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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 7-24

The role of Whatsapp in scientific education at the college of applied medical sciences at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University

1 Department of Radiological Science, College of Applied Medical Sciences, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University, Dammam, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
2 College of Medicine, King Faisal University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
3 Department of Radiological Science, College of Applied Medical Sciences, King Khalid University, Abha, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
4 College of Medicine, King Khalid University, Abha, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
5 Department of Diagnostic Radiology, College of Applied Medical Sciences, Jazan University, Gazan, Saudi Arabia

Date of Web Publication13-Aug-2020

Correspondence Address:
Haney Alsleem
Department of Radiological Science, College of Applied Medical Sciences, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University, Dammam
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Raghad H Alsleem
College of Medicine, King Faisal University
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1658-743X.292038

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Objective: To determine how the social networking application of WhatsApp can be used to support and improve student academic performance at the College of Applied Medical Sciences at Imam Abdurrahman bin Faisal University in Dammam in Saudi Arabia. Methodology: This study is based on surveys of students and teachers at the College of Applied Medical Sciences at Imam Abdurrahman bin Faisal University in Dammam in Saudi Arabia. One survey queried the students as to their individual usage of WhatsApp messaging for educational purposes, and requested feedback from each survey participant as to the effects WhatsApp on academic performance. A second survey queried teaching staff about their individual experiences in using WhatsApp as an educational tool. The results of these surveys are the basis for the analysis and conclusions of this research paper. Results: Most of the survey respondents, both students and teachers, confirmed that they do use or would like to use WhatsApp and other social media applications for communications focused on education. The study reveals statistically significant differences in the preference for social media usage between males and females in both student and teacher survey populations. More than two-thirds of respondents (66.5%) stated that they used WhatsApp for personal communications. 73.0%, reported using WhatsApp messaging for educational purposes. Conclusion: In years past, communications between teachers and their students outside of the classroom were minimal and oftentimes non-existent. This new communications technology such as WhatsApp makes student-teacher much easier. As a result, students and teachers are more effective.

Keywords: WhatApps, Networking, Learning, Communication, Student-teacher

How to cite this article:
Alsleem H, Alsleem RH, Adam M, Ibrahim K, Saad M, Almohiy NH, Abu Hadi NH. The role of Whatsapp in scientific education at the college of applied medical sciences at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University. King Khalid Univ J Health Sci 2019;4:7-24

How to cite this URL:
Alsleem H, Alsleem RH, Adam M, Ibrahim K, Saad M, Almohiy NH, Abu Hadi NH. The role of Whatsapp in scientific education at the college of applied medical sciences at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University. King Khalid Univ J Health Sci [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Mar 7];4:7-24. Available from: https://www.kkujhs.org/text.asp?2019/4/2/7/292038

  Introduction Top

Over the last two decades, social media technology has played an increasingly significant role in many aspects of modern life. Interpersonal communications using desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones has drastically changed the ways people communicate. Social networking platforms are used extensively to create, share and exchange information over the internet. Text, pictures, audio/video, in both single and multi-media formats, are routinely communicated using a variety of software applications.[1] One application, WhatsApp messaging, has become particularly prevalent in communications worldwide. WhatsApp messaging users span age and skill levels from young children to high-level academics and professionals. However, WhatsApp is extremely popular with younger people, especially students.[1]

In a recent study, the researchers concluded that many young people utilize mobile devices (smartphones) to use WhatsApp on a regular basis.[2] An increasing majority of students have regular access to smartphones and mobile data plans that allow them to access the internet from almost any location. As such, many students have regular access to WhatsApp and other social media platforms. In addition, the WhatsApp application is very inexpensive. Most individuals can use WhatsApp either at no cost or for a nominal annual fee. Naturally, this is an incentive to use the WhatsApp platform. Prior research indicates that some users are addicted to using WhatsApp.[1]

WhatsApp has become so prevalent that some researchers and teachers recommend integrating the application into academic programs as an essential tool for teaching and learning.[2]. As smartphone usage grows, students have increasing opportunities to combine internet application with traditional face-to-face learning.[3]. Researchers have concluded that the use of social media applications (including WhatsApp) in academics helps build positive relationships between/among teachers and students (4). Also the use of social media encourages collaborative learning. Moreover, the studies show that communications become faster and more efficient using social media.[4] These improvements tend to motivate students and ultimately result in better academic performance.[4]

The objective of this research project is to determine whether the WhatsApp messenger service could play an integral role in enhancing the academic performance of the student body at the College of Applied Medical Sciences at Imam Abdurrahman bin Faisal University in Dammam in Saudi Arabia.

