Imagine if, in high school, you had the option of communicating with your teachers through text messages. Though the idea may raise some questions, Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE and research director of the Tisch College of Citizenship, spent some time with OneVille, a community research and action project in Somerville, Massachusetts, discussing tools to foster communication between high school students and their community. Together they went over the pros and cons of the application of this idea in an alternative school for students who had been expelled from, or opted out of, the main public school:
They used Google Voice as the texting service, which meant that the messages were archived. Having an archive creates advantages for the students and teachers (they can go back and see what they wrote), and it enables research. It may also have some disadvantages. Among other things, it creates a record that may have to be disclosed to parents under certain circumstances.
We reviewed anonymized transcripts of teachers texting students to wake them up; students disclosing health problems and depression to teachers (and explicitly preferring to communicate by text as opposed to voice); and a traditionally angry teenager thanking his teacher by text. Clearly, the medium affected relationships and power hierarchies, although not necessarily in a uniform way. Whether the changes were educationally beneficial is one big question. Another question is what would happen if the experiment moved from a small, alternative school to a regular high school in which each teacher briefly meets more than 100 kids every day?