, what needs to be reviewed, and I begin to establish a communication link with all students, including those shy ones reluctant to speak up in class.

Geoff Matthews said...

That professor is an @$$h0l3.

I'm an adjunct (stats), and texting hasn't come up. But then I also don't give out a phone number.

edutcher said...

While undergrad isn't first grade, there still should be some manner of authoritarian relationship between professor and student.

If I were one of her students, even though I'm older than she is, I wouldn't dream of calling Professor Althouse, "Ann", so texting seems wildly inappropriate.

(Then again, I'm an old guy)

PS When I was going for a postbac CS degree about 10 years ago, I emailed my profs occasionally regarding a technical point. Texting seems an inadequate way of asking a question if you need a little guidance.

WV "meexops" What Rambo says now that he's retired.

Ron said...

Tweet from hiring committee:

"LOL @ ur CV! Pwned!"

A generation from now...someone will text his thesis in Twitter!

MadisonMan said...

But then I also don't give out a phone number.

I do. I find that students are very selective in when they actually call, as calling a professor is very intimidating. So it's really a win for everyone to give out your phone number. Students can reach you if it's a true emergency, and you have the appearance of approachability.

My Dad also gave out his (our home phone) number. I recall answering a few timid Can I speak to Professor X? calls when I was in elementary/middle school. This was long before email however.

Roy Hunter said...

Email and instant messaging have hopelessly fractured my attention while on the computer, so I certainly wouldn’t want to add a ton of text messages to blast what little focus I have left while away from the machine.

damikesc said...

$1000 per professor?


I work for Verizon Wireless and I don't know of a way for a single line to be charged $1,000 without international services.

PatCA said...

I suspect this is a perk based on the "spend it or we lose it" budget maxim. If there is money left at the end of the cycle, you spend it.

When students get instant answers via electronics, they suppose that you are always available to them. I have to draw the line all time. I don't say "hahaha" thoo I say "consult the syllabus" or whatever.

Chip Ahoy said...

My sister called in an alarmed state when she realized I purged my Facebook account. I didn't have the rudeness it took to tell her one of the main reasons is how stupid it makes her and her daughters look when they text their streams of insipid messages.

"But it's a good way to keep up with birthdays and such."

"Yes, it is." And left it at that. But it's too easy, in fact. A breezy text message on the fly in place of thoughtful communication. So I chose instead not to have it.

sydney said...

Sounds like a bad idea. Would encourage the demanding, high maintenance types who want help with every little thing rather than try to think it through themselves.

I do have secure messaging with my patients. It normally works out well, but they have to go through an extra step of accessing a secure website and signing in before firing off a question. Once in a while someone sends a message when they are obviously in a bad mood and their body is taking the brunt of that mood. Those aren't fun to read at the end of a long day.

I think professors would get more whiney messages. And what about repeated requests to change a grade?

Sisyphus said...

Perhaps the college's stated reason is not the reason at all. Perhaps it is really about Althouse's last paragraph, combined with the recent Quonn decision.

If the college provides the phones, then the college can review the text messages if they have an appropriate policy in place. That way, they can catch inappropriate professor-student interactions via text message, should they otherwise become suspicious about such dalliances.

Kev said...

There are situations where texting could come in handy; mine is one of them.

I teach music ensembles and applied music (a.k.a. private lessons), so I'm rarely able to answer the phone during the business day, and emails get checked only every few hours. In addition, since I'm not yet a full prof, my "office" is shared with 100 other profs, and no way do I want to burden the administrative assistant with taking phone message for me, as I wouldn't likely get them in a timely manner in the first place.

Since most of my ensembles (jazz combos) are one person on a part, you'd better believe that I want to know ASAP if the drummer is sick and can't make rehearsal today, as that gives me a lot more time to find a sub. So I'd much rather find out this news right away (via text) rather than, say, a few minutes before rehearsal starts (which could happen if the student emailed me instead). We also have a lot of non-traditional students (who may work as far as 20 miles away from school) in one of my groups, so a quick "I'm running late" text is appreciated, as taking a quick peek at the screen is much less disruptive than listening to a voicemail once class has started.

I've had texting capability for six years now, and for me, it's been overwhelmingly positive, and I have yet to have a student abuse the privilege.

Roux said...

Why not just use email? Let's see in a poor economy with rising tuition we are going to waste money on giving smart phones to the teachers. Of course the administrators have to get them too. Oh, and you have to hire someone to manage all these devices. Jeez, and these are the folks that are supposed to be educating our kids.

America's Politico said...

Althouse on

(see at the bottom)

Beth said...

I share my cell number with my students and I get texts all the time. It is almost always the "high maintenence" ones who text silly requests for things that are in the syllabus - which they can find in Blackboard, a course delivery platform that I regularly use for conventional classes as a repository for handouts and assignments.