  Method Top

Ethical Statement

This study was initiated with the express pre-approval of the relevant authorities at Imam Abdurrahman bin Faisal University. All students and faculty members in the College of Applied Medical Sciences were invited to participate in the surveys that form the basis for analyses and associated conclusions of this paper. All participants were notified of the objectives of the research in advance, and given assurances that their personal information would remain anonymous. The research data was collected and analyzed in a manner that maintained each participant’s privacy.

Study Design and Instrumentation

This research project included two different written questionnaires for survey purposes. One was used to collect data from the faculties of the College of Applied Medical Sciences, and the other surveyed the students from different departments within the college. Each questionnaire had a number of common elements. Both teachers and students were queried as to their mobile phone capabilities and social media usage. Teachers were also asked about their preferences vis-à-vis traditional learning methods and social media networking for educational purposes.

Data Analyses

In this study, the researchers used the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software (version 21, 2013- IBM SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL) for data analysis. Calculations of mean, median, standard deviation and percentile were measured using descriptive statistics. Excel spreadsheets were also used for raw data compilation and variation analysis between and among participant groups. Significance was measured based on p < 0.05 basis for all statistical tests. Data variables between and among groups were compared by utilizing student “t”, “z-proportional” and “chi-square” tests.

  Results Top

The researchers invited all of the students and staff at the College of Applied Medical Sciences to participate in the study. A total of 206 people responded, 169 students and 37 faculty members. Of the students, 78 were male and 88 were female. The male/female ratio of educators was 15/22 respectively. The age range for students was 19 to 31, while the faculty age range was 25 to 62. Note that, in the aggregate, the mean age of all participants was under 31 [Table 1]. Participants who did not adequately respond to all of the questions relevant to the main objectives of the study were excluded from the data.
Table 1: Participants’ demographics characteristics (n = 206)

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The researchers collected detailed information about the respondents’ technology ownership and usage.

Most participants reported using either iPhone or Android smartphones. 126 participants (61%) used iPhones, and 72 participants (35%) used Androids. On the application side, 180 respondents (87%) reported they used the WhatsApp application. 150 participants (73%) reported using WhatsApp for educational purposes. Based on the foregoing, clearly, students and teachers are inclined to use mobile social networking technologies in support of educational endeavors. In addition, the participants self-reporting showed that many (74%) used social media and networks for 3 or more hours daily. While this fact is not on its own conclusive, it is an indicator that the technology might be further integrated into education. Further, the vast majority (66.5%) reports using smartphones and chat applications [Table 1].

There are statistically significant differences in technology uses between male and female educators. Males (87%) have a strong preference for communicating with students using WhatsApp. Also, more than half (60%) would like to use WhatsApp for in-class activities. A little more than half (53%) thought WhatsApp should be a mandatory component of classroom work. Most of the male educators (67%) were uncertain as to whether using WhatsApp would help motivate the students.

Although 87% of male educators would utilize WhatsApp, to communicate with their students, there is no compelling evidence that this usage would extend to classroom learning at such a high ratio. First, it is worth noting that 43% of male educators prefer traditional classroom pedagogies. Second, 80% of male educators opined that the small size of mobile phone screens was a significant impediment to learning using mobile technologies.

Female educators were on the whole less enthusiastic about using social network technology [Figure 1]. Only 55% of female educators indicated a preference for communicating with students using WhatsApp. As demonstrated in [Table 2], only 36% of female educators were inclined to use WhatsApp for educational purposes in the classroom. Despite the above differences, the female opinions regarding the motivational factors of using WhatsApp were similar to males. Note the 10% variance regarding traditional classroom pedagogies. Female educators reported lesser inclination for traditional classroom work to their male counterparts (32%/43%). Also, female educators were less likely to cite small mobile phone screen size as an impediment to the use of WhatsApp and learning (59%/80%).
Figure 1: Demonstrates the difference between male and female educators regarding the use of WhatsApp in education.

