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

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