by Jodi Menees
I have a friend who teaches online at over 10 institutions and I was shocked when she told me that she does not give out her phone number and does not think online students need access to their instructors that way. I have never thought twice about giving out my phone number. Sometimes, a quick 60 seconds on the phone can save countless emails and posts to clear up an assignment or grade issue. We all try to communicate very well through written words online, however, sometimes communication breaks down due to many factors. Yes, I have my phone number in the classroom, on my signature line for my posts and in my email signature line.
The big question is which phone number should we give out? I actually still have a land line at home-I know, shocking. I rarely use it anymore, but when I do, it is for friends and family. I would feel it is a violation of my personal space to give my home phone number out to students. I took the stance during my first online class that I would give out my cell phone number. There were many advantages to the cell phone. I was working as a recruiter for a University and spent weeks on the road, so my cell phone was with me all the time. I did quickly re-assess this stance after two weeks teaching online when I had a call at 2:30am come in from a student. Granted, the student in no way expected me to answer, she was leaving a message. My solution, a second cell phone number!
I have teenagers, so it is imperative to leave a phone for emergencies next to my bed. The kids always call the cell phone, so I sleep with it close by. I leave it on almost every night since I am usually in bed before the kids get home. You can imagine the fear and shock when that 2:30 call came in from the student! That weekend, I went to my cell phone carrier and purchased another line just for the students. They offer a family share plan, so this only runs $10.00 more a month and I share the minutes with my non-work cell phone. I do not need fancy features, just the ability to talk, so I was able to use the promotional free phone. Now, I can give my students my phone number and not worry about calls late at night and during family time. All I need to do is turn the teaching phone off. The student gets my voice mail and I can return the call during my working time.
There are other options that will work just as well as having a second cell phone. Many people use Skype and online messaging services (many of which offer voice service now as well). The disadvantage to these is that the student needs to have the same service as you in order to talk. If you like the idea of a second phone number without having a second cell phone, you can always purchase a Magic Jack, http://www.magicjack.com/5/index.asp These handy devices run just a few dollars a month and give you a new phone number that runs off you high-speed internet connection. Any of these computer-based solutions will allow an online instructor to turn off the phone when calls are not wanted.
I find that I do not get that many unexpected calls from students. Most students will post a message and ask me to call them or ask me to set a time for a call. When I do get unexpected calls, they often are from students who had an emergency and cannot get to the computer or from students who really do not understand an assignment and time is running out. If I get many calls on the same thing, I find it is usually an error on my part in a posting (like forgetting to turn on a discussion board thread), so the student calls are actually a good early alert system.
We have so much technology at out disposal today that will assist us in taking student calls, so online educators can be creative and find the best option to be available. I like the two cell phone option, I just sometimes hate how heavy my purse is getting.