TIME

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TIME Education

Why Parents Shouldn’t Fear Teacher-Student Texting

Never mind those scary headlines, with safeguards in place, texting can foster student learning and success

Updated 8:11 a.m. ET Friday

In case you missed it, a Baltimore dad struck his 15-year-old daughter’s teacher with a baseball bat last week. The teacher’s offense? Texting the daughter in what the father deemed was an inappropriate exchange.

The baseball bat notwithstanding, it’s easy to understand why many parents have a strong reaction to a teacher texting their kid. After all, creepy adults abound, and teens can be vulnerable prey. So, by extension, it’s tempting to want school districts to ban all such communication between teachers and students.

Even relationships that start out as innocent can take a bad turn. Better safe than sorry seems, on its face, the wisest course.

But research suggests it’s not that simple.

While certain safeguards that ensure texting can be monitored should undoubtedly be in place, the easy back-and-forth between teachers and students can create important bonds, especially for young people who are in need of extra help.

“Teachers are the first to spot trouble for kids who are at risk—kids with mental health issues, sexuality issues, problems at home,” says Danah Boyd, whose book, It’s Complicated is an anti-alarmist polemic that examines the social lives of networked teens. “These are kids who need more positive adult relationships, not less.”

Others who’ve looked deeply into the issue—the possible dangers weighed against the likely benefits—have reached the same conclusion. Mica Pollock, an education professor at the University of California, San Diego, found in a study published last year that texting “increased personalized student support by enabling, then strengthening, teacher-student relationships.” Pollock and her co-author, Uche Amaechi, a doctoral candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, spent a year following two teachers who texted with 40 at-risk high school students from Somerville, Mass.

Still, among parents, the most common reaction to teacher-student texting is fear. “I know teachers who are afraid to even give kids a hug because they are afraid to be sued,” Pollock says. “There is a lot of anxiety on all sides about the appropriate way to interact. But there is no teaching without teacher-student bonds, so the question is how do we form those bonds safely and effectively.”

This is a question all schools are facing—not just those with large at-risk student populations—given that texting is the primary way teens communicate.

Many school districts have created guidelines that allow teacher-student texting, but limit exchanges to school-related topics or confine them to group texts that would, for example, allow a coach to tell his team that practice has been cancelled or a teacher to direct a group of students to be prepared to answer a particular prompt during the next day’s English class.

But in their texting pilot, Pollock and Amaechi, along with the teachers and students they followed, came up with ground rules of their own—mostly to foster one-on-one exchanges, respect and to set some limits on encroaching on the teachers’ personal time: “Do not expect a text back before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m.; no inappropriate language; and no sharing of anyone else’s business.”

They did not, however, set any limits on content, maintaining that the mix of personal and school-related messages were key to forging genuine trust and caring.

Texts were about school “mixed with lighthearted communication about life events and student needs,” Pollock and Amaechi found in their study.

Perhaps most important, the teachers in the texting pilot used technology that allowed them to use non-personal phone numbers and enabled texting over the computer on school accounts—providing both the transparency needed for safety, and the feeling of privacy that texting affords.

Most experts agree that this kind of balance is ideal.

“We should not ban the technology,” says Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at the department of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has studied sexual misconduct by teachers for 17 years. “It is here to stay, and it can be useful in education. But we can create guidelines that allow teachers to use it without blurring or crossing any lines. It has to be open and transparent, where everyone knows that it can be monitored.”

Indeed, it is fairly common for schools to insist that teachers and students communicate via email using open school accounts. In part that’s because adults are comfortable with the idea of using multiple email addresses—one for their work life and another for their personal life.

But they have a harder time thinking of texting in the same way—something that needs to change. According to a Pew Research Center study on teenage use of mobile phones, the percentage of all teens that used text messaging doubled from 27% to 54% between 2006 and 2010. More importantly, the study found that 70% of teens use texting to do “things related to school work.”

