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I am an instructor of classes that only run for 1-4 weeks. The facility I teach at requires me include my cell phone number on the class schedule that I give out. However, during and after the last class I taught I received 250+ texts from one of my students. Only about 5 or so were specific questions relating to the class, about 70% were asking for me to come up with questions to test them, and the rest they were trying to make chit chat.

Is there some website or app that I could use so that my students have a way of contacting me only during the class and I can shut down/stop/prevent any communication after the class? The classes are usually mostly/all teenagers so I need a website or app that where I can send/receive messages from my smart phone (Samsung) or computer, but will work for the students that don't have a smartphone yet.

Just adding all of there numbers to a spam list after the class is not an option because some of them become co-workers if they pass the class (so they may need to be able to contact me via phone--my work posts everyone's numbers in our break room--to trade shifts, etc.).

  • 8
    @Lilienthal it could be a workplace situation with regards to venders, third party contractors, et cetera. – Retired Codger Jun 1 '16 at 21:16
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    @RichardU Not really. Your workplace would provide a business number. You would not be spammed with calls outside business hours. You would not have this volume of communication. Business relationships do not text, won't spam you with idle chatter and most of all are not teenagers. Even if we assumed some crazy workplace, the normal reactions to boundary crossing behaviour on this scale would not work for teaching environment. – Lilienthal Jun 1 '16 at 21:22
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    "I need a website or app that where I can send/receive messages from my smart phone (Samsung) or computer" - sorry, but that sounds exactly like a description of plain old email. – sleske Jun 2 '16 at 6:39
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    Two words: Burner phone. – Richard Jun 2 '16 at 11:47
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    @JimG. How on earth is this question related to personal productivity? – David K Jun 3 '16 at 13:51

13 Answers 13

69

Try Google Voice: http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html

It provides a handy way to give out a number that you can use for the duration of the class, then discard.

You can have the voicemail stored, forwarded, or even transcribed.

And it's free.

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    @AmandaR Google Voice has call-blocking capabilities; if you're only trying to shut out a few specific students who don't respect your time, it may be much easier to block them specifically rather than change the number every term. (And yes, you can respond to calls or texts from your phone or web browser without leaking your personal number.) – Jeff Bowman Jun 2 '16 at 4:32
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    And just for the record: "Google Voice" should be really read "online phone service provider" - there are many other options besides Google Voice, depending on your needs and location. SIP phone providers come to mind. – sleske Jun 2 '16 at 6:36
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    You don't need to kill the Google Voice number at the end of every class. Only swap it out if you have to, like if one of those students starts sending you hundreds of messages again. Then the $10 to change the number isn't so bad, and you don't have to change your mobile/landline number.... – jmort253 Jun 2 '16 at 7:54
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    Google voice is only available in the US so not a universal solution. – Loofer Jun 2 '16 at 9:32
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    @Loofer, There is no single universal solution. I work in this field, and I can tell you there are thousands of solutions. It just depends on where Amanda R. is located. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 4 '16 at 4:00
39

To give an alternative option:

Have you considered pushing back on the requirement? While I understand students need a way to contact you, I don't understand why it has to be a phone number.

Telephone does not work very well for complex questions anyway (complex topics are hard to discuss without being able to write things down), and you may not always be able to answer the phone, leading to a ping-pong of calling people back - not to mention the concerns you describe.

Explain this to the faculty, and offer an email address instead. Or just write an email address into the form for your course.


If that fails, one pragmatic, technical solution would be to get a second SIM card. You should be able to get one (w/o a phone) for about 5-10 USD or Euro. Then either

  • get a cheap/old phone and put in the card, or
  • find a mobile provider that will send SMS for each missed call. Then you can swap the card in your regular phone once a day (or during certain time, which you may even announce to students), and handle any calls/SMS. Or
  • set up call forwarding for the second SIM card, so all calls are forwarded to your main phone. Note, however, that not all telephone companies offer call forwarding, and most will charge for it, so this is probably only practical if calls are infrequent.

The second option means you will not be available for calls all the time, but I don't think that is something the faculty can ask for anyway. You are not being paid to be on call, I assume. In that case having official "office hours" (by phone) seems quite appropriate.

  • +1 for secondary old phone. You're done for maybe 20 euros or so and you can just turn it off. – Erik Jun 2 '16 at 1:53
  • @Erik: Actually, 20 Euros is a lot for an old phone. For 20 Euros, you can get a (simple) new phone, SIM card included. Old phones are likely free, because chances are someone you know has one lying around somewhere :-). – sleske Jun 2 '16 at 6:44
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    Right now, good friends who asked me for a phone and have no money. would have the choice between an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 4. And an old Nokia phone if you could be bothered to find where it is :-) Plenty of people have old phones in a drawer somewhere. You can get SIM cards for £1 in the UK, but you won't be able to call people, just accept calls. – gnasher729 Jun 2 '16 at 7:53
  • @gnasher729: Hey, about hat iPhone 4... ;-) – sleske Jun 2 '16 at 8:43
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    Or just have an awesome phone like my one plus 2 -- which has dual sim cards :) – Uncle Iroh Jun 2 '16 at 16:13
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I think you should set very clear boundaries about what your number is provided for. If these rules are broken you need to follow up.

