WhatsApp as a Tool to Facilitate Continued Adjustment of First Time Entering Students Into University During COVID–19 Lockdown Restrictions





WhatsApp, First-time entering students, e-Learning, Orientation, Student success, Academic dropout wheel


The Covid-19 pandemic forced universities into emergency remote learning. For universities situated in a country where internet connectivity prices are high, network coverage is low, and most students live in rural areas, this presented a unique set of problems. One of the issues is that traditional orientations were face-to-face for first-time entering students (FTENs) at universities, and they had to be moved online due to lockdown restrictions and the desire to save the academic year. For the university concerned, this presented challenges in accessing students due to their low digital literacy skills and infrastructure limitations. The study employed a quantitative exploratory research approach to assess whether WhatsApp, a low-cost communication tool offering features like affordable data bundles, group creation, and accessibility, could facilitate student engagement and support during the COVID-19 lockdown at a rural university campus. The aim was to investigate if utilizing WhatsApp could foster a sense of belonging among students, potentially mitigating dropout rates and preventing students from falling behind. The hypothesis posited a positive correlation between using WhatsApp for academic support and student retention, ultimately leading to enhanced success rates. The study used the 'Academic Dropout Wheel, a theoretical framework developed by Naaman (2021), which identifies key factors contributing to academic dropout and provides strategies for intervention. The results of a quantitative questionnaire on 181 of the 2022 cohort of FTENS at the campus revealed that students felt more at ease, had a feeling of belonging and ownership of the university, and knew where to ask for help through the effective use of WhatsApp. This paper concludes that if professionally managed, WhatsApp can be an effective tool to facilitate continued adjustment and integration of FTENs into the university.

Author Biographies

Tshepo Rabotapi, Walter Sisulu University, South Africa

I am an Instructional Designer at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. I am a firm believer that technology should be used to achieve greater social justice,  reach the disadvantaged, promote UBUNTU and contextualise learning. my areas of interest are e-access, blended learning and capacity development. 

Samson Matope, Walter Sisulu University, South Africa

Teacher Development Specialist, Directorrate Of Learning and teaching, Walter Sisulu University Komani campus



8 Jul 2024