A point hammered home by the pandemic is how much organization and support was required for online communication to be effective and how these were often taken for granted. Even though social network service (SNS) apps such as LINE were being utilized in various ways before the pandemic (Pollard, 2015; Van De Bogart & Wichadee, 2015; McCarty et al., 2017; Chen Hsieh et al., 2017; White, 2017), these were for teaching and delivering content. Although these are interesting avenues to explore, this piece discusses the applicability of LINE in relation to supporting the administration of classes.
LINE is an ‘instant communication app’ that works on a variety of devices. Created by the South Korean company Naver, it was initially developed after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami because the founder of Naver and a team of engineers were visiting Japan at that time and created the app to deal with issues arising from that situation (Wikipedia, 2022). Steinberg categorises LINE along with WeChat and KakaoTalk as as "do-everything apps" and "mega-platforms" unto themselves (2020, para 1). For me, using the app as an administrative adjunct arose after the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes, where we had to contact all of our students in our department. At first, we could only get in touch with a handful of students on LINE. However, we created groups and they were able to then reach out and invite more students, so that in less than a week we had 98% coverage. While there was a heightened sense of urgency, no other platform could offer this coverage.
Since then, we have set up dedicated groups for each year’s intake of new students. We first make a group chat with the suisen (students entering the university via recommendations) at a pre-entrance seminar, asking them to join and write a two-to-three sentence introduction to that group chat. Then, in the orientation, I share my QR code, and students add me as friend, who are then marked as “added by QR code.” I then friend them and add them to the list. I do this so I can change their names on the app to something I can work with (last 4 digits of their student number and name in romaji). Other teachers are added to the list, and it becomes a virtual notice board. By cross-checking with the class roll, I can ask students on the list to invite other students, and it can be used by the department for announcements, requests to particular students, and changes in room or schedule.
If organized in this way, the app can be leveraged in some surprising ways. For instance, it is easy to make LINE groups for individual classes for part-time teachers. Individual students can be tagged in a list by inputting the “@” mark and then typing a few digits or letters of the name you have given the selected students. Ad hoc groups can be quickly created and deleted when no longer needed.
You can also send not only photos, audio or video files, but also PDFs and Word files. I am in the habit of sending the handouts that will be used in class the day before class, as well as corrected essays, which can be dropped and dragged into the computer-based version of the app. These files are not retained permanently and expire after 30 days.
LINE also provides a measure of accountability; students who miss classes because of quarantine requirements are asked to contact me before class to get the Zoom link. I started doing this when students were joining lectures remotely through Zoom without notifying me, assuming that this fulfilled the class requirements. Renewing the Zoom link and requiring them to specifically request that link helps me keep track of who will be present for lectures remotely and makes them a little more responsible for the course.
I also use the LINE group to do various tasks, such as posting short class reviews, sending reminders, offering previews of upcoming class content, sending photographs of group work, and sending links or forms. LINE is useful for administrative purposes such as the tasks mentioned above. However, I would not recommend using LINE for teaching activities because the improvements made to the app are for communication rather than for teaching. For example, even though McCarty et al. (2017) proposed using LINE to “enhance students’ English language competence, especially their literacy, in the process of interacting with other students online” (p. 36), with in-app translation, using LINE when in-app translation is available makes it impossible to know if the student improving their literacy or having the translator do the work. However, the goal of making the app simpler to use in communication between two different languages makes it excellent for administrative tasks.
I could introduce LINE in this way due to the dislocation caused by the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. At some other institutions, full-time and part-time instructors may be discouraged from using LINE, due to privacy concerns. One way to deal with this is to ask students to create a class group and have the students invite each other with you joining after the list is completed, thus making this a student adjunct to the class. This also provides a way for part-time teachers working at several institutions to have a single system to deal with as each institution might employ differing LMSs, which can be complicated to use and often poorly translated into English (if English translations are provided at all).
In fact, one could argue that LINE represents a form of normalisation, a notion suggested by Bax (2003, 2011) in which users are no longer aware of a tool as technology. One would be hardpressed to find a student who did not know how to use LINE. Most of the uses for LINE that I mentioned are to substitute how I used to give announcements in class, such as informing students of who has and has not finished, planned activities for the next class, and other class announcements. In a sense, LINE is normalised in the same way as Bax’s pencil: students do not think of the app as being used to teach them English, a fact further supported by the Japanese colleagues using our LINE group for their own classroom management. Before we are English teachers, we are teachers, with all the challenges that brings. LINE allows us to handle those challenges a little more deftly.
Bax, S. (2003). CALL—past, present and future. System, 31(1), 13–28. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0346-251X(02)00071-4
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Chen Hsieh, J. S., Wu. W. V., & Marek, M. (2017). Using the flipped classroom to enhance EFL learning, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 30(1–2), 1–25, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2015.1111910
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Pollard, A. (2015). Increasing awareness and talk time through free messaging apps. English Teaching Forum, 53(1), 25–32.
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White, A. R. (2017, July). User acceptance of the Line application in an educational context. CreTech 5th International Conference on Creative Technology Conference Proceedings.