“Kids use text the way we use email,” says Amaechi who is working on a dissertation that examines how students and teachers use mobile devices in the classroom for academic purposes and to communicate. “We have built the rules and polices around the technologies that adults use most—and not what kids use.”

“For kids, their phone is the most important thing,” he adds. “The first thing is to accept that as the reality. Kids want to interact not just with each other, but also with adults through texting. If you limit their ability to text, you are limiting their interactions with adults in ways that could be beneficial to them.”

 

TIME technology

A Middle Finger Emoji is Coming to a Phone Near You

Plus 10 other useful Emoji (or so we think)

How do you tell your friends they’re being annoying over text? If words (or the ambiguous, smiling turd Emoji) aren’t getting your point across, you can wait until July, when 250 new Emoji arrive — including a middle finger icon.

The new characters are a part of an update of Unicode, the standards that regulate how text appears across platforms, but it’s up to the programmers behind iOS and Android to adopt the new standards with software updates.

While we already know what the middle finger Emoji will look like, here are our guesses for what the 10 most useful new Emojis will be — judging by their descriptions alone.

Rolled-Up Newspaper: To tell your colleagues that the viral video they sent you is old news.

Linked Paperclips: An international SOS symbol for “Help, I’m bored at work and passing the time by linking paperclips at my desk!”

Ballot Box With Bold Check: Didn’t you hear? “I Voted” stickers are so 2012.

Oil Drum: For debating the country’s reliance on fossil fuels during your free time.

Solid Quilt Square Ornament: To wordlessly remind your quilting group of your next meeting.

Black Droplet: For when you want to informally poll your neighbors about whether they think acid rain is to blame for your struggling garden.

Fax Icon: For when you’re mourning the loss of outdated technology and need a quick way to express your sadness to others.

Spider Web: The easiest approach to telling your girlfriend that you had a run-in with some strange arachnids and are actually Spider-Man now.

Man In Business Suit Levitating: To tell someone in HR that the new company wellness program is really showing you the way to enlightenment.

Black Skull And Crossbones: A succinct, easily understood way to summon pals to a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon on short notice.

TIME texting

Your Cell Phone Is Going to Ruin Your Weekend

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At least that’s Alex Cornell, a videographer known for some of his provocative videos, thinks. Cornell released this guide to a potentially worrying trend: group texts destroying weekend plans. The inspiration for the video? Cornell couldn’t say exactly when he spoke to Mashable. “Honestly, it’s every text conversation I ever have these days,” he said.

[Mashable]

TIME Gadgets

Apple’s Patent to Auto-Disable Texting While Driving Is Old News

Anti-texting tools capable of disabling mobile devices on the fly have been around for years.

The idea that a master control device placed in your car or truck or rental vehicle might automatically deactivate your smartphone’s ability to text has been around for awhile: There’s an app that’ll disable phone texting if it detects motion above 10 m.p.h., for instance, or another from AT&T that’ll do so the same once you reach 25 m.p.h. We’ve written about a few ourselves in recent years, like Scosche CellControl, or TextBuster. They’re not really news.

Bear that in mind as you’re reading reports that Apple might (gasp!) have lockout designs on your handheld computing device while operating a motor vehicle. First, the news stems from a patent, and patents slot somewhere between hypotheticals and parking spaces. And second, Apple filed this particular patent back in 2008 — this is just the patent coming to light.

Here’s the gist, scraped from U.S. patent 8,706,143, published today for what Apple describes as a “Driver handheld computing device lock-out.”

…The lock-out mechanisms disable the ability of a handheld computing device to perform certain functions, such as texting, while one is driving. In one embodiment, a handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism without requiring any modifications or additions to a vehicle by using a motion analyzer, a scenery analyzer and a lock-out mechanism. In other embodiments, the handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism with modifications or additions to the vehicle, including the use of signals transmitted by the vehicle or by the vehicle key when engaged with the vehicle.

