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D Gachago, S Strydom, P Hanekom, S Simons, S Walters


While literature continues to promote mobile learning and, in particular, the use of mobile phones for teaching and learning in blended and open distance learning (ODL) to bridge the digital divide, many lecturers still struggle to understand and engage with it to support their teaching practices. Using the theoretical notion of ‘boundary crossing’, this study reflects on how three South African higher educators introduced WhatsApp, a mobile instant messaging application, into their teaching practices, within a blended mode of delivery, both for distance education but also campus-based learners. Following their experiences with using WhatsApp as a boundary object in their engagement with learners, we explore how a pedagogical model, rules of engagement, group ownership and learner profile impacted on their teaching and their students’ learning practices. In this article we argue that mobile technology such as WhatsApp can, by acting as a boundary object, assist in increasing immediacy and connection not only in informal, but also in formal blended and open distance learning contexts, facilitating reflection, coordination, identification and, in some cases, with students’ control and ownership, transformation. However, more research is needed to include experiences of students, to explore in more depth the ethical issues of using WhatsApp in particular contexts, and to assess the potential to transfer these findings into larger ODL contexts. 


WhatsApp; boundary crossing; boundary objects; social media; blended learning; open distance learning; higher education

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