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Table 2: Descriptive Statistics of Educators (N=37)

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There are slight differences in technology uses between male and female students [Table 3]. A majority of males (65%) would prefer to use WhatsApp in-class to assist the learning process. Also nearly 70% indicated a willingness to utilize WhatsApp outside the classroom as an extension of the learning environment. Approximately half of the male students (48%) opined that WhatsApp could be a motivational tool for students. Curiously, almost half of the male students expressed a preference for traditional. It seems there is no overwhelming preference among male students for technology-intensive learning versus traditional learning. This data is especially intriguing because of the young age of the relevant participants. These respondents were raised and educated from the beginning of the ‘technological revolution’. People in this age bracket often exhibit strong preferences for new technologies in many facets of life. Perhaps this is attributable to the physical limitations of mobile phones in that 65% of male students opine that small screen size is an inherent problem.
Table 3: Descriptive Statistics of Students (N=169)

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A slight minority of females (44%) would prefer to use WhatsApp for academic purposes in-class. Also, nearly 77% showed interest in using WhatsApp outside the classroom as an extension of the learning environment. Less than half of female students (41%) believe that WhatsApp could help motivate students. However, one-third (34%) of those female students surveyed were unsure if WhatsApp increases motivation in the learning process. Curiously, one-third (33%) of females prefer a traditional learning environment, which is significantly lower than their male counterparts (about half). Surprisingly, the data indicates that females have a stronger preference for the integration of technology over traditional methods. While the males and females were roughly within the same age bracket, the male penchant for the use of technology in relation to females was interestingly lower. Perhaps this is the intersection of two common stereotypical attitudes concerning men and the difference between female students and female educators are demonstrated in [Table 4], [Table 5] and [Figure 2], demonstrates the differences between male student and male educators.
Table 4: Descriptive Statistics of Females (n=110)

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Table 5: Descriptive Statistics of Males (N=93)

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Figure 2: Demonstrates the difference between male educators and male students regarding the use of WhatsApp in education

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  Discussions Top

WhatsApp Usability and User Density Level

The data unequivocally indicates that a majority of the participants maintain a positive attitude with respect to using WhatsApp in an educational environment. The general usage of WhatsApp in society will permit integration of the application into the classroom and other school activities. This is not limited to general communications vis-à-vis student-to-student or teacher-to-student administrative messaging. Actual classroom material and assignments can be completed using WhatsApp and other similar programs. This conclusion comports with the findings of Chokri Barhoumi[5] and Preston and his colleagues.[6]

Prevailing WhatsApp Usage Modes Among Respondents

Surprisingly, nearly three-quarters of the participants reported that they already use WhatsApp for educational purposes even though the application has not been officially integrated into the curriculum. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is WhatsApp’s inherent video and document sharing capability. The ‘flipped classroom’ is an increasingly popular teaching methodology.

Flipped Classroom involves the teacher assigning students to review documents/videos on their own time prior to class. Then teachers review and analyze student understanding and performance in class after they have been substantially exposed to the relevant material. The ‘flipped classroom’ method is especially useful in science-based curriculum. First, much of science education is visual and well-suited for video explanation. Also science students, in general, have more advanced cognitive skills than average making them well-suited for higher levels of self-learning.

Although the prevailing attitude of respondents towards WhatsApp in education is positive, there are dissenters. A minority of respondents were against the use of WhatsApp as part of the curriculum. Curiously, the majority of female teachers are opposed to using WhatsApp and other social media with their students on a casual basis. Note that this stands in stark contrast to other credible research as reported by Zaenalabedeen A.[7] The reason(s) for the conflicting data is unclear and beyond the scope of this paper. However, perhaps it is attributable in whole or in part to the fact that the respondents in this survey are also science/medical oriented.

