(Vintage badge for sale on Amazon)
A number of colleagues have been bigging up WhatsApp groups, which I believe are an obligatory part of some Arts module. They say that the opportunity to chat with each other and provide moral support means students are less likely to drop out of their studies. Well, we are all very keen to make sure students have every opportunity to complete on the modules they work so hard to study. Plus, although we are a 'distance learning' institution and so we don't get many chances to meet up, we know that sociable learning is a highly valuable means for students to embed knowledge and develop better skills - so Win Win
This year I'm going to be asking my Tutor Groups of students if they'd like to join a WhatsApp group which I'll set up and monitor. I'll also encourage them to set up their own support groups. I'll suggest that they:
Find people on the same degree programme, as well as module;
Look for people who live nearby (not so easy with my postgrad students, some of whom are overseas);
Make a group of between four and ten. If there are only two of you, and one drops out - there's no group
A large number of group members means your WhatsApp is constantly pinging with messages
A student did mention that a module-wide WhatsApp group had just been annoying because there were far too many messages to respond to. I hope that a smaller Tutor Group group will be more manageable.
What is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is an internet-based messaging service. It allows you to make free phone calls and send free messages anywhere in the world. My sister-in-law and her family in India have pressured me into getting it, as it enables us to chat whether they are in Mumbai, Vienna or the depths of Devon - where my niece was at school under my guardianship last year.
You can create a WhatsApp group, and some fellow mums and I have done this to make arrangements about sharing lifts for our kids to aerial circus skills class (I was tempted to call the group The Bearded Ladies, but it's actually my daughter's dad who does the circus run for us, so he had to be a member and he is clean-shaven.)
What other social media is there?
Get thee behind me Facebook!
There are many unofficial Open University Facebook groups for different modules or pathways of study. There are also groups for OU mums, older students and probably one for students who like sharing cat videos.
Catflap standoff - Eowyn wants to come in, Lakhi wants to go out but neither of them will move
However any material on Facebook belongs to Facebook. This is an issue for the Open University, so we have not been able to set up official support through Facebook. Although I enjoy Facebook, I also feel that the way posts pop up if they are a) popular, b) recent, is not that helpful in supporting study. I think the groups for mums and older students to support each other are a good idea, however students often come back from the module Facebook groups saying they have been given the most strange advice by other students on there I know students who had great support on Facebook, but I always advise my students to check anything they hear on there carefully on the official OU forums.
OU Forums - home sweet home
The university itself provides two or three forums for each module of study, where students are supposed to be encouraged to 'chat'. I personally love these, and think they are a great way to post information and engage in discussion. However students can be very shy of posting opinion in them. Time and again, I hear students say they are worried about looking silly One of my colleagues even puts up a thread called 'No such thing as a silly question' for her students.
I ask my students whether they would be willing to look like a numpty if I gave them 10 marks for it. Is it worth asking something which you realise was a bit silly, if it leads to you understanding your assignment better and getting better marks? When I am studying on my Masters programme, I plaster the forums with posts asking all sorts of nonsense. (I was really astonished at how hard it was to understand the assignment questions when I was reading them as a student, they look so easy when I am the tutor )
Queen of Multi-media
My plan is to mix 'n match. I hope the WhatsApp group will allow students to chatter, share anxieties and encourage each other in their studies. I hope it will allow them to understand that the other students are not all called Einstein, that they are not the only one who didn't quite get it about secondary referencing. Finding out that the other students are just like me is one of the great gains of face to face tutorials, but many can't make it to these - especially now we do fewer of them. Sometimes I may be able to WhatsApp a link to a forum thread, too, and suggest the discussion continues there. I hope this might engage students who don't read emails - having had a bad experience last year when I emailed several times to remind students there is no extension for their End of Module Assignment (EMA) and still got texts the day before the deadline asking for one
I already email with links to forum threads where I load up information. I know from my own student experience that students rarely read long emails with vital information , and that's it's easier to scan over a set of short posts in a forum thread.
I'll report back on how it goes