Social Media Bonding

Enhancing course content and culture through WhatsApp in the Jamiya Project

Past the halfway mark of our Introduction to Programming and Java course being implemented in Jordan, we’ve accumulated a long list of lessons learned. One particularly pleasing surprise is the underestimated potential of using social media alongside university courses.

Initially, we started using WhatsApp for two reasons:

We observed lower than anticipated use of discussion forums on the learning management system, which students did not naturally engage with. Furthermore, with local network limitations and without regular access to computers, Whatsapp was one of the only applications working in Za’atari.
We wanted to gain further insight into the interactions between tutors and students since, managing the course from a distance, communication gaps were arising.

However, the use of the messaging app has far surpassed these two initial motivations. Oula Abu Amsha, Jamiya Project’s Academic Advisor, noticed a significant transformation in student engagement outside of the classroom: from only being used for course logistics, reminders, and downloadable resources, the app has evolved into an active academic platform where online tutor, Firas, posts challenge questions related to the week’s material incentivizing student participation with extra points for those who first respond.

Aside from being an extension of course content outside the classroom and a form of communication with local tutors, WhatsApp has brought to life a channel for clearer impressions of what’s happening on the ground and an enriching social bonding mechanism.

Screenshot of student posts in WhatsApp group (identifying information hidden for privacy)

Course Impressions

In addition to course-related inquiries, a WhatsApp group allows for better understanding practical needs and challenges students are facing. Answers students give freely on a casual messaging app already in use in their personal lives are helpful in gaining insight into how they are feeling about the course and what aspects of our delivery we can improve upon. As Oula explains, “it’s hard to have a clear impression of what happens in the course from this distance but with WhatsApp students feel they are at liberty to talk candidly to me.”

Social Bonding

Arguably the most rewarding outcome of WhatsApp, for us at least, has been the social effect of light-hearted jokes and banter on the group. Behind a beaming smile, Oula discusses her jokes and how they “work well because it shortens the distance between us, breaks the ice between us and it’s easier for students to ask questions.”

Ultimately, Oula, with expertise in online education reform, concludes that while we cannot build on WhatsApp or social media alone, it’s another channel — and “when you’re in online learning you need to communicate on multiple channels”. At Jamiya, we have found that leveraging a communication channel already integrated within the daily lives of our refugee students helps humanize an online course — adding an interpersonal connection and reactor to stimulate student engagement. Making use of social media both for the community aspect and for stimulating a discussion-based pedagogy is a best practice we intend to take with us beyond the pilot.

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