Usage of WhatsApp and its Impact on Academic Performance

Almost half of the female educators disagreed to using WhatsApp to communicate with students (45.5%). The majority of the female educators (64%) were of the opinion that WhatsApp should not be used in class activities for the learning process. Only a third of them (33%), agreed that WhatsApp could improve the desire to study, (24%) were neutral, and 43% disagreed. About one-third of the female educators (32%) were of the opinion that traditional learning methods were more appropriate. The majority of the female educator participants (59%) were of the opinion that small size on mobiles makes it difficult for learning.

Most of the female student participants (56%) were against on using WhatsApp in class activities. Also, less than half of the female students believed that using WhatsApp can improve the desire to study (41%), whereas 23% were against the idea, and a considerable number (34%) were not quite sure if it would improve or not. Also, a sizeable number of participants (33%) preferred the traditional learning methods than using social networking. More than half of the female students (64%) also agreed, just like the female educators, that the small-sized screen on the mobiles makes it difficult to learn properly.

Majority of the male educators (67%) were puzzled about the value of WhatsApp to improve the desire to study. A sizeable number of male educators (43%) preferred the traditional learning methods than social networking. Most of the male educators (80%) were of the opinion that the small screen on mobiles makes it difficult for learning. However, the majority of the male students that participated (65%) chose that they would like to use WhatsApp in class for the learning process. Plus, a good number of male student participants (68%) agreed to use WhatsApp after class with colleagues. Almost half of the male students (48%) believed that using WhatsApp can improve the desire to study. This shows the popularity of WhatsApp amongst the students. Whereas around (39%) were not sure and (10/78, 13%) disagreed that it would not improve the desire to study. Less than half of male students agreed that they preferred the traditional learning methods. The majority of them (65%) believed that the small size screen of the mobiles makes learning difficult. This study coincides with the views of Fattah[8] in finding out that mobile phones are an important learning tool that contributes to the education and success of students. Also it is in similar to Suwantarathip and Orawiwatnakul,[9] and also Cumming, Strnadová and Singh[10] who stressed the importance of mobile devices. The results of the present study established the correctness of the results of the study by Williams, Birch, and Hancock,[11] who had demonstrated that online lectures are very much effective.

Disadvantages of WhatsApp as a Learning Tool

Most of the survey respondents agree that the physical limitations of mobile devices are a major issue with respect to using WhatsApp as a learning tool. Due to relatively small screen sizes among mobile devices, many report difficulties in seeing the learning content, especially multimedia. Perhaps an aggravating factor in this survey is that the Learning Management System (LMS) at the subject university is “Blackboard.” The LMS was designed for desktop or fixed computers rather than mobile devices. While many of its functions work well on mobiles, there are some well-known “bugs” and “limitations”, which are even identified in the help section of the Blackboard App (known issues). In addition, mobile device storage limitations dissuade many from using WhatsApp. While modern mobile devices have impressive storage capabilities, the amount of data available to users is enormous. Many participants report that they merely lack the storage space to make WhatsApp useful in an educational environment. This is similar to the observations made by Bouhnik, D, Deshen M.[12] Also, some users complain that using WhatsApp for mobile learning purposes drains the mobile device battery at an unacceptable rate. Given that mobile devices are now integrated into many aspects of student life, it is unsurprising that power storage and usage are a matter of concern in academia.

In addition, access to the internet and/or less than optimal internet speeds are a further impediment with respect to mobile devices. Internet infrastructure in many areas of the Kingdom, particularly in the rural areas, is often limited. Many of the subject students reside in rural, agrarian areas with little or no internet access. As such, using WhatsApp for anything beyond messaging while off campus is either impossible or impractical. Also even those areas with internet, the data speeds are relatively slow. This makes many WhatsApp functions, particularly multimedia, highly cumbersome while off campus. In short, inconsistent internet access is a hindrance to students using WhatsApp. This is similar to the observations of Sonia Gon and Alka Rawekar.[13]

Another impediment to the use of mobile technology is the fixed expense. Smartphones are relatively expensive to purchase. Higher end smartphones suitable for storing large amounts of information and fast processing (high random-access memory) are expensive. Lower end mobile devices may be incompatible or impractical for use with educational content due to storage and speed limitations. Battery life is also significant issue. While expensive state-of-the-art phones have good batteries, lesser phones often have more limited battery life. Students may not have enough power on a daily basis to review educational content while meeting other mobile usage demands.

