Guest Blogger Corinne Brion talks about our work with using mobile phones as a professional development tool to improve learning transfer.
The purpose of the WhatsApp group was to examine the extent to which mobile technology played a role in enhancing learning transfer for school leaders in Ghana and Burkina Faso. The WhatsApp platform was used as a Professional Leaning Community (PLC) for everyone who participated in the three-day leadership training, provided that they were present on the last day of the training and had a Smart phone with the WhatsApp application. Everyone received the same message at the same time and was able to respond. WhatsApp allows anyone with access to a Smart phone and Wi-Fi to send individual and group messages anywhere in the world. It also allows sending and receiving photos, videos, recordings, and Word documents. I sent text messages via group texting.
On the last day of the training, the participants confirmed their contact information, provided the phone number they used for WhatsApp and agreed to be part of the PLC. A total of 23 participants were invited to join the WhatsApp group. The local NGO staff member in charge of education, as well as the two Ghanaian facilitators who conducted the leadership training, and the site director were also invited to the group as silent observers. The role of the silent observers was defined and explained to them before the intervention started. Later, I was able to ask the silent observers to read my findings, serving as member checkers. As the moderator and administrator of the WhatsApp group, my role was to send the text messages twice a week, monitor the answers, provide some written or oral feedback and encouragement, and answer questions. I also ensured that the norms were respected and that the purpose of the PLC remained intact. Norms for the group were discussed prior of the start of the intervention. Norms included: (1) the group was created to enhance and promote leadership conversations only as to help enhance networking among participants; (2) the group should not be used for personal or other purposes; and (3) everyone was encouraged to participate in the discussions/reflections. I sent a first text message to the cohort inviting the participants to join the WhatsApp group five days after the end of the training. Text messages were sent to the proprietors and head teachers for nine weeks starting two weeks after the school leadership training. The two-week grace period allowed participants to return to their school sites, share with colleagues, and reflect on the knowledge they had gained during the training. The intervention lasted nine weeks because four leadership modules were covered during the leadership training and I wanted to ask 2 follow up questions per module. On the last week of the intervention (week 9), I sought to receive the participants’ perspectives on the use of WhatsApp as a follow up method.
On Mondays the participants received a yes/no question and an open-ended question followed on Fridays of the same week. Participants could answer one question and not the other if they wished. There was a total of seven yes/no questions and nine open ended questions. The questions were all related to the content of the four modules taught during the three-day leadership training. This format was chosen to: (1) understand what kind of question triggered more participation; and (2) provide the participant a structure in which they could expect a yes/no question on Monday that gave them time to reflect in order to answer the open-ended question on Friday or over the following days. I asked questions directly related to the content of the four modules. An example of a yes/no question would be “Do you think your school is more inviting now as a result of the Edify leadership training you attended in July? Please respond YES or NO. Open ended questions included questions such as “Have you made your school more inviting this week? If you made any changes add any photos and/or videos of what you have changed.
The study participants unanimously stated that the WhatsApp intervention was helpful to transfer new knowledge after the training for several reasons. They commented that it allowed them to learn from each other, and it reminded them of the training, its content, and the School Improvement Plans. The intervention also encouraged and motivated the participants to put into action what they had learned during the training. One participant stated: “We were expecting your messages, so we knew we did not have time to seat down and relax, your follow up helped us to remember what we had seen in the training.” Even those who did not know how to type stated that it was “brilliant and very helpful.” One school leader shared: “WhatsApp helped me because I could read and see what my colleagues were doing in their schools. I took some ideas and also got motivated by what some did.”
Network and Peer Learning
The use of WhatsApp allowed the workshop participants to share information and “encouraged those who were not responding to questions to sit up.” A woman leader added: “Comments from my colleagues always draw my attention back to what was learned at the workshop. The answers given were helpful and made us conscious of what others were doing. We got ideas and copied some ideas.” Most participants shared that they were happy to hear from colleagues after the training, keeping “the good atmosphere beyond the training.” Finally, one leader spoke of the fact that he learned vicariously and said “despite the fact that I never wrote anything on the platform I was reading all the messages and learned a lot from the others that way.”
Reminder, Peer Pressure, Motivation and Encouragement
All leaders suggested that being active on the WhatsApp platform was motivating because of the peer pressure. When leaders saw pictures on the phone of what colleagues improved in their schools, they would be inclined to do the same and share their progress on the platform. A leader shared: “When I see other schools making so many changes, I must make some too! I liked what some of my colleagues did and I must now try to do the same at my school. If they can do it, why can’t I, I must at least try and show them.” Another participant stated, “I do not go to the others’ schools but I see pictures they send and it helps me to change too.” Two other persons commented: “Usually after training, people feel reluctant to use what was learned but this gave us pressure and motivation and it always reminded us to do what we set to do.” Participants also commented on the encouragement they would receive from other participants and from the group moderator when new learning was transferred: “We felt encouraged because you [the researcher] wrote to us and asked us more questions when you did not understand or wanted us to share more.”
Norms and Structure
All participants appreciated that the rules were clear and given before the intervention started. One leader referred to the norms as: “nothing to waste.” According to him the norms promoted learning by staying on task. Two leaders stated that people who did not respect the rules were “detractors” and they appreciated when I intervened and restated the rules immediately. He stated it in this way “Let us stick to the reason for what the group was created. Not everyone is a fan on what others are posting.”
All participants shared that they enjoyed the structure of the questioning and the quality of the questions. They enjoyed receiving a yes/no question on Mondays when it was busy and the open-ended questions on Fridays when they had the weekend to read, think and respond. “I was always eager to see what message you [the researcher] sent even if I could not look at work. I would go home and look at what you sent because I knew to expect a message on certain days and I knew I had time to think about the question before responding.”
WhatsApp Beyond the Training
After this intervention, all participants stated that WhatsApp should be used for all trainings. Two participants indicated that they would like to use WhatsApp in their own work and with their teachers, using the application to ask the teachers a few questions prior to their weekly teachers’ meeting. “I thank you because now I will use this with my teachers and this will force them to prepare effectively before a meeting.”
Participants also shared that since the training content was helpful and relevant to their context, they were willing to engage in the WhatsApp. One school leader claimed: “You see often times you go to training, but the materials is not appropriate for us and we do not learn anything. Here we learned because of new research you presented but also because you made is relevant to our needs and schools. That is why we wanted to continue the learning and sharing on WhatsApp.”
The data indicated that participants perceived WhatsApp as being a useful tool to enhance the transfer of learning because it enabled them to learn from each other, reminded them of the workshop and of their school improvement plans and encouraged them in general. They shared that the pictures other leaders posted on the platform encouraged them to transfer learning to their schools, referring to it as peer pressure. According to the participants, WhatsApp appeared to be an efficient way to follow up with workshop participants post training. It helped participants remember the goals they had set for themselves and reminded them of the content of the training. WhatsApp was also appreciated because it is a platform the participants knew how to use, and it is readily accessible and available. One head teacher exclaimed “WhatsApp was a great idea to follow up with us because we use it already, we just never thought of using it among us educators and after a training”.
“WhatsApp was brilliant, you should use it after each training and in fact I am now planning to use it with my teachers.”
These two pictures were posted on the WhatsApp platform after the training. They exemplify how school leaders took the content of the training module on nutrition, made a poster of the food pyramid and invited parents to a PTA meeting on nutrition. A video of the meeting was also posted on the platform for everyone to see.
*The term brain date is used as a way to foster conversations and reflections among like-minded educators and educational leaders.