You should not be afraid of your students. Even if the contact was via email, 250+ messages is far from acceptable.

I would also suggest bringing this up with other teachers and with the management of the school.

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    +1 to this. I don't see this as a technical problem to be solved, but rather a disciplinary one. This student has crossed a boundary and needs to be taught what boundaries are for and to respect them. Otherwise he will do it to the next teacher, and the next. – Mark Henderson Jun 2 '16 at 10:59
  • Annnnd what do you do after a "far from acceptable" thing happens? – user42272 Jun 3 '16 at 21:47
  • @djechlin: First, you set clear boundaries. If these are persistently ignored, that would probably constitute bullying or even stalking/harassment, and there are ways of handling that. The range goes from processes internal to the school/university (conflict resolution / disciplinary hearing etc.), all the way to legal action. Harassment is a criminal offence in many countries. – sleske Jun 21 '16 at 7:23
  • @sleske I would just prefer one of the myriad other solutions that don't involve getting stalked or harassed then escalating to ombudsman or police or legal prosecution. – user42272 Jun 21 '16 at 14:59
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There are some great answers here, I just wanted to roll them up together.

Universities are going more modern, so I don't think it's unreasonable that they ask professors to have a mobile phone type way of communicating with students as an alternative to traditional office hours. However, I think they are lagging in helping professors set boundaries.

Here's an idea stemming from some of the great answers here:

1 - Get a work-specific mobile number

Some folks get a second line on their existing phone through their service (costs money). Google voice (http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html) is a free option. I suspect there are several other services, with varying prices. The limitations are somewhat connected to your region.

Solutions include:

  • VOIP based services that let you respond to SMS through a web app (google for "temporary phone number for SMS" got me tons of options)
  • second phone number linked to current phone - "two mobile numbers one phone" got me many solutions for this.
  • second, cheap mobile phone that you can burn when class is over

Things you'll want to consider:

  • price
  • ease of destruction - how do you turn it off?
  • access - does it route to your phone? Do you login into something?
  • does it to voicemail and SMS? Do you want it to?
  • will the school pay (if not, it may be a good tax write-off)

2 - Set Boundaries

First day of class should always include the rules and boundaries. Along with the grading policy, the basic curriculum, and the rules of in-class behavior; it's always the case that you need to set terms and conditions for getting help from the professor inside and outside of class. Taking the analog of pre-mobile communication, it's more than fair to include:

  • your availability - for example, will you answer questions w/in 30 minutes from 9-5, M-F? Do you have some nights when you are free to answer questions? What's the turnaround time on the weekend? I know we live in a world of instantaneous answers, but it's important to be clear on what you can actually do. Better that they know this than that they text you 20 minutes before class with a problem on the homework assignment while you're driving to class yourself and won't answer the text.
  • consideration for your student's availability - When setting up guidance, keep in mind that your students may live a different lifestyle than you do - and try to fit in at least some times that would reasonably work for them. For example, high school students are presumably doing homework after school and on weekends. College students have classes at various times in the day and may do homework in between classes. Night school students probably have a day job and spend a great deal of time doing homework on weekends. Pick availability that works for both you and the students and you'll get less complaints.
  • a definition of what "reasonable help" is. You can't make 200 different sample questions. If that's a high demand item, and it's reasonable, offer some sources for sample questions, and then say this isn't fair to text you about. Be clear about when you can handle a text vs. when you want a phone call vs. when you want the person to book time from you. Keep in mind that use of texting varies with the person/generation/culture so your students may have a different definition of how long and complex a text based chat can be before it becomes infuriating to you. For example, when I manage groups of folks who are more than 10 years younger than I, I say "look, I can text but if I have to send you more than 3 quick messages to answer your issue, I'm going to call you."

3 - Stick to it

Enforce the rules. Don't respond outside your promised hours. Do respond as you said you would. Hold students accountable.

Mobile phones actually help with this - on many phones, you can set access control by person - so you can make sure that people on your known contacts list (friends and family), can call you night and day while the phone denies interruptions after certain hours for unknown callers/texters. You can also give unknown numbers (or known students) a special ring tone so you know what group is contacting you.