Another impediment to educational usage is security. Some students might be wary of losing their data through a variety of mishaps (i.e., mobile lost or stolen/data systems hacked).[14] This might be of particular concern in the event that private patient information is available on multiple mobile devices.

  Conclusion Top

Implementing new technologies is often a double-edged sword, especially in an educational environment. There are potential benefits and costs, opportunities and risks. The usage of WhatsApp in an educational setting is no exception. The application’s inherent capabilities (i.e., multimedia, broadcasting, and group sharing) are undoubtedly impressive. Of course, these capabilities come at a cost (i.e., expensive hardware, paid internet access, and software training). WhatsApp offers potential benefits including the use of the ‘flipped classroom’ and the ability to use it on the web. These might make teaching more efficient and lead to more effective learning outcomes. On the other hand, there are risks such as wasted financial resources and security issues.

Ultimately, the question is whether the students and the educational institution can extract tangible benefits from using the technology that substantially exceeds the costs and risks. Oftentimes, technology is implemented without due and careful consideration. Inasmuch as new technologies are akin to ‘new toys’, some teachers and administrators adopt technology for technology’s sake. Sometimes these new technologies provide no net benefit for the students or the teachers. Meanwhile whatever the inherent costs and risks of implementing the technology remain. As such, new technology might even prove to be counter-productive to the course and to the overall mission of the institution. There can be other detrimental effects as well. Technologies that are ineffective can be bad for morale. Increased costs and workload without any benefit demoralize and frustrate both students and teachers. Further this can lead to missed opportunities by way of “Technology Exhaustion”. Failed technology implementation programs can make teachers and students reticent or even resistant to innovation. There may be excellent and beneficial technologies that get summarily passed over due to people’s distrust based on prior bad experiences. It is therefore imperative that any proposed technology enhancements and integration programs be carefully evaluated and monitored. Many teachers and administrators approve technology changes, but then mistakenly adopt a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude with respect to smooth and successful implementation and performance measurement. It is therefore necessary to make intelligent decisions with respect to technology.

Evaluating WhatsApp as an educational tool is straightforward but not easy. First, additional research is required. As set forth above, we would require additional information about the needs, habits, and preferences of a much greater sample size of college students from across the Kingdom. Also we would need to be able to carefully evaluate a reasonable sample size of teachers and students that have used and/or currently use WhatsApp as part of the curriculum. This might be difficult simply because not all teachers/students will use every one of WhatsApp’s capabilities. Finally, the data analysis to determine whether or to what degree students and teachers actually benefit from WhatsApp would be extremely complicated. The sample size would need to be rather large and the number of variables extensive. Empirical data based on surveys would be helpful, but these would necessarily be grand in scope and made over long periods of time to ensure the best possible reliability of learning outcomes based on both grades and attitudes.

Indeed, this research paper cannot practically answer the question of whether WhatsApp should be integrated into the course curriculum. However, the results herein, even if not indicative of overall national data, raise the proper issues and questions with respect to the procedure for wise and intelligent decision making in the future. The College of Applied Medical Sciences at Imam Abdurrahman bin Faisal University in Dammam is honored to participate in this research. The participants and the university enthusiastically and effectively played a small part in advancing the body of knowledge on technology implementation in academia.

  Recommendations Top

Based on the foregoing, the use of WhatsApp for educational purposes can be useful but has certain limitations and disadvantages. WhatsApp’s broadcasting, group sharing, and multimedia capabilities make the application an excellent tool for teaching and learning. Moreover, its inherent design for mobile usage can be ideal for people, such as students, who are frequently changing locations. Students can access learning material at their convenience, which is very useful for advanced learning methods such as the ‘flipped classroom’. Of course, applications such as WhatsApp are not perfect. Again, there are challenges and impediments to using WhatsApp for educational purposes. Hardware and data costs can be excessively burdensome on students. In addition, hardware limitations (i.e., battery life and data storage) might impede optimal use of WhatsApp. Moreover, internet access issues can further complicate successful student usage of the system.

