Should professors and students be texting?

Email is the most professional, appropriate medium

By Clay Parlette

It’s 2016 and not only are our inboxes bombarded with endless emails, so too are our cell phones. The difference between now and ten years ago, though, is students are now texting their instructors and other staff members (and vice versa).  For something I so casually bought into, I began to wonder: is this appropriate?

Today’s technology leaves nearly no bounds for privacy anymore. With cell phones and all the innovative apps that live on our screens, the only viable excuse to ignoring someone’s desperate and urgent plea for you to help them log in to WebAssign (or whatever else it might be), is to either say you were asleep or your phone was on ‘do not disturb’ mode. Most of the time, even these excuses aren’t acceptable to your friend who really just needs a minute of your time or Professor Doe who needs you to pick up your project before he leaves the office.

It’s one thing to deal with impatient friends, but it’s another when faculty and staff begin to become just as impatient. While texting is certainly convenient, emails still remain as the most appropriate form of communication for professional relationships because texting indicates communication that is more urgent and personal. Certainly there is no scenario that a message from a professor to a student is so urgent and personal that it can’t be sent via email. Especially with apps like Outlook and Gmail, email can be just as convenient as texting, yet can remain within the professional bounds of a student/teacher relationship.

Not only is email better for record-keeping purposes, it also tends to avoid the kind of emotion that texts can attract. Things like emojis, chat acronyms, and in-the-moment thoughts can all diminish the respect that should be observed in the professional education environment. With the numerous cases of professionals and even students getting in trouble for messages sent, it seems best to avoid the possibility altogether, and keep communications to a dedicated professional medium.

Finally, with a small campus like UF, issues and relationships tend to get intertwined relatively easily. For instance, I received a text last year in the early morning from a staff member. This message was completely unrelated to the person’s role at the University or their relationship to me. Because of common groups, friends, and relationships, sometimes it can seem easy to just shoot out a text when any question or concern might arise. This kind of situation is where texting crosses the line because, by choosing to send a text rather than an email or in-person conversation, lines of authority can be blurred, causing an inappropriate exertion of authority where it does not belong. In this case, even though the situation really had nothing to do with the staff member and I’s relationship, I felt an obligation to respond to their message.

Texting is right when used in the appropriate situation. Casual socialization and emergencies are examples of prime situations when texting can be helpful—even between staff and students. But when this kind of messaging is used to communicate non-urgent things or matters that could be communicated just as easily by email, it should be avoided at all costs.

Let’s make sure we allocate our technological means where they can be used the best, and avoid the awkwardness of putting students on the spot. As with everything else, texts should be confined to its appropriate time, place, and occasion—and out of the professional learning environment.

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