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Sunday, March 01, 2020

Instant Online Education Using WhatsApp or WeChat

What do you do if your school is shut down for a week or even longer due to outbreaks of flu, bad weather, or a new virus?  Many schools have not budgeted to put their courses online, and even if they had the funds, many of the online commercial options do not meet the curriculum standards.  On top of that, there is simply no time.

 Further complicating the situation is the fact that many families in some school districts may not have a family computer or online service. Those who do may need the computer for other purposes during the day, particularly if a family member is working remotely from home. In addition, the students may not feel comfortable with a new learning management system, and they may not know how to proceed.

Are there any quick answers? Yes. It builds on the lesson plans and course materials you already have, but makes it possible to hold class and maintain student engagement, instead of simply having a week of homework and independent study.

Here is a bold approach that allows a school to seamlessly move to online education with very little extra cost by using smartphones.  In general, the extra cost would involve having a more robust data plan. It may be necessary to negotiate with the phone service providers to allow more data transfer each month.  If there are many children in a household, it may be necessary to have a family plan with more than one phone.

We would use WhatsApp or WeChat.  I’m selecting those two because they are extremely flexible and it is possible to create groups, use video chat, send group and private messages, share and send files for text, images, and videos.  However, the same could be done with Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, with just a few adjustments in considering the individual apps and their differences.

Step 1:  Modify daily lesson plans to be structured into lectures, check your knowledge quizzes (fun interactive polling), independent work, and receiving student work.

Step 2:  Review WhatsApp and familiarize yourself with video chat, group chat, photo transfer, and text messaging.

Step 3:  Build your Course Design Plan, which will be your lesson template. It will contain the following:

    Learning Objectives:  Clearly state to your students what they will learn. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to describe the outcome.  It is best to limit your learning objectives to one or two. Keep in mind that their learning activity and assessments will tie to the learning objectives.

    Lectures:  You will talk to the students via video chat.  Plan for the video lecture to be between 10 and 15 minutes.

    Check Your Knowledge and What Do You Think?: 
At least twice during the lecture, pause for a moment and ask your students to answer a question. They will send in their responses via text message. It can be an opinion (as in What Do You Think?), which could make the topic and lecture more engaging. Stress that class participation is a part of their grade.

    Independent Activity:
  This will be a moment when you’ll ask your students to turn to their books and read a passage.

    Activity Review: 
Doodle Polls are extremely easy to make and they are free. Most people use them for selecting schedules, but you can create multiple choice questions as well.  You can send the URL of your poll to your students via WhatsApp messaging, and when they complete them, you will see their responses in a single document. These are ideal for keeping students engaged, checking their knowledge, and giving them a class participation grade. For graded quizzes, ProProfs is a sophisticated package and also free, although the free version is limited. It takes some time to create the multiple choice questions, so you may not wish to do more than one per week.

   Multiple choice quizzes:  You can use ProProfs or one of the other free quizmaker programs to create graded multiple choice quizzes that your students can do via their phones.  You will be able to see their grades. Ideally, your quizzes will provide feedback that points them to the correct answer and also ties directly to a specific text in the lessons.

   Written Assignments: This is an opportunity for you to ask your students to complete one or two short answer questions and to turn it in via WhatsApp. 
  • Student procedure:  Ask your students to write the answers on a piece of paper and then take a picture and send it to you. Alternatively, they can create a document using an app on their phone, save it, then send it via their phone.  

  • How you provide feedback: You will grade the work and provide feedback by recording a message in WhatsApp and sending it to each student. Your response should not be more than 2 minutes in length.  If you need to write an answer or add diagrams, you can do so on a piece of paper, and then take a photo and send it.

How you record grades:  You can record grades in the way that you normally do so. 

If you teach the same course to several different sections of students, you may wish to record your group video chat in order to save it for anyone who may have missed it due to illness.

For maximum engagement, however, it is important that all the students participate together in the group chat.

Online Classroom Management. 
As you move forward, you may have a few online classroom management challenges.  Here are the main guidelines:
  •     Ask everyone to mute their phones during the lecture.
  •     Do not send messages during the lecture.
  •     Ask for 100% participation in the Check Your Knowledge and What Do You Think?  Sections. Make sure that you emphasize that participation is a part of their grade.
  •     Shut down any possible cyberbullying or cybershaming right away.
  •     Make sure that your recorded responses are succinct and positive.
  •     When your students complete their graded multiple choice quizzes, put some thought into encouraging your students to work in groups.  If you do so, you will increase engagement, collaboration, and facilitate deeper learning.

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