Graduate studies present nurses with many challenges. In our diverse group of PhD nursing students, we created a WhatsApp group to foster communication. This group has produced great benefit for students and supported student success. This article presents the setup, benefits, and strategies for using WhatsApp groups.
WhatsApp is a free, easy-to-use mobile technology application. It takes the basic functions of cell phone, such as calls, texting, and video chat, and makes them available via Wi-Fi, rather than a traditional telephone plan. With more than 300 million worldwide users, the app is becoming a default way of communicating with cell phones internationally. Our group of PhD students come from several continents. We wanted a common method of communication that was less formal than email. WhatsApp was readily available and could host a rolling group chat with up to 500 members, meaning it could accommodate all the PhD students from that program. It was also private to group members, which was an advantage over a platform like Twitter™.
We recognized the need for a WhatsApp group in our faculty after identifying a lack of connection with part-time students and difficulty finding information (especially while off-campus). There is evidence indicating that connection, supportive services, and help with technology all support graduate students toward good program outcomes (Bull et al., 2012). We use the group to connect with each other, solve problems, and share opportunities. WhatsApp allowed for a continuous conversation, increasing the feeling of social connection. It also enabled peer mentorship, which is especially helpful for international students learning new educational norms (Lee, 2017; Schneider et al., 2020).
We began with an informal discussion about the potential benefits of the app and created a group chat on WhatsApp. Several students were made group administrators, allowing them to add others to the group. Anyone in our PhD program could join. We added students to the group at events, on welcome days, and at other opportunities. The group does not have an owner, per se, but is an evolving collection of students. This strategy was deliberate, to enable the group to continue after students complete the program.
Our WhatsApp group is used in many ways. It primarily connects students, especially those who do international data collection, work from home, or are otherwise away from campus. This has enabled emotional support and connection for students, which has been valuable during COVID-19. We ask questions, share learning, and solve problems. Examples include highlighting opportunities for funding and sharing cautionary tales. Other student groups have also found WhatsApp to have a high degree of acceptability and utility in their education (Cetinkaya, 2017). There are also occasional contributions of graduate school memes to emphasize the social nature of the support.
The WhatsApp group continues to be entirely student led. To date, we have not had issues with negative posts, and we continuously reinforce the supportive, positive nature of the group. Any forum potentially can be used in adverse ways, and we have avoided this in part with the shared understanding that the group is to help all students succeed. There have been reports from students in other faculties that WhatsApp groups contribute to feeling “always on” or perpetuating a culture of overwork. We have highlighted the international nature of our students, and that time zone differences may mean messages are sent at all hours. Students can mute or turn off notifications. They can also leave the group at any time, as they wish.
There have been substantial positive benefits for students, especially with problem solving. Students have reported accessing funding, attending events, and avoiding pitfalls across the program. The mentorship among students has been welcomed universally, especially by students who may be new to the country and need practical support as they immigrate. Our WhatsApp group has been an effective peer intervention to support student success.
Jennifer Jackson, RN, MN
King's College London
- Bull, M. J., Fitzgerald, J. & Veal, J. L. (2012). A framework of academic persistence and success for ethnically diverse graduate nursing students. Nursing Education Perspectives, 33(5), 322–327.
- Cetinkaya, L. (2017). The impact of WhatsApp use on success in education process. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(7), 59–74 doi:10.19173/irrodl.v18i7.3279 [CrossRef]
- Lee, S. (2017). Peer support for international doctoral students in managing supervision relationships. Journal of International Students, 7(4), 1096–1103 doi:10.5281/zenodo.1035971 [CrossRef]
- Schneider, J. K., Bender, C. M., Madigan, E. A. & Nolan, M. T. (2020). Facilitating the academic success of international PhD students. Nursing Education Perspectives, 41(1), 20–25 doi:10.1097/01.Nep.0000000000000489 [CrossRef]