Give feedback and share generally useful stuff widely. If a student is monopolizing your time to the point where you are helping unreasonably - tell the student. This can happen even without texts, but texts can mean it's more intrusive, and they lower the barrier making it easier to annoy other people without much effort. And - if you get 3 texts asking for the same basic thing, cut it off at the pass, and give everyone the info -- or tell everyone that you won't be answering that question, since if 3 people thought it up, you can bet that several others will get there eventually -- they just haven't texted you yet. ;)

Definitely get a class text list set up (maybe let students opt out) so you can broadcast an answer easily.

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    I don't have the reputation to answer but I think remind.com or simmilar sites offer a slightly different solution. Basically it's a site that is specifically designed to communicate with classes of students via text messages. – Rick Jun 2 '16 at 14:46
  • What's the point of rolling answers together? The official guidance is "make sure your answer will be contributing something new". It all seems like a upvote catching. :( – tymtam Jun 21 '16 at 23:00
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I really enjoy using Telegram, it is basically working like WhatsApp, but allows you to set a username. Anyone who adds you in telegram with that username won't be able to see your phone number.

Additionally, Telegram offers a Desktop client and full synchronisation between your devices, that means that you receive all messages at the same time and if you read them they are read on all devices (no more notifications on your smartphone when using the Desktop client).

As soon as you don't want people to stop contacting you, you can block them. They won't have your number so they won't have any ways of contacting you again.

  • The only downside to Telegram is that it requires a phone number to create an account, although that phone number doesn't have to be shared to all of your contacts. – Seth Jun 2 '16 at 14:46
  • Well, it works like WhatsApp as I said. The Phone number is used to identify yourself when logging into the Desktop client etc. The Username is an addition that allows you to have Telegram-only contacts, which can send you messages through telegram, but do not know anything else about you. Thats also an awesome feature for being added into random conversations with tons of people - only the ones who have your number in that group will see it. For me an incredible advantage over WhatsApp. – Marv Jun 2 '16 at 14:50
5

I am not an instructor that receives calls from students, but that is irrelevant. I too have a certain situations that require me to separate certain calls from the others, so I just use a dual SIM phone, with the second number being used exclusively for such "secondary" purposes. Another alternative would be to use a "cheap" second phone for the second number.

For additional flexibility, I choose a prepaid subscription for the second number, which means I can use it on a "as needed" basis, without having to spend monthly subscription charges on it.

2

As far as I'm aware, every phone that can send an MMS (think picture message) will be able to send the message to an email address. I know I used to do that all the time from my phones, and this was before AT&T bought Cingular!

You could provide a regular voice number (e.g. through the school office), and then let the students know that if they want to send text messages that they should send them to your email address. (Though if you're in the US, Google voice is definitely the way I'd go)

  • If letting students know things worked, then letting them know not to send 250 messages in 1-4 weeks would also help ;-) – Steve Jessop Jun 2 '16 at 11:08
  • @SteveJessop: They're more motivated to follow instructions when ignoring them doesn't get results. – Ben Voigt Jun 2 '16 at 14:40
1

As an alternative to Google Voice, Burner is a (paid) application that lets you generate temporary phone numbers. This might fully satisfy your requirements.

1

Why not a bat-phone? As in, a cheap mobile phone with a pay as you go sim card in it, that you keep separate from your normal day to day phone. This will allow you to receive incoming calls, but also instantly, and with 100% accuracy screen who is calling you, and even simply turn the phone off with a suitable "I'm unreachable" answer machine message...

0

numberbarn.com is a service I've used. You get a phone number that forwards to your cell or other phone, and you can have it go to voicemail after hours. I use this because I get a ton of phone calls from recruiters. I put the numberbarn-issued phone number on my resume and in e-mails, because of the sheer volume of calls and the fact that some think nothing of calling at six in the morning.

http://www.numberbarn.com

0

This answer is slightly turning into a "software recommendation" post, and on that note I've seen ads for an app called Sideline recently which gives you a separate work number for your mobile phone.

Anyway the bottom line is a 2nd phone number in some form or another is the solution plain and simple :)

0

I know of a professor who uses Skype. Not only can you have voice, but video conversations. It's free and should be accessible to most students. This professor teaches online, so the students are all over the world.

Managing your availability is up to you to set the guidelines.

0

I actually have a service created specifically for this purpose. It is currently free, and I'd be happy to have you as one of my first beta testers.

https://noclass.today/

If you want or need any help, please feel free to contact me about it.

  • I checked out your site. Are students able to contact the instructor if needed? – Amanda R. Jun 8 '16 at 5:18
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    Not at the moment, but if that's a feature you or other professors would like to see added, that could certainly be done easily enough. I actually already have that functionality created elsewhere, so I could probably implement it in a few days. – Joe Smentz Jun 8 '16 at 8:00

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