Some Miami University professors are taking a nontraditional step to connect with their students through instant messaging apps in an attempt to improve communication and collaboration.
Although all Miami students and faculty have Gmail accounts linked through the university G-Suite, some professors have taken to communicating with their students through apps such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat and GroupMe.
Miami’s statement of good teaching practices does not prohibit professors from communicating with students through cell phones or instant messaging apps.
Saleh Yousef, an assistant lecturer of Arabic in the department of German, Russian, Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Culture, utilizes Facebook Messenger to communicate with students in what he believes is a more effective way.
Students can still email Yousef, but if it is late in the evening and/or if students have a brief question, Yousef encourages his students to get on Messenger and text him that way.
“You have a phone, I have a phone, and it’s like, this is the generation,” Yousef said. “They’re all on social media, they’re all using it, and it’s a mode of communication, so why not utilize it?”
Ninety-one percent of college graduates own a smartphone and 94 percent of people from ages 18-29 own a smartphone, according to statistics from the Pew Research Center.
Yousef started using Facebook Messenger this year to improve communication with his students.
Through instant texting apps, Yousef said he feels that he can be in constant communication with his students when they need help with homework assignments and have questions.
Yousef first started using Facebook Messenger to communicate with family and friends in his native country, Jordan, and realized that he could communicate back and forth with people through Facebook Messenger much faster than email.
“I use Messenger to text people overseas, and what I realized is that people respond within an hour or two,” Yousaf said. “If I email, it could take two weeks.”
Students do not need to have Facebook accounts to utilize the Messenger application, but Yousef encourages his students to get on the social media site, because his department has established a Facebook page for all Arabic students. Professors and students can post educational videos, cultural songs, collaborate with each other and answer each other’s questions.
“I do use the Arabic Facebook page and it is helpful, as people post different links to helpful grammar videos that can be used as study resources for exams,” Katie Lynch, a sophomore creative writing and political science major, who is a teacher’s assistant for Arabic 101, said. “People also post about events that are happening around Miami that relate to the department.”
Zhuofan Xu, a Chinese instructor in the Confucius Institute, started utilizing WeChat, a Chinese multi-purpose messaging app, in September to communicate with students and assign speaking assignments to her students.
“It’s easier because I can use the voice message,” Xu said. “It’s super useful [because] they can pick up what I record everyday, and they can use [it] right away.”
While instant texting applications can allow for more efficient communication, some students do not take advantage of these resources and choose not to check them regularly.
“Some of them don’t check [WeChat] very often,” Xu said.
Xu makes announcements in a groupchat with her students to remind them of homework assignments, and is willing to answer questions through the app’s direct message service.
“One student asked me about getting a tutor, and right away I just sent the tutor’s Wechat name card to the student, and they became friends on WeChat, and then they got the tutor appointment done in the same day,” Xu said.
Although Xu and Yousef speak highly of texting applications’ place in education, some students do not think messaging apps give them the access they need.
“[Yousef]’s a bit hard to follow sometimes, but eventually it does click; I attribute this more to the fact that it’s a foreign language and him not being a native English speaker than him actually being a bad teacher,” Omar Elghazwai, a first-year political science and journalism major, said. “Even the messaging him on Facebook thing isn’t a huge deal, just kind of odd to me. Besides that he’s just like any regular professor.”