What I notice is that these student texters often fail to identify themselves, ask for things they can find themselves, so I guess I agree with Althouse's disdain for student-teacher texting. The first time I got such a text I thought, "what the heck?" I tend to reply tersely: Email me. or It's in Blackboard. I don't encourage it.

If you have a smartphone you can receive and send email, and people can text email accounts, so I see no need for faculty to get all texty. U no?

Beth said...

I do. I find that students are very selective in when they actually call, as calling a professor is very intimidating.

I do too, and in the first class, during the introduction to policies, I ask "Do you really want to be the student who phones me in the last two minutes of a Saints game, or at 10 pm Sunday night?" They've been quite respectful, so far, except for the clueless texters. I'd like to see some research on whether there's a correlation between hovering around a low C or D and thinking it's a great idea to text your teacher with an inane, poorly spelled question.

Beth said...

I think professors would get more whiney messages. And what about repeated requests to change a grade?

I get those in email, but this summer, for the first time, I got three text messages asking to change grades. That's an easy response: No.

Big Mike said...

@Beth, back when I was a GTA I had a very bad experience with a kid who didn't like the grade I gave him (a C-, which was generous in my opinion) and would never again give out a phone number.

knox said...

My dad, retired from the corporate world, now teaches IT classes at a community college. One student has emailed him before every assignment and every test, asking "If I don't do this assignment/if I fail this test, will I pass the course?"


knox said...

I can't even stand it when people use texting abbreviations on Facebook.

Beth said...

Big Mike,

Grade negotiation seems to be more persistent now than even a few years ago. A lot of states give scholarships to local high school grads who maintain a certain GPA, and I notice lately students use that as a bargaining tool: "I need a B in this class to keep my scholarship." There are obvious responses to that, none of which include, "Oh! Well, then, I'll issue a B right now!" Also, "I'm on probation and failing this class will mean I'm suspended." If your GPA is enough for probation then failing this class isn't where your problems started. Knowing that, too, might have been good to consider as you decided to miss eight classes, fail to turn in two of the four required papers, and didn't take up my offer to allow a revision of the D paper you wrote.

It's easy to complain about those students because the vast majority work hard for a passing grade, and take responsibility for themselves and their decisions.

I had a week's worth of text pleadings for me to change a grade this summer, so yes, I'll stop giving out my cell number. Students can email me - it's just as easy to do.

Synova said...

Has anyone tried to find out if part of the disparity between texting or any other non-phone use of phones by young people vs. older people has something to do with eyesight?

I only need glasses to read. Therefore, I almost never wear glasses at all. I do text my kids quite a bit but I have to chose between taking extra time to squint and puzzle out the text or taking out my glasses and putting them on. It's about even, as far as I can tell, as far as how long it takes to read a text.

Sitting down to a computer means putting the glasses on once, so it's more efficient.

Beth said...

Synova, that's my situation as well. Squinting at the little screen is a trial.

But in post-Katrina New Orleans, pretty much every adult, even the old folks, knows how to text, so I use it constantly anyway. Data works when voice doesn't so we relied on SMS for a few weeks to find friends and family scattered around the country. Lots of people who didn't have cell phones got them during that time, and bought them for their kids and parents, so it's very common for locals to have non-NOLA area codes for their everyday phones. And we all just got used to texting.

Daniel Ruwe said...

I don't know how your friends texts, but my friends mostly use reasonably good punctuation and spelling. Does anyone write stuff like "u gotta b kidding" anymore? Maybe back when people had to type stuff out on the number pad, but considering everyone has phones with QWERTY keyboards now, usage is actually pretty good now.

I'm a college student, and only one of my professors let us text him. I did once, and it was kinda useful. Like, I could have waited and emailed, but it was nice to have the option.

Beth said...

I actually read the article and see the point is to raise retention; well, that's the gold standard for public, non-competitive universities, so look for more of this. I notice their evidence is in improved sophomore continued enrollment, but I want to see actual graduation rates of first-time, full-time freshmen go up before I'd see this is effective.

There's no way my university will come up with $1K per faculty member, but I still expect I'll hear some version of a texting plan at an upcoming faculty senate meeting.

Methadras said...

"Encouraging students and professors to communicate by sexting."

Fixed for accuracy. That will really get them talking.

Ann Althouse said...

"One student has emailed him before every assignment and every test, asking "If I don't do this assignment/if I fail this test, will I pass the course?""

What did he answer? May I suggest: "I certainly hope so." The first time. Thereafter: a simple "y."

meep said...

Being in office during office hours?

No one ever showed up (and I taught math). In later years, I had office hours at a local cafe. Still no one showed up, but at least I got some nice coffee.