I am an instructor of classes that only run for 1-4 weeks. The facility I teach at requires me to include my cell phone number on the class schedule that I give out (however, I believe they would be ok if I didn't give a number if I gave some other means of contact). 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 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 smartphone (Samsung) or computer, but will work for the students that don't have a smartphone yet.

Just adding all of their 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.).

  • Folks, if you have an answer, please post it below. Comments do not have the features to properly vet this content, so anything you post here is fixed prominently right below the post. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino Jun 2 '16 at 14:26
  • Solutions that involve expenses you cannot get reimbursed for are tax deductible business expenses. : ) – Stan Jun 4 '16 at 19:56
  • Since you're asking for an app or website, maybe your question will be more will fitted in the Software Recommendations site? – Fabio Silva Jun 6 '16 at 13:41

11 Answers 11

Set up a throw-away e-mail address (gmail, yahoo, aol, etc.). Then set up automatic forwarding on the server to your cell phone's text message address. If the server doesn't support this, a mail client on a home or office computer can do the same job using automatic message retrieval and message rule filters.

You'll get whatever the students send in minutes, and can respond quickly if needed, but the address they have can be shut down at the end of the term, if you think that's necessary, and replaced by a newer one.

They can contact you as easily from a phone as from a computer by this method, but your phone won't ring in the middle of the night (providing you can turn off automatic text message retrieval).

You can also set up forwarding in reverse to facilitate responding my text message, but unless you have software to strip the headers from your response, a tech-savvy student might be able to extract your private number from the email headers. Recommended response method (for best security) would be via web-mail, which you can do from your phone's web browser, or by voice from a school phone or with blocked caller ID.

  • Can people with a "dumb" phone send emails via text? If I respond (from my phone) to the text forwarded to my phone--will that allow them to see my phone number? – Amanda R. Jun 1 '16 at 18:57
  • 1
    @AmandaR. They can but may have to pay more depending on their cell plan – L.B. Jun 1 '16 at 21:18
  • Can I respond from my phone without them being able to see my number? – Amanda R. Jun 1 '16 at 21:20
  • Most basic phones can text to an e-mail address, in my experience at normal text message rates. If you answer the text message, and have appropriate reply forwarding on either the server or the intermediary computer, the student will receive it. Unless you have software to strip the headers from your response, a tech-savvy student might be able to extract your private number from the headers. Recommended response method (for best security) would be via web-mail, which you can do on your phone, or by voice from a school phone or with blocked caller ID. – Zeiss Ikon Jun 2 '16 at 11:05

Google Voice would work well for this and supports calls and texting. You can set the calls to forward to your cell during specific time parameters and when they forward, students will have no knowledge of your real cell number.

Why don't you get a prepaid card for your mobile phone? You can have this for students to contact you and switch back to your normal one after work. You could also buy a new cheap phone for that so that you don't change sim cards twice a day and you could just turn it off whenever you want.

  • This business expense is tax deductible. – Stan Jun 4 '16 at 19:45

You can try slack. https://slack.com/ It's a free app and website specifically designed for teams where group interactions have to be facilitated. It's chat-only though. I don't think voice calls are supported yet.

You have to create a new team and ask your students to join you by sending invites to their email.

You can collapse the team after you're done with your class or you can remove members of the team.

Another upside is that you get to moderate the group discussion.

  • Slack. OP could just open a channel on his favourite IRC network. The upside of using actual IRC services is that there is no need for any registration (which I would perceive as a barrier from contacting OP if I was one of his students). – antipattern Jul 6 '16 at 15:31

If it doesn't have to be a phone number, you could set up a private google group. One of my professors used to do this. It allowed us to contact him without giving out his personal information. It also allowed students to discuss ideas and answer each others questions (if you helped another student it counted towards your class participation grade). It can be accessed from a computer or a smartphone and at the end of each semester he could delete the group.

You also have options for how often you get notifications (manage the student who posts/sends hundreds of messages):

Choose how frequently you get email from the group: Click the drop-down menu on the line below your email address. You can choose any of the following options.

  • Don't send email updates: You won't get emails, but you can still see posts by logging in to Google Groups and clicking on that group.
  • Send daily summaries: On days when people post to the group, you'll only get one email that includes every message that was sent.
  • Send combined updates: You'll get one email for every 25 posts to the group.
  • Send me an email for every new message: You'll get an email anytime someone posts to the group.

Source: Group membership settings

You should try Telegram. It's a message application, with versions for PC, phones and web. With it you can create a user name, and your students can find you through this user name. Also, you can crate a group composed by your students. You can share this group with your students by a link. You can silence it when you don't want to be disturbed.

Try the Sideline app, available in the Google Play Store, which offers:

  • a 2nd phone number
  • uses your existing phone carrier network, so works anywhere your existing smartphone works
  • talk with the minutes you already have
  • uses a separate voice mail, so you can keep your personal and professional messages separate
  • can also send text/pics

The app is free to install, offers a free telephone in your area code, offers voicemail forwarding and auto-reply ... and, most importantly, allows you to keep your personal number private!

There is also a professional version (@ $2.99/mo.):

  • removes ads
  • enables Wi-Fi calling, helpful in case you have a weak signal
  • prevents number from expiring (if inactive for 30 or more days)*

*This last bullet may be helpful in that after a term has ended, you may be able to allow this 2nd number to expire ... say, over summer break ... and then reinstate with a new 2nd number for the new term. Reading the comments, there also seems to be the ability to close and reopen with a different number, on demand, so you are able to change 2nd line phone numbers even if there is a less-than-30-day time lapse.

Reviews show lots of positive experiences and seemingly good response from developers for any quirks that have turned up. You can check it out for yourself here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sideline.phone.number

Hope this is helpful!

I highly suggest using Piazza. Most of my classes in college currently use it, and it's a great way to not only allow communication between you as the instructor and the students, but also encourage collaboration between students. It's a free online web service.

https://piazza.com/

Consider setting up a Skype account under an anonymous name. Then, you have the option of using the voice, messaging, or video. You can use it to transfer files and videos. When the course is over, trash the account.

I have given a telephone number at the school to fulfil this requirement. When using this, I try to have some agreed-upon consulting time, or office hours for questions, pep-talking and encouragement, and commenting.

What happens to the demand for a cell phone number for someone without a cell phone? (My wife refuses to carry a cell phone.)

One way that I know which always worked for me no matter what and still to this day forward is the "textPlus" app from the Android playstore. With that app I am able to use real looking numbers with my area code. So when I text/call people they think its a legit number. You can choose any area code number from any state region within the USA and if I am not mistaken I think some other countries as well such as Canada.

  • 1
    Is this app free? (Just wondering) – L.B. Jun 5 '16 at 16:09
  • Yes and no. One is free but has limitations as so to the one that requires pay and has extra features. – Ric Jun 5 '16 at 23:15
  • I see. Makes sense. Similar to Pinger – L.B. Jun 5 '16 at 23:35

Best way give them a wrong phone number and an email adress. You fulfil the requirements and they cannot call you at night.

  • 2
    I'm not trying to eliminate all communication. I'm ok with some communication during the class as long as they have a specific question relating to the class. I just don't want them to be able to contact me excessively or after the class is over. – Amanda R. Jun 6 '16 at 17:44

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