An article on WhatsApp sharing recently appeared the Guardian. This article got to me via WhatsApp when Dr Giovanna De Giusti, a Development Studies lecturer at Maseno University shared it with me. The article also found its way in the classroom WhatsApp groups that we (myself and Giovanna) had created a few weeks earlier at the beginning of the semester.
When creating the groups we thought about WhatsApp as a tool that the lecturer could use to communicate easily relevant information to the class especially in terms of logistics –which is a major concern in an environment where facilities are scarce and unexpected events (e.g. power cuts) can disrupt the normal course of lectures. Upon creation, different dynamics started revealing themselves. It was not a usual communication tool. The app has soon become an academic sharing platform, a forum for debates and discussions on different development issues in the country and the globe.
As Emma, a second year International Relations student in the class wrote: "The new DDS group is quite helpful. We get to express our views regarding development in the world and if something is discussed that I didn't know I feel challenged. It's a nice way for us to interact with our lecturers outside class. Even the most shy people get to express their views comfortably something which they wouldn't do in a class platform."
Mandela, a third year Development Studies student writes: "I feel the lecturer is more close to us and that we can initiate talks offline. I can get to ask a question anytime or any day of the week. I don't have to wait till the next class or probably the next week. It has been an avenue where I have gotten to know more about my classmates and even get new sources of information such as World Food Day.
And here is what Mark, a second year Development Studies student thinks about the tool: "The group has brought us (classmates and lecturers) together. It has shortened the distance between us since no matter the distance you can have a discussion in a way like you still in school. We are now able to send articles through links and screenshots..."
Thus the students’ feedback indicates that Whatsapp is not only a “catching up tool” but also an important education tool that can be adopted by students and lecturers.
For example, one of the interesting debates was on how to end corruption in Kenya started by one of the third year Development Studies students. Optimistic and pessimistic voices were equally raised but at the end of it all the students agreed that the answer lies in 1. Institutions 2. Institutions 3. Institutions and a radical surgery on our attitudes and values.
I also recall sharing a development quiz by Guardian Development on Agriculture. The task was meant to test your knowledge on various aspects of food on the World Food Day. The students responded by quickly tackling the quiz and later challenging their peers to do the same. In the end of it all as some would say, they learnt by tackling the interesting questions on food.
This has not been without challenges however, not all students have had access to this service (so far in between 70 and 80 percent of a class have access to the service) and thereby missing out the opportunity to learn through more out of class.Keeping the group discussions relevant to their purpose has also be a challenge but we handled it well in collaboration with the students. Having a clear understanding among the students and the lecturers on the groups’ aims and possibilities has been the igniting flame that has been keeping the groups going.
I could write more on the WhatsApp experience with students but I can hear my phone buzzing. Perhaps another interesting debate is going on in one of the groups, therefore, let me pen off at this point in time and get to learn more from the students.