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WhatsApp update

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Screenshot of WhatsApp Group chat explanation with icons

I have now set up WhatsApp groups for two of my three student groups. I have emailed the third group inviting them to join me on WhatsApp. Here are some basic How To things which I found out as I went along. 

1 - Initially, you must email out and invite students to join the group. Ask them to email you their WhatsApp number even if you have their mobile number so you have clear written permissions. I did try to use WhatsApp to just individually message some of my students, but these translated themselves into text messages and cost me £0.82 - not as bad as the bill I ran up on my personal mobile once for £90 when I tried to call all my students at the start of their studies, while simultaneously buying my bijou maisonette sad - but not quite what I wanted. 

I have been able to offer a one-to-one chat on WhatsApp with a student for whom phone calls weren't as suitable a form of communication. This worked pretty well, much better than us emailing back and forth. As I have WhatsApp on my tablet rather than my mobile, it was easy for me to type up the messages. 

2 - Once you have students' permission (for General Data Protection Regulation compliance, and more importantly because it is the ethical thing to do, you must make sure you secure this in writing), you can start entering each student as a contact. 

You can't set up a New Group in WhatsApp, then put the contacts in it. WhatsApp is quite simple and straightforward so there are some functions you might expect to find, which are simply missing. Finding a group appears to be one of them. You can only find a group by spotting the 'chat' you've done with it, so you have to first set up some contacts, then make them into a group and send a message, then you can find the group again in your 'chat' list. 

You can assign each student an 'organisation'. The module code inputted there helps you to distinguish James-the-Student from James-My-Bestie, and avoid embarrassing mis-communications. This also allows you to pick out the whole list in order to set it up as the Group. At the end of the module, when under GDPR I must delete all the contact details from my list, I hope this will help me quickly find them to do so. (I plan to leave the group existing - some of the students may be able to stay in touch and support each other as they continue their studies.) 

3 - You can have an icon for your group, and since my aim in using WhatsApp is to encourage light-hearted chatting and mutual support rather than writing several paragraph messages on the 'real' meaning of 'ontology', I chose some jokey ones. I tried to get the students to choose a name for the group but they weren't forthcoming so I just called the groups by module code names. 

Cartoon owl wearing mortarboard and sitting on books Poster of beach scene saying Keep Calm and Write Your Essay

Progress so far

Of the two groups I've set up, all but two students have joined the one while only four students have joined the other one. 

In the first group, a student already asked a question which one of the other students answered in my absence approve - so the answer was provided in a much more timely way. I saw that after an initial message, another student wasn't chatting much so I phoned and found they weren't well. We were able to talk about how to manage their studies and I could reassure them of my support. Generally students seem more comfortable about chatting and answering each other's messages on WhatsApp than they do on forums. 

I have a tutorial scheduled with the other group in about ten days. When that's closer I'll email them all to remind them, and I will ask again if anyone-else wants to join the WhatsApp chat. That group has progressed quite far in their studies, and are more self-oriented for study, so it doesn't surprise me that they aren't so keen on being in a group. They probably have good study support networks set up already. 

Miro's Dancer - blue background, red heart with supporting lines and dots - and the moon

(Joan Miró's Dancer.) 

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light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.


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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Saturday, 27 Oct 2018, 16:37

Vintage yellow Bugs Bunny badge saying 'What's Up, Doc?'

(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 smile

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 sad A large number of group members means your WhatsApp is constantly pinging with messages mixed

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? thoughtful

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 clown (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? cool

Get thee behind me Facebooksurprise

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. 

Two cats either side of a catflap staring at each other

Catflap standoff - Eowyn wants to come in, Lakhi wants to go out but neither of them will move big grin

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 mixed 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 approve

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 shy 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 big grin

Queen of Multi-media approve

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 dead 

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 approve 

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