Text Messaging with Students While Maintaining Privacy

Short Message Service (SMS), commonly referred to as text messaging, is among one of the most widely available forms of electronic communication today, available for use by any mobile phone user. The ubiquity of mobile phones is certainly a catalyst for the adoption of SMS, with 99.8% of college students reportedly owning a mobile phone (Truong, 2010). Students are taking advantage of the built-in SMS features on feature phones and smart phones alike, as 54% of teens text daily (Lenhart, Ling, Campbell, & Purcell, 2010), with 97% of students reporting that they use SMS as their main form of communication (Truong, 2010).

Faculty and those who work with students likely will want to take advantage of this common communication platform, but valid concerns exist concerning how to do so in a manner that protects the privacy of both the students and the faculty or staff member. Generally, when texting someone else, you must have that individual’s mobile phone number. Yet, there are available free solutions that can be used to send and receive text messages without giving out one’s personal mobile number.

During a recent online faculty development program titled “Text Messaging in Teaching” we discussed in greater detail the dynamics of incorporating SMS into teaching. Technical specifics and free apps for sending/receiving SMS messages with students without giving out one’s personal cell phone number were shared.

Here are a few tips shared during this program for getting started text messaging safely with students:

  • Setup a free Google Voice account. Doing so, you will receive a phone number that you can choose to set to automatically ring your mobile, office, and/or home phone numbers as well as receive text messages from students at. In this way, you can provide an added means for students to contact you if needed. Simply sign-up for a free Google Voice account at voice.google.com using a Google Account. If you don’t have a free Google Account, you can create one here. Your new Google Voice phone number is the phone number that you then can give out to students.
  • If you own a smart phone, you also can install the free Google Voice app so that when you receive a text message at your Google Voice phone number, it shows up in the Google Voice app. On the app you can choose to send a reply back if you wish, again for free directly from the Google Voice app. The image provided is the home screen of an iPhone with the push notification that a new text message has been received in Google Voice. Similar notifications are available on other mobile platforms.
  • Google Voice App notification on iPhone

  • Decide your purpose for texting your students. Before selecting the specific tool or approach for texting your students, clearly outline for yourself the reasons for texting your students. Perhaps you seek to provide reminders to students of upcoming due dates or quick reminders of things to do prior to class. Or, maybe you want to notify students in the event that a class period will be delayed due to weather, etc. Whatever the reason may happen to be, clearly articulating it will guide selecting of a tool as well as focus the messages you send.
  • Select a messaging tool and setup a class group. While it is possible to manually send text messages via email or to send, the process is cumbersome and involves the students giving the instructor their mobile phone number and in some cases also their carrier. The recommended alternative approach is to select a group texting tool and to setup a group for the class in which students can choose to opt-in if they wish to receive messages from the faculty member via sms. An increasing number of such free tools geared for educators are available, including: Remind101, ClassParrot, and Follow My Teacher that offer the faculty member to easily send text messages to all students in a class that opt-in to receive such messages without students needing to give the faculty member their mobile number. Try the available services and see which one you prefer, as each does provide slightly different features.
  • Provide students details for how to opt-in to receive text messages. After selecting a service and setting up a class group, the final step is to provide to students the instructions for how to opt-in to receive texts that you send as the faculty member to the class group. For example, Remind101 provides you with a phone number that students must send a text message to including a group code that is designated for the class group in order to opt-in.

If you have used any of the texting services or approaches mentioned or have other suggestions to share, please leave a comment.


Lenhart, A., Ling, R., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010, April 20). Teens and mobile phones. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Teens-and-Mobile-Phones.aspx

Truong, K. (2010, June 17). Student smartphone use doubles; instant messaging loses favor. Wired Campus. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/student-smartphone-use-doubles-instant-messaging-loses-favor/24876

Important: Major Upgrade to Blackboard and Upcoming Training Programs

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On May 30, 2011, NIU will be upgrading to Blackboard Next Generation (NG). This is the most significant upgrade of Blackboard since it was first introduced at NIU almost ten years ago.

In addition to delivering a redesigned, updated interface, Blackboard NG will simplify the process of creating and editing courses, will facilitate classroom collaboration and allow for better organization of course materials and assignments. Additionally, it will streamline the notification system of course updates and will allow for a variety of course customizations.

