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Teaching by text: Mobile text and instant messaging for teacher training in refugee camps

Tue, March 27, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 2nd Floor, Don Diego 3


Peer and teacher networks are key components to educational success in refugee camp communities. In the example of Dadaab in Kenya, research has shown that access to higher education is integrally tied to ongoing communication with peers and teachers via social media sites like Facebook, and through text (SMS) and instant messaging accessed on mobile phones (e.g. Facebook chat, WhatsApp chat) (Dahya & Dryden-Peterson, 2017).

Our research focuses on the use of mobile text messaging among refugee teachers in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps in Kenya, looking specifically at teacher professional development. In camps, refugees who graduate from secondary school often become teachers without any training, and with classroom ratios of roughly 80 students per teacher. Teacher training matters because students rely on teachers in many ways: for academic support; for information about educational programs, jobs, health, and safety; and for insight and motivation related to the value and importance of completing primary, secondary, and post-secondary schooling. Teacher training also matters because of the importance of teachers’ effect on pupils and learning. The teacher effect is the result of the aggregation of a range of factors from training, to professional development, and clarity in the quality of teaching methods (Hattie, 2003, 2008; Rowe, 2003). In the context of refugee camps, access to trained teachers, to professional networks, and to opportunities for ongoing professional development and support are fundamental to delivery of quality education.

The research questions guiding our study are: How are teachers in refugee camps using text and instant messaging on mobile phones to support their learning and professional development (teacher training)? What is the nature of text-based communication on mobile phones by and between teachers in refugee camps (e.g. topics of discussion, technical specifications of devices, etc.)? How are instructors and program administrators of teacher training programs using text and instant messaging for program delivery and course instruction in refugee camps?

In 2016, we collected 203 surveys about the role of SMS and instant messaging chat groups among refugee teachers in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Our questions focused specifically on the role of SMS and instant messaging to support teachers enrolled in teacher training programs and in university Education courses. Additionally, we conducted interviews with instructors of these programs who teach transnationally in one or both of these camps (n=13). Finally, our data set includes five focus group discussions with refugee teachers in Kakuma (n=21).

Our analysis includes collaboratively coding interviews and focus group discussions. As well, we are applying qualitative codes to the survey data in addition to conducting statistical tests in the form of linear regression and independent sample t-tests. Together, these data analysis methods present a rich and nuanced picture of the relationships between refugee teachers, instructors of teacher training programs, and the various participants in the larger educational ecosystem within and beyond the boundaries of these refugee camps.

Our study shows that there are interconnected circles of communication and education mediated by technology and supporting ongoing teacher professional development. Our codes identify (1) collaborative teacher and community networks and their purpose, (2) the in-practice needs and usage of SMS and text messaging among refugee teachers, (3) the nature of information seeking and sharing practices, and, (4) the ways in which text messaging on mobile phones interacts with time (prep time, work time, leisure time) at a local level in the camps. Based on our interviews with instructors in the transnational community, we are also able to identify how (5) text messaging is being used to coordinate teacher communities as part of teacher training programs, and, (6) how these types of transnational programs use mobile telecommunications as part of direct instruction, assessment, and tutorials. In this panel discussion, our team will discuss the complexities of this landscape, including the evident successes of using text messaging as part of teacher professional development and the gaps in this landscape.


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