Keeping in Touch with Students/Parents via Texts

Course(s): All courses in the Cleveland State University TESOL program

Department: Teacher Education

Institution: Cleveland State University

Instructor(s): Elena Andrei

Number & Level of Students Enrolled: Graduate and undergraduate students/pre-service and in-service teachers taking TESOL courses

Digital Tools/Technologies Used: Remind, Google Voice

Author Bio: Elena Andrei, Ed.D. is an assistant professor of TESOL and TESOL Program Coordinator at Cleveland State University. Her research is classroom-based focused on second language literacy, multilingual learners and multiliteracies, teacher education, and “non-native” English speaking teachers. Her previous professional experience includes being an English as a second language teacher (ESL) and ESL school coordinator in Charlotte, NC and English as a foreign language teacher in her native Romania. Previously to coming to CSU, she was an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Coordinator of the TESOL Graduate Certificate at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC.

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How many of us are texting nowadays? How many of us are keeping in touch or sending a last-minute thought or update to family, friends, and colleagues via text? How many of us sign up for text reminders from our pharmacy, library, school district, or doctor’s office? I am sure a lot of you answered yes to at least one of the questions above. Texts seem to be an ubiquitous way of communication. Texts are easy, cheap, and not too involved: you can text while you are still in your pajamas or while you are doing your morning walk.

I train and interact with both future and current teachers as part of a university teacher education program and I was a K-12 teacher myself. I have one child in public schools and I do research in schools. Districts, individual schools, and teachers use texts to reach out to parents. In my work at the university I use both Remind and Google Voice to send texts to my students.

I learned about Remind as an app and website that you can use to text a group of people from one of the teachers I worked with when I was working at a university in South Carolina. I learned about Google Voice while I was a doctoral student at the University of Virginia.

Remind

For those of you who are not yet familiar with Remind, here is a quick overview. Remind (https://www.remind.com), formally known as Remind 101, is an app and a website that allows you to create classes/groups of people and text them all at once or individually. Using your school/university assigned email, you sign up for a free educator account. In that account, you can create classes/groups of people. Then, you ask students or parents to sign up for texts or you can manually add them to the classes/groups you created. Anyone with a cell phone (including smartphones or dump phones) can receive a text. With each student/parent signed up for your class/group, you can also text back and forth if you select the option “replies on”. Remind requires you to text people older than 13, so be mindful of that.  

Remind has been very popular with PK-12 teachers. A little bit of history about it: in spring 2019, there were news that Verizon cell phone customers will not be able to receive texts from Remind, but a campaign from teachers on social media, reversed that. See  two articles (Article 1 & Article 2) for more details if you want to learn more).

Figure 1: A Remind text sent to one entire class

Google Voice

For those of you who are not yet familiar with Google Voice, here is a quick overview. Google Voice (https://voice.google.com/about) is a product from Google which allows you to get a number with your area code to text and call. Google Voice is an app for your phone and/or computer which functions like another line you might have on your cell phone. As an educator, you can sign up for personal use of Google Voice and use your Google account. With this number students and/or parents can text you and you can text them back as if you text from a cell phone using the Google Voice app. You can also call them, but when you call, Google Voice randomly chooses every time a different number with a different area code, so be mindful of that. I use Google Voice mostly for texts and I call it my “text-only number” and that is how I share it with students.

Figure 2: Sample contact information in syllabi
Figure 3: Sample contact information from online class website
Texting in Practice

As a university instructor, I decided that using texts to reach out to my students is a nice additional layer of communication. I have been using Remind on a regular basis since 2014 when I first started teaching online as an assistant professor (I also taught online as a graduate student, but I did not use Remind back then). I started by using Remind first with my online courses only, then I extended it to my face-to-face ones. I initially thought online students might need this additional layer of communication more than those who were in face-to-face courses. So, I have been using Remind every semester ever since. I have had a Google Voice number since I was in graduate school and I have started to share it with my students as part of my course syllabi mostly for my online course first, but then with all courses about the same time I started to use Remind.

To be clear, the main means of communication with my students is through the university email each of them are assigned and that is where all my communication goes first. Students know that and I make sure I reiterate that throughout the semester. Emails are the official way to reach out to students, but, as an additional layer of communication, I decided to use texts. The same goes for any instructor who decides to use Remind or Google Voice: make sure you are aware and follow the policies of your school or university related to communication. Here is what I do. I send my email to the students and then send them a Remind text letting them know about the email I sent and/or some information from the email. The same procedure is used by some school districts: they send an email to parents and then they text all parents alerting them about the email.

At the end of every semester, I informally ask my students if the text communication was useful. Without exception, they always say yes. Based on that feedback I continued to use both Remind and Google Voice.

As noted earlier, I have taught online and used Remind and Google Voice before pandemic for almost 7 years now. As someone who has taught online before and felt established in this teaching modality, I was well positioned to make the teaching and learning successful once we had to move online due to the pandemic. However, what changed during the pandemic is that students had all their courses online rather than just the one or two TESOL courses and that alone impacted the TESOL courses (not to mention the additional impacts that have affected literally everyone during the last year). So, the additional layer of communication has been very useful. There were situations when students only had access to their cell phone and texted me to let me know what was going on (such as an emergency that did not allow them to be “present” in class). Students also reached out to me via texts to set up office hours appointments to talk about assignments and/or their program of study. After I finish one course, I usually delete the class/group from Remind, but I had at least two students who found it easier to reach out to me with course/program questions using Remind, so I have classes/groups now from previous semesters I have not deleted yet so students can still text me. In addition to emails, I have also used Remind just to check on students to see how they were doing and they shared they appreciated that additional check-in. To check and see how my texts look on the student’s side and if they received them, I sign up for my own texts myself.

What the pandemic showed me is that the additional layer of communication was more important than ever as it provided students additional avenues to reach out to me and for me to reach out to them so they are successful. What I changed for the pandemic, and will become a post-pandemic practice, is the Google Voice number to be part of my email signature. It is almost like a second office number now and provides students the option to text me if emailing or calling my office phone are not good options for them.

Conclusion

I hope this information about texting as an additional way of meeting students where they are was useful and informative. I have included some visuals to illustrate some of the practices mentioned. I look forward to hearing about other ways instructors have reached out to students/parents.

To all educators, thank you for all your work! I know online teaching and learning has been challenging and I hope you know your work, dedication, and passion have not gone unnoticed. As a teacher educator, researcher, former teacher, and parent, I thank you!

References

Remind (2019). Remind text messages aren’t spam—so why is Verizon treating them like they are? Retrieved from: https://www.remind.com/blog/verizon-fee

Schwartz, S. (2019). Messaging App Remind and Verizon Resolve Dispute Over Fee, Free Texting Service to Continue. Retrieved from: https://marketbrief.edweek.org/marketplace-k-12/remind-app-verizon-dispute-resolved/

Tobin, B. (2019). Remind, Verizon settle dispute, allowing customers to continue receiving SMS messages. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2019/01/25/remind-verizon-settle-dispute-allowing-customers-keep-using-app/2680706002/).

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