It seems that WhatsApp is not sufficiently capable of meeting all of the student needs with few exceptions.

Students have different requirements and financial resources. Further, internet access across the nation is not uniform and is ipso facto often beyond the student’s control. Therefore, the authors herein have two recommendations.

First, as WhatsApp is not ready for full curriculum integration, we believe its usage should be determined at the classroom level. That is, the teacher and the students should decide whether to use WhatsApp for education, and if so, to what degree and for what purposes. This allows the interested parties to evaluate circumstances at a lower level that will best serve those teaching and taking a specific course.

Finally, the authors herein recommend further study on this subject. This research was limited to a single university in one region of Saudi Arabia. We believe that this study was worthwhile. However, the limited sample size can in no way accurately reflect the habits and preferences of the greater educational community throughout the Kingdom. It is our opinion that further research is both necessary and appropriate before incorporating WhatsApp or similar programs officially into a higher education curriculum. The authors herein plan to propose another study that is broader in scope and of a much larger sample size.


The author would like to thank the educators and the students of the College of Applied Medical Sciences at Imam Abdurrahman bin Faisal University for their gracious cooperation and input into this important research study.

Conflicts of Interest: None

  References Top

Yeboah J, Ewur GD. The Impact of Whatsapp Messenger Usage on Students Performance in Tertiary Institutions in Ghana. Journal of Education and Practice. 2014;5(6):157-64.  Back to cited text no. 1
Maniar DA, Modi MA. Educating Whatsapp Generation Through” Whatsapp. Zenith International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research. 2014;4(8):23-38.  Back to cited text no. 2
Anshari M, Almunawar MN, Shahrill M, Wicaksono DK, Huda M. Smartphones usage in the classrooms: Learning aid or interference? Education and Information Technologies. 2017;22(6):3063-79.  Back to cited text no. 3
Yalcinalp S, Gulbahar Y. Ontology and taxonomy design and development for personalised web-based learning systems. British Journal of Educational Technology. 2010;41(6):883-96.  Back to cited text no. 4
Barhoumi C. The Effectiveness of WhatsApp Mobile Learning Activities Guided by Activty Theory on Students’ Knowldege Management. Contemporary Educational Technology. 2015;6(3):221-38.  Back to cited text no. 5
Preston G, Phillips R, Gosper M, McNeill M, Woo K, Green D. Web-based lecture technologies: Highlighting the changing nature of teaching and learning. Australasian journal of educational technology. 2010;26(6).  Back to cited text no. 6
Zaenalabedeen A. Exploring Views of Teachers, Teacher Trainees and Educational Experts about E-Learning-based Teacher Training Programs in Saudi Arabia: An Empirical Study. 2016.  Back to cited text no. 7
Fattah SFESA. The Effectiveness of Using WhatsApp Messenger as One of Mobile Learning Techniques to Develop Students’ Writing Skills. Journal of Education and practice. 2015;6(32):115-27.  Back to cited text no. 8
Suwantarathip O, Orawiwatnakul W. Using Mobile- Assisted Exercises to Support Students’ Vocabulary Skill Development. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology-TOJET. 2015;14(1):163-71.  Back to cited text no. 9
Cumming TM, Strnadová I, Singh S. iPads as instructional tools to enhance learning opportunities for students with developmental disabilities: An action research project. Action Research. 2014;12(2):151-76.  Back to cited text no. 10
Williams A, Birch E, Hancock P. The impact of online lecture recordings on student performance. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 2012;28(2).  Back to cited text no. 11
Bouhnik D, Deshen M, Gan R. WhatsApp goes to school: Mobile instant messaging between teachers and students. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research. 2014;13(1):217-31.  Back to cited text no. 12
Gon S, Rawekar A. Effectivity of e-learning through WhatsApp as a teaching learning tool. MVP Journal of Medical Science. 2017;4(1):19-25.  Back to cited text no. 13
Farnam H. Mobile phone social harms (mobile phone, communicative device or crime tool). Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences. 2016;8(2):1196- 212.  Back to cited text no. 14


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]


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