A simple and low-tech approach to delivering remote learning is the use of the free calling and chatting application – WhatsApp. Although, the use of WhatsApp for remote learning comes with its own cost implications and challenges. However, the uniqueness in using WhatsApp for remote learning is that it’s a very low-data consuming technology and it gives room for both synchronous and asynchronous discussions among users in a close group environment. Also, groups can easily be set up within seconds. Likewise, WhatsApp offers a lot of features that make it an ideal low cost tool to provide remote learning to children from digitally disadvantaged families or communities. To start with, schools and teachers will have to make key decisions and take important steps in advance for the WhatsApp classroom to be successful. Some of these actions are:
- Schools should provide their teachers with official WhatsApp numbers to use in delivering the remote learning. This practice will help in protecting teachers privacy and maintain high level of professionalism.
- The school should keep an updated student’s bio data with parental consent taken. Such data should be protected under relevant data protection laws. The bio data should, at least, have information on the student’s name, WhatsApp number, parent’s/guardian’s contact detail and passport photograph of the student.
- Every student’s WhatsApp number should have the student’s surname and picture as the profile name and picture
- Each class should be formed under a WhatsApp group created by the school digital coordinator/admin and the teacher should be added as an admin Also, class reps can be added as co-group admins subject to the teacher’s discretion.
- The group should be activated during normal school hours (i.e. Monday to Friday: 9am – 3pm). It is important that immediately after school hours the group status is changed to admins only for post making.
- Communication: the school should encourage parents to communicate with the school if their children will be away or won’t have the support of an adult while learning at home. Doing this will provide the school the necessary information needed to personalise learning and provide support for the students’ learning.
- Teaching: this must be planned and delivered with the mind-set that some of the students will be using them on their own without the support of an adult or with the support of an adult who might not have knowledge of the subject or topic being delivered by the teacher.
- Learning resources: the resources delivered should be based in the form of a booklet for every week with each day i.e. MONDAY 3rd April 2020: Maths, English, Science etc. Accompanied with lesson explanations and tasks to do. Also, solution booklets can be shared with parents as an additional support guide.
- Schools can purchase basic smart phones for families that do not have access to smart phones and bill them in instalments over i.e. a year. Also, schools can provide WhatsApp data on a weekly basis to digitally disadvantaged families as a support strategy for the children’s remote learning.
- Schools can use SMS or WhatsApp text messages to follow up and support families on regular basis
- Schools should make it a routine practice that families are contacted regularly, at least once a week or based on the needs of a student.
- The teacher must set the group’s ground rules that students have to adhere to – this should be basic rules like protocols for asking questions and making contributions during lessons.
- Register can be taken every morning at the school’s normal register taking periods. For example, students can send emojis in the group to mark their attendance (be mindful of potential misuse of this opportunity by some students and be upfront in tackling it).
- The teacher should make the lessons very accessible to the students by providing clear instructions by sending scripted short messages in the group, sharing prepared PowerPoint slides, pdf or word documents of the lesson.
- Lesson structure should be planned in advance with what to learn, instruction properly delivered with opportunities for assessments embedded in the lesson. Please see my post on How To Make Video Lessons Using PowerPoint as an example of how to prepare a video lesson.
- The teacher can produce short audio or video clips of lessons and upload in the group’s WhatsApp page.
- Where possible, students should be referred to study materials using the textbook title, topic, relevant page numbers, YouTube links, web links, Google Drive or OneDrive links etc.
- The teacher should at least post direct questions to individual students within the group and make sure they engage. This will give the teacher the opportunity to know if students are engaging with the learning and check on the students learning; here, the teacher’s physical classroom experience with the students will be very useful.
- If possible, highly encouraged, the teacher should provide the students with short videos introducing the day’s tasks at the beginning of each school day:
- informing them of the expected learning activities for the day
- wishing them and their families well
- recapping the previous lesson’s learning
- reminding them of their homework
- reminding them of high expectations within the group
- showing appreciation for their turning up
- reassuring them of the group’s togetherness and success.
- Homework and reading materials should be provided and clearly marked as such.
- It is good practice for the school or teacher to always back up the day’s learning in the cloud. This can easily be achieved by activating the automatic back-up feature in WhatsApp Settings.
School, teachers, families and students should all be informed and regularly reminded that the WhatsApp group learning activities should remain within the group under the rules and regulations of the school.
I want to say that these are suggestions and they are not set in stone. I wish you best of luck with whatever decision you make with regards to your students’ or children’s education in this very trying period in the history of humanity. At Edusounds, we hope you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy, and please adhere to the advice given by the medical experts and institutions in your place of abode. We pray for Allah’s mercies and forgiveness in this very trying time.