It is strongly recommended that current faculty, instructors, teaching staff and teaching assistants attend any of the upcoming May, June and July training programs on Blackboard NG. Please be aware that in August 2011 priority registration will be given to new faculty, instructors, teaching staff and teaching assistants.

Information about Blackboard NG can be found at www.niu.edu/blackboard/ng

Blackboard NG

Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center has started to offer a wide range of training programs and resources to assist faculty, instructors, teaching staff, and teaching assistants with the change. Spring and Summer 2011 workshops and programs on Blackboard NG will include:

Blackboard Next Generation Preview Session
  • Preview sessions prior to upgrade
  • Hands-on workshops for new users
  • "Tune-up" workshops for experienced users
  • "Blackboard Boot Camp" for in-depth all day instruction
  • Open Lab sessions every day of the first week of summer and fall 2011 semesters for individual assistance

Below you will find the Blackboard NG workshops and programs for Spring and Summer 2011:

May 2011

June 2011

July 2011

  * = workshop designed for new users
** = workshop designed for experienced users
Note – All workshops following the Blackboard upgrade May 30th will be hands-on, with the exception of online workshops.

You can also find our full Summer 2011 program schedule online at www.niu.edu/facdev/programs/summer2011.shtml. We look forward to seeing you at our programs.

Thank you.
Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center
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Service Learning Workshops with Patrick Green

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Patrick Green

Patrick Green, a nationally recognized expert in experiential learning, service learning and civic engagement programs in higher education, will offer a pair of workshops for faculty Friday, April 1.

The first workshop, scheduled from 8:30 a.m to noon in the Lincoln Room of the Holmes Student Center, is titled “Service Learning: When to, Why to, HOW to!” Intended for faculty who have not yet taught a service learning course, registration is limited to 30 people.

The second workshop, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the Lincoln Room, is titled “Service Learning: Taking it up a Notch.”

It is for faculty who already have employed service learning but want to delve more into philosophical underpinnings of service learning as it relates to civic engagement, higher-order reasoning, structured reflection and focusing on the tenets of reciprocity as dictated by the interests of the group. Registration is limited to 15.

Green is the director of the Center for Experiential Learning and clinical instructor of experiential learning at Loyola University in Chicago. His current research focuses on the impact of experiential education programs on skill development, core competencies and career development.

To attend either workshop, or for more information, visit the NIU Engaged Learning website or contact Lindsey Myers at lmyers@niu.edu or (815) 753-5969.

Apple in Higher Education Hands-on Event at NIU

iPod, MacBook, iPad

Learning beyond the lecture hall

Come to this Made for Learning event and explore the ways Apple products are helping teachers increase student engagement and achievement. You’ll see how Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and iTunes U make it easier than ever to deliver dynamic lesson plans, presentations, and podcasts to students anytime, anywhere.

You’ll also learn about Challenge Based Learning and see how students and teachers use Apple products to collaborate and create solutions to real-world problems.

Register now at http://edseminars.apple.com/event/3687

Location, Date & Time:

Date: Tuesday, February 22
Time: 9:00 am – 11:30 am
Where: Northern Illinois University
Holmes Student Center
Capitol South Room
1255 Lincoln Drive
Dekalb, IL 60115

iPad in Higher Education Seminar at NIU

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Join Apple Inc. at NIU on Thursday, February 10, 2011 to see how iPad is making learning more engaging and accessible than ever.

Today students are learning in more places than just the classroom, and educators are finding new ways to reach them anytime, anywhere. At this event, Apple will share its mobility strategy with the iPad and how it is beginning to change higher education. With numerous education applications, as well as strategies for textbooks, research and integration, the iPad is becoming a tremendous tool for 21st Century Learning.

We will spend time learning about the Apps that are native to the iPad, and then investigate some of the resources that are available on iTunes U. We will also look at some of the Apps that are available from 3rd Party developers that enhance teaching and learning in the classroom.

Additional Information
Please feel free to pass along this information to other interested faculty and staff at your institution as well as neighboring educational institutions.

Lunch will be served to all registered attendees and seating will be limited so be sure to reserve yours at the registration link provided below.

Location and Date
Date: Thursday, February 10
Time: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Where: Northern Illinois University
Holmes Student Center
Illinois Room, 2nd Floor
DeKalb, IL 60115


Who Should Attend?
Faculty and staff interested in enhancing the educational experience through the use of Apple’s mobile devices.

Location Instructions
Visit the following URL for directions and parking information:

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