When I scroll through my professional social media accounts, I see wonderful examples of creative and engaging lessons that utilize a social media platform. I have often wondered how educators utilize social media with their classes given the concerns over privacy, security, and transparency. For these reasons I kept my engagement with social media separate from my work with students in the classroom. I never used social media for teaching and learning, but various social media platforms were central to the lives of many of my students. Social trends became a common talking point in class and many of my students used social media to obtain information and also express themselves creatively. As educators, we must understand the significance of social media and its influence with students. Teens are using social media more than ever before, and in 2018, roughly 70% of students reported they use social media more than once a day. That’s an increase from 34% reported back in 2012 (Knutson, 2018). When contemplating ISTE Educator standards for Citizen and Facilitator, I feel that social media must be part of that conversation. Specifically, I’d like to focus on Instagram. Created in 2010, Instagram is a photo and video sharing social networking service. It is the second most widely used social media platform in the United States and fifth most used in the world, but the platform has received only limited attention from educational research (Carpenter et al., 2020). Largely due to how it presents information visually, Instagram distinguishes itself from other social media that are more text-focused. This visual appeal has led to both students and educators to leverage the tool to communicate knowledge and ideas in very engaging ways.
How can educators leverage Instagram to facilitate learning to support student achievement while modeling and mentoring students with managing digital identities?
What are some best practices for teachers to minimize risk and privacy issues who would like to use Instagram for educational purposes with their students?
ISTE Educator Standards:
3: Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world.
6: Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students.
According to a study conducted by Common Sense Education in 2018, most teens ages 13-17 are checking social media every hour and with over 50% saying that social media is very to somewhat important in their lives (Knutson, 2018). This reinforces what most already know: social media is a significant corner stone in contemporary culture especially for young people. These are powerