OU blog

Personal Blogs

light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

Not quite cuneiform

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Saturday, 12 Jan 2019, 09:31

Cuneiform writing on clay tablet

(From webpage about origins of writing: cuneiform writing on a clay tablet.) 

This blogpost is about how to buy a tablet without having to look down the back of the sofa for spare pennies approve

NB If you are an Open University  student, you may be eligible for a grant to buy new computing equipment or broadband provision - ask your Student Support Team for details approve

I recently gave a presentation on the use of WhatsApp to support students (and lessen the workload for tutors). I was suggesting we could move from using our personal mobile phones to using WhatsApp. For many people, WhatsApp already is on their phone, however I have it on a tablet I acquired about a year ago. I find it helpful that I have a separate number on the tablet which I can use as a 'work' number. This means I can put the tablet away at night, for example, and lessen the risk of being woken up at 2 am by text messages. 

(I don't think students are callously sending me texts at 2 am because they want an instant response, BTW. I think they sometimes don't realise this is my personal number so that I will be picking it up if they send a message. Sometimes, too, the mobile signal in their area is not as strong; they write the message at 4 in the afternoon, but it only wings its way to me in the early hours of the morning.) 

My colleagues at the presentation expressed wistful envy as I described how useful I find my tablet: for checking over my powerpoint on train journeys while travelling to tutorials, for reading electronic versions of academic papers, accessing email and the module forums while on the move - and chatting to my students on WhatsApp, then being able to shut the tablet and put it away so I don't feel obliged to chat with them all night wide eyes It takes nifty photos too wink

Hand holding wildflower seeds

(Wildflower seeds)

You may be surprised to hear this, but unfortunately in our work as Associate Lecturers at the Open University we don't get paid our weight in gold. So my colleagues were puzzled as to how I could splash out money on such a high end product. I explained that I had found a handy affordable route to get my tablet, and this is it:-

I first thought about getting a tablet when the new Apple iPad came out. Boasting an impressive amount of functionality (I think that's the right word mixed), this was about half the price of older iPads which could do a similar amount of stuff. It weighed in @ £399, not quite cheap enough for me to rush at it in the way I do when there are shoes on sale at my favourite shoe shop, but enough for me to linger over it and wonder if I could cut back on vegetables for a couple of months, or even something essential - like kitten heeled slingbacks. 

Bare foot with gold nail polish on sandy beach with shells

It's easier to do without shoes in the summer - in South Wales, anyway. This is the beach at Saundersfoot. 

While I was contemplating the iPad, I went into my mobile phone shop about something completely different. There I saw the Apple iPad, and I realised you could get it for a monthly amount like you can a new phone. I was a bit hesitant, because if I did that I wouldn't be able to use my John Lewis credit card in John Lewis and get double points, but I began to be seriously "seduced" as we call it on DD102, after Bauman (1987) cited in Hetherington and Havard (2014, p.125). 

Then I saw that the mobile phone shop had a Samsung Galaxy - a tablet which also has an impressive amount of functionality wink I was canny. I listened to the salesperson. (I mean, not properly like when people talk to me about shoes, but I nodded my head when he said things.) Then I came back with my daughter. She said: "Oh yes, mum, the Galaxy is for you because it has Microsoft Office on it, and it has a *something-titum-titum* camera, you will like that." There was quite a bit more; I was impressed at how much she knew about my computing habits - she is pretty good at observation research. 

Because I am already a customer of this mobile network, I got a loyalty deal. Instead of £19 per month, I walked out with the tablet @ £17 per month over 2 and a half years- that includes some decent amount of downloadable data each month which is worth quite a bit on its own. £17 per month is even less than I pay for cat food, and a lot less than I pay for shoes if I am in the mood, so I was a happy lady ... I mean, professional woman with a PhD to prove my credentials. 

I did also buy a couple of covers for the tablet from Fintie to protect the screen. One has a Bluetooth-able keyboard in it, and the other is just a cover - they both have a Japanese picture of a cherry tree on them. The one with the keyboard is for when I go away from home for a few days. It's quite heavy so normally I use the other one, and just use the keyboard on the screen (whatever the technical word for that is). 

Samsung Galaxy tablet set up in cover with keyboard, on a desk, with another cover (decorated with Japanese painting of cherry blossom) and a cup of tea.

The tablet fits perfectly in my (Radley) handbag approve 

One of my colleagues described himself as 'technophobe' - which is just like us Associate Lecturers. We can run an Adobe Connect tutorial with polls and breakout rooms to allow 30 students good quality discussion time, but we think our phones are Smarter than we are. If this reassures you so-called 'technophobes': my tablet has a nice size screen and easily understandable icons, and I have never yet had to ask my daughter to help me figure it out. I'm not of that generation called 'digital natives' (see Smith, 2012 for a critique of this concept), but this tablet is of a generation of computers that are human-friendly so I am good with it cool


Hetheringon, K. and Havard, C. (2014) ‘Consumer society? Identity and lifestyle’ in Allen, J. and Blakeley, G. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Smith, E. (2012) ‘The Digital Native Debate in Higher Education: A Comparative Analysis of Recent Literature / Le débat sur les natifs du numérique dans l'enseignement supérieur: une analyse comparative de la littérature récente’. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology / La revue canadienne de l’apprentissage et de la technologie, [S.l.], v. 38, n. 3, nov. 2012. Available at: http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/26327/19509 (Accessed Sept 2018). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.21432/T2F302.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

Ethics and WhatsApp

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Monday, 19 Nov 2018, 12:28

In a talk to PhD students I heard him give, the sociologist Chris Jenks argued that all projects required the same level of rigorous ethics, regardless of the nature of the participants. He felt there was no such thing as more risk when handling data. 

At the time I didn't agree with him. Conducting research with lesbian, gay and bisexual British Muslim people, I was talking with people who had sometimes had to separate from families and move across the country. This was not just to protect themselves from physical harm. There was a high level of risk that their family's honour would be compromised if their sexuality became known, and that this would damage siblings' and even cousins' marriage chances. I was extremely scrupulous about protecting participants' identities and about the data I held on them and I felt that I did have to take measures which other researchers in less vulnerable communities might not have to. 

However I find myself more in sympathy with him today. My research now tends to be based in my teaching practice. There is a rigorous code around data protection of student records, particularly following the arrival of General Data Protection Regulation. However although we talk among ourselves about best practice in teaching, we aren't necessarily thought to be doing 'research' on it, so there isn't an automatic go-to framework for gaining permission from students to write about our teaching of them. 

My main aim in setting up WhatsApp groups for my students was to give them additional support so they have a better chance of keeping up with their studies, and getting information about how to manage their studies in a timely way. See this blogpost on setting up WhatsApp groups. However, as I began to write up how this was going, I realised I was also engaged in a research project which I not only intended to write up in the future, I was already publicly disseminating material about it. (This blogpost is an update on how my WhatsApp groups are getting on.) I of course did this in an anonymised way, but is that enough? My students don't appear to be 'at risk' in the same way as my participants in the LGB Muslim study, however I still ought to respect their participation in the project in a similar way. 

Well, I feel the best thing to do is to ask my students. Some of them are doing the M.Ed in Inclusive Practice so will be developing their own ethics frameworks to write about their teaching. They will have good insights to share about how I ought to go about advising them on how I am writing up my work with them smile

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

WhatsApp update

Visible to anyone in the world

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.) 

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.


Visible to anyone in the world
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 

Permalink Add your comment
Share post

This blog might contain posts that are only visible to logged-in users, or where only logged-in users can comment. If you have an account on the system, please log in for full access.

Total visits to this blog: 132190