In other words, pretty much like the apps mentioned above. Apple’s imprimatur could carry significantly more water, of course, if it’s working with automotive manufacturers to make the technology work automatically (or optionally) with its iOS device lineup. And while anti-texting app-makers like Cinqpoint have talked about offering iOS versions down the line, your alternatives in iOS at this point are limited to workarounds that don’t actually disable texting, because Apple doesn’t allow it. Whether that’s because Apple’s been waiting to roll out its own solution, or for security reasons, say to prevent rogue apps hijacking your phone’s messaging capabilities, is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, the real debate governing hard and fast anti-texting solutions is over here; that’s where the conversation has to start, anyway.

TIME Gadgets

Danger! Computer Simulates 1,500 People Walking and Texting at a Busy Intersection

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So here’s what would apparently happen if 1,500 people all started crossing the street at Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing while they were looking down at their phones.

You’ll notice a handful of things:

  • A total disregard for crosswalks! These mouth-breathers are just walking right out into the middle of everything.
  • Two of them just walk in place when they run into each other. The last time I did that, mall security Segwayed me out by my shirt collar.
  • One of the guys gets run into and then bows as though it’s his fault! Sack up, man!
  • Only one guy drops his phone, which seems really low for 15,000 hoopleheads all running into each other.
  • Two fall down and get right back up, all while still looking at their phones (probably accurate).
  • It takes an eternity for the street to clear when it’s the cars’ turn to go again (probably accurate), yet only a couple horns honk (maybe accurate in Japan; absolutely not accurate just about anywhere else).
  • The guy at the very end appears to fall down at the top of a subway entrance and, instead of getting back up, he’s does the Worm for a bit. I’d grab a simulated beer with that guy any day.

According to Kotaku, the video is a joint effort between one of Japan’s major wireless companies – NTT Docomo – and Aichi University of Technology, which cobbled the simulation together. The message? I can’t read Japanese, but I’ll bet it’s three-fold: Don’t text and walk, watch where you’re going, and remember that the Worm will never, ever, ever go out of style.

Computer Simulation of 1,500 People Looking at Smartphones and Walking [Kotaku]

TIME

The Pistorious Trial and Why You Can’t Judge a Person By Their Texts

I like to think I’m mostly a nice person. But look at my text messages and you’ll probably think I’m insane.

And I know I’m not alone — we’ve all used texting as a way to get out all of our passive aggressive and sometimes just plain aggressive aggressive feelings. So what would happen if someone read your texts after you weren’t around? Simple: You’d probably look like a shallow, venal human nightmare that has unkind exchanges about how your friend is always late to everything. And of course, you couldn’t resist calling them out in a group text. You know, just everyday friend shaming stuff.

The same thing is happening on a much bigger and more serious scale as the world analyzes Oscar Pistorius’ text messages to his slain girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after they were used in testimony during the Olympic athlete’s trial. Authorities extracted more than 1,000 messages between the two from her phone. That sounds like a lot of texts. At least until you consider how many times we all press “send” on any given day.

Police captain Francois Moller characterized 90% of the messages as “loving” in his testimony. Nonetheless, some of the exchanges between Pistorious and Steenkamp do sound chilling — partially because they’re taken out of context and because we are interpreting them knowing what happens next. One of the texts from Steenkamp reads, “I’m scared of u sometimes and how u snap at me and how u will react to me.” Gulp. Another reads “I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating u AND be attacked by you, the one person I deserve protection from.” Double gulp. A longer WhatsApp message tweeted by a journalist attending the trial (and posted by Jezebel) shades in the colors of a relationship that was at times fraught.

A deeper look at some of the messages — including ones Pistorius sent to Steenkamp — shows a constant back and forth with Steenkamp defending her behavior, usually quite elegantly. The things that made Pistorius snap at her seem pretty insignificant, at one point he even uses hunger as a defense for getting upset. And even without considering the possible guilt of Pistorius and the trial, fear seems to emanate from Steenkamp’s pleas for respect and love. As the Frisky pointed out, the exchanges show classic relationship behavior patterns that are worrisome on a number of levels.

