With the plethora of education apps out there, the technology savvy educator has to learn to be discriminating, and to develop a system for narrowing down the overwhelming options that are available. Fortunately this is quite easy if you use a single, very simple criterion to select the best education apps: Will it engage my students? I have found several brilliant apps using this criterion, but one stands out above the rest. And it is… (drumroll please)…
Indeed. Whatsapp is the single most important app I use in my classroom.
This simple little app (for those few who don't already know) is basically a web chat application where you can create closed groups and share simple text messages and pictures a cross multiple platforms. It seems too simple to be true. But Whatsapp is awesome. Here's why…
- Kids don't like communicating with teachers on Facebook. Or via email. Or Twitter. Or Edmodo. Or Google+. Or anything else. And they never will. And the reason is simple: these means of communication have a lag factor. There is always a delay between posting and replying. Worse, it often takes a few seconds to load the app and then get to where you need to go. Whatsapp is practically instantaneous. It's fast. And it's simple. And it's cheap. All of which are important to kids. A few years ago it was Blackberry's BBM. Now it's Whatsapp.
- I can create a class group in a matter of minutes (in fact, most often, my students do it for me!). This has three major benefits. Firstly: I can share links to cloud-stored resources, enrichment reading and other learning tools. Secondly: kids have my contact number, and they can ask me for help at practically any time. (I do, of course, have set times, and if kids request my help at an inconvenient time, I will not respond!) Thirdly, kids can ask one another questions and collaborate on problems, projects and the like.
- Whatsapp allows me to use other education technology more effectively. I can send links, invites, 'how-tos' and the the like quickly and easily.
- In using Whatsapp, I have found that the relationship I have with my kids has improved. I suspect that this is because they feel like I am trying to understand them and engage with them on their own level, rather than forcing them to engage solely on mine. I have found that this vastly improves engagement and learning in class. And I do believe that the relationship a teacher has with his or her class is the single biggest factor determining learning success in the classroom.
- I'm the kind of teacher who likes feedback about the success (or otherwise) of my lessons. On Whatsapp, students can message me directly if they have issues with either my methodology or the skills and content I am trying to teach them. I can use this information immediately, and modify my approach if necessary.
- The final reason I love Whatsapp is because I am a very busy teacher. My day consists of teaching across all 5 grades, teaching Geography, Social Science, Chess and Thinking Skills – all while trying to help our staff integrate technology more effectively. And arranging a chess league. And a robotics club. And a million other things. Like every other busy teacher, I forget to do things. Whatsapp provides me with a bit of insurance: I can tell them the things I forgot to tell them in class.
And that's it. Whatsapp is the single most engaging, useful and in-touch app I use in my classroom. The only limitation for me is that it isn't available on my iPad. But with Facebook's recent aquisition of the company, things are very likely to change in the near future.
Give it a whirl why don't you?