New Data Supporting Faculty Use of Text Messaging With Students
Posted on September 23, 2015
Last week, Inside Higher Ed published an essay advocating that faculty members should text their students. The author, Karen Costa—an adjunct instructor who is clearly going above and behind the requirements of her non-tenured position—lists a number of reasons she believes that faculty should exchange text messages with their students. The following are a few of them.
- Address potential inequalities
- Nudge students when they’re apt to tune out or not show up to class
- Increase the chances your messages will be received
While Ms. Costa’s conclusions are based on a combination of research findings and logical reasoning, they were still met by a lot of skepticism in the comments. Perhaps those skeptics would be swayed by some empirical research.
Survey Data: Student and Faculty Text Messaging
This spring, I surveyed over 500 undergraduate students to find out how they communicate with faculty. While only 16.8% reported texting a faculty member, 41.6% reported a desire to be able to text their instructors. So, at least on the student side, there is a critical mass that wants to engage with faculty using text messaging.
But the real question is, is it worth it? According to my research, it is. I also asked students if they had conversed with faculty about any of the seven topics that prior research has found are positively related to student engagement, and therefore positive outcomes such as GPA and retention (i.e., academics or course selection, grades or assignments, ideas from reading or class, faculty research, career plans, campus activities, or social conversation).
Students who reported texting with a faculty member were about twice as likely to have valuable conversations than students who did not text their instructors.
The only topic that was not significantly related to texting was grades or assignments.
How Do We Get Faculty To Text?
There are some valid objections to faculty-student text messaging. As Ms. Costa noted, they generally fall into two categories.
- Faculty do not use text messaging in any other area of their lives.
- Faculty do not want to blur boundaries with students by providing their private cell phone number for an instantaneous contact method.
Some commenters also lamented about the cost of texting (although, if someone does not fall into category #1, they likely have unlimited texting on most modern plans).
A few helpful commenters pointed out some services that can be used to send text messages without revealing your personal cell number, or without even using a cell phone. I found a few more with a quick Google search. This addresses both concerns above. I do not have experience with these services and cannot recommend them, but they may be worth researching if you would like to support student-faculty text messaging on your campus.
If you have experience with any of these services, feel free to share your feedback in the comments.
Stay Tuned For More Data About Student Communication With Faculty
I’ll be working to publish this finding, along with many others, over the next few months. In the meantime, if you would like an overview of my dissertation research, my defense was live-streamed on YouTube.