WhatsApp Goes to School: Mobile Instant Messaging between Teachers and Students

Published: 
2014

Source: Journal of Information Technology Education Volume 13, 2014

 

WhatsApp is a smartphone application for instant messaging. Lately the application's popularity has risen. One of the unique features of the application is its ability to enhance communication within a group. Classroom communication between teaching faculty and high school students using WhatsApp has not yet, to our knowledge, been researched thoroughly. Therefore, we have chosen to conduct an exploratory research project employing a qualitative method. Twelve half- structured interviews were carried out with teachers who use the application in order to communicate with their pupils.

It turns out that class WhatsApp groups are used for four main purposes: communicating with students; nurturing the social atmosphere; creating dialogue and encouraging sharing among students; and as a learning platform. The participants mentioned the technical advantages of WhatsApp, such as simple operation, low cost, availability, and immediacy. They also referred to educational advantages, such as the creation of a pleasant environment and an in-depth acquaintance with fellow students, which had a positive influence upon the manner of conversation. The participants also indicated academic advantages such as the accessibility of learning materials, teacher availability, and the continuation of learning beyond class hours. Nevertheless, there are also challenges and problems. Firstly, there is the technical difficulty that not all high school students possess a smartphone. Secondly, teachers are apt to be annoyed by the flood of irrelevant and nonsensical messages. Also, educational difficulties may arise, such as incompatibility of language between students and the students' assumptions that their teachers should be available on a 24/7 basis.

 

For the purpose of this study, twelve half-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with Israeli teachers who used WhatsApp to communicate with the groups they taught. The interviews took the form of a friendly chat, while trying to piece together different parts of the stories into a cohesive meaning. The interviews began with a short explanation about the research, followed by a few personal background questions. Theming the interviews with the teachers was an inquiry into their motivation for opening a WhatsApp group with their students, a description of the activities in the group, including the advantages and disadvantages noted, and an examination of the insights distilled from their experiences. The information gathered throughout the interviews was not categorized in a predetermined fashion, but evolved gradually as the interviews continued. The examination proceeded as the data was collected, so an interaction took place between data collection and analysis. The collected data effected the questions we chose to ask in the next interview. Once the interviews were over and transcribed, a process of categorizing began.

 

The in-depth interviews conducted in this experiment with teachers who use WhatsApp to communicate with their classes as a part of their teaching process, raise a variety of educational and pedagogical issues and suggest some practical methods of implementation. The WhatsApp’s groups examined were oriented to at least four goals: communicating with students, grooming a positive atmosphere and a sense of belonging in the class, creating a dialogue, using and sharing a learning platform. All of the teachers, at the start, thought about implementing one or two goals, but over time discovered that groups fulfilled other purposes as well. Teachers were not aware of other goals of using WhatsApp, rather than their own. They did not share their experience with other teachers; each one of them thought that they were the one who was working with WhatsApp. As researchers, we gained a lot of knowledge and new insights just by listening to the teachers; therefore, the conclusion of this study is that it is worthwhile to find a way to establish a dialogue between teachers, so that they can exchange ideas and suggestions about how to deal with the challenges and to broaden their understanding of the ways the application can implement the school’s educational and pedagogical goals. We encouraged these teachers to participate in a WhatsApp group that we opened specifically for this purpose.

 

If WhatsApp becomes a common tool for teachers and students in the classroom, there will be need for further research in order to identify user properties and the best way to integrate them into educational and pedagogical goals. This will necessitate the implementation of a wide range of qualitative research methodology. Such research will inevitably yield both theoretical and practical conclusions. The interviews in this study dealt with high school students; further research should examine junior high and elementary schools and universities as well.

Updated: Aug. 19, 2015
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