In fact it’s impossible not to read their words and get caught up in speculation about both Pistorious’ guilt and the general tenor of the couple’s relationship. But is it fair to use texts as a true barometer of people’s actual feelings and behavior? Before you answer, consider those terse, overdramatic exchanges you have with your significant others about small things that don’t seem like they matter, but actually represent larger, more meaningful issues.

We use texting as the most intimate form of communication, almost an extension of our brains. The way that we decide to derive meaning from what people say affects our lives profoundly. And it’s not just text — Gchat and email all afford us the opportunity to dash off innocent notes that are, nonetheless, ripe for misunderstanding. We read entire articles about why punctuation marks are making us angry, annoyed and even fearful about another person’s feelings toward us.

And by and large, that’s the root of the problem. Even though these texts are the repository of our most intimate — and arguably honest — feelings, they’re also full of thoughts that don’t represent us or how we’re feeling at all. Think about all of the times you’ve sent someone a message, only to have them come back to you and ask “are you mad at me?”

So what would they see if they opened up my recent text history? They’d see a lot of whining, a little bit of nagging and a whole lot of superfluous crap. There’s also a number of terse exchanges, mostly with people like my parents, who aren’t necessarily the best texters in the world, but have resigned themselves to using this communication tool with me. The majority of texts between my mother and me say things like “are you coming home tonight?” or “have not spoken to you in a long time.” My mom’s not unhappy with me, she just hasn’t figured out emojis yet. Give her time.

My group chat with my female digital BFFs, basically makes us all look like needy sociopaths who do a terrible job of juxtaposing our desire for constant affirmation with serious life questions. A quick scroll shows a rambling feed that’s a bewildering mix of braggadocio (“I just made THE BEST Brussels sprouts!”), inside jokes (we have a penchant for messaging a list of every item consumed during particularly gluttonous meals) and intense, naked need for approval (“which pair of glasses do you like? Please tell me now because the sales lady is breathing down my neck omg omg”).

Long story short, I wouldn’t want any of it to be entered into evidence, no matter what the case.

 

TIME Arts

Artist Secretly Takes Photos of People Texting While Driving and Puts Them on Billboards

We’ve all done it, but that doesn’t make it okay.

Texting while driving is an unfortunate side effect of our smartphone-crazed world, and a new project is attempting to make us stop by pointing out our bad behavior on a large scale.

Brian Singer started TWIT (that’s texting while driving, for the uninitiated) after the he noticed how many people he saw staring at their screens during his commute. So the San Francisco-based artist started posting his images to a website and now encourages users to send in shots they take while traveling — but only when you’re in the passenger seat, natch.

The resulting pictures are rarely exciting in their composition, but it’s utterly terrifying to scroll and see person after person caught redhanded using a phone while operating a moving motor vehicle. Singer generally posts several photos per week, each with an appropriately snarky headline about the person’s unsafe behavior.

Research in 2013 suggested that texting while driving is the leading cause of death for teenagers. And according to Singer, approximately 660,000 drivers are using their phones at any given time during daylight hours in America.

Singer is now taking his project to the next level by putting the images up on billboards in the ultimate effort to shame the drivers who just can’t quit. Maybe consider the fact that you could end up on a billboard next time you drive and text.

TIME Airlines

Now Airlines Are Actually Nixing Fees and Adding Some Services

Phone on Plane
Getty Images

United Airlines announced that starting in April and spreading to most domestic aircraft by the end of the year, passengers will be able to stream hundreds of movies and TV shows on personal devices free of charge on planes

Airlines are rolling out entertainment amenities that travelers want—expanded Wi-Fi and connectivity, fresh content for streaming on personal devices—and in a big surprise, they’re much cheaper than previous options. In some cases, they’re free. But don’t get used to it.

When airlines began widely offering Wi-Fi on planes five or so years ago, the general response by travelers was a reluctance to pay for service that was of a lower quality and higher cost compared to the Wi-Fi they were accustomed to on the ground—which more often than not, was and remains free. More recently, the results of a survey from Honeywell demonstrated that travelers clearly want Wi-Fi when traveling by plane: Nearly 9 out of 10 travelers said they’d be willing to forsake an amenity, such as extra legroom, in exchange for faster, more consistent in-flight Wi-Fi.

That survey, however, didn’t factor the cost of Wi-Fi into the equation. Gogo, by far the largest provider of airline Wi-Fi, charges $14 for 24-hour access and $49.95 per month for unlimited use on all participating airlines. It seems like the costs, combined with the perception of service that’s not as good as one gets for free at Starbucks, as well as the vast array of other fees encountered by airline passengers today, has left the average traveler thinking that in-flight Wi-Fi is just not a particularly good value. A different poll, published last summer, showed that only 7% of coach-class passengers said that in-flight Wi-Fi was worth the price. (By contrast, roughly two-thirds of the big shots in first class and business class thought Wi-Fi was worth the money, but then again, they were probably traveling with expense accounts.)

(MORE: Airline Travelers, Your Future Will Look a Lot Like … Cleveland)

Lately, airlines have shown interest in providing Wi-Fi and in-flight streaming services at cheaper rates, or sometimes totally for free. This is especially noteworthy because as anyone who has hopped on a flight periodically over the past decade can attest, the general industry trend has involved adding more fees for services that used to be included in the price of travel, and raising fees for services that have always cost extra.

Yet JetBlue introduced free Wi-Fi in December, and Delta added a $1.95 option to use Wi-Fi and mobile apps on smartphones on flights shorter than two hours. Previously, Southwest rolled out an alternative to its usual $8-per-flight Wi-Fi, allowing travelers to text via Wi-Fi for a $2 fee.

Now, United Airlines announced that starting in April and spreading to most domestic aircraft by the end of the year, passengers will be able to stream hundreds of movies and TV shows on personal devices free of charge on planes. There will be no need to pay for United’s usual in-flight Wi-Fi in order to access the content, which includes “Downton Abbey” and the Netflix original “House of Cards among the TV options, as well as movies you’d actually want to watch, such as all three “Iron Man” films. Apple smartphone and tablet users must download the United app for access, while laptop users don’t have to bother. (Android users are shut out for now, but the airline says they should have access too before the end of the year.)

(MORE: At Long Last, Advertisements on Airline Barf Bags)

Travelers will surely enjoy the rare freebie doled out by United and other carriers. But they shouldn’t necessarily expect to have these services at their disposal for free indefinitely. When JetBlue rolled out its free Wi-Fi, it stated that the service was only available on a complimentary basis “through June 2014.”

As for United, the cost of its new streaming entertainment option is initially being covered by a sponsor, the airline’s MileagePlus Explorer credit card. When the Chicago Tribune asked the airline if and when passengers may be forced to pay for the service, United offered no clue about what’s likely to happen. “We can’t speak about what might happen in the future,” a spokesperson said.

In other words: Given the industry’s track record, at some point down the line, you should be prepared to cough up some cash.

TIME How-To

Quick Tech Trick: Type Less with Text Shortcuts for Your Phone

There's no reason to type out commonly-used phrases over and over again.

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Here are the steps for iPhone:

1. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard

2. Under Shortcuts, choose Add New Shortcut…

3. Type the full phrase in the phrase box (“On my way!”) and the shortcut in the Shortcut box (“omw”)

4. The next time you want to type “On my way!” simply type “omw” and hit the space bar

Here are the steps for the stock version of Android:

1. Go to Settings > Language & Input > Personal dictionary

2. Hit the plus symbol to add a new term

3. Type the full phrase in the first box (“On my way!”) and the shortcut in the Shortcut box (“omw”)

4. The next time you want to type “On my way!” simply type “omw” and choose “On my way!” from the selection menu above the keyboard

Your version of Android may differ, but it’s generally somewhere in the Keyboard and/or Language & Input section of the settings menu.

More Quick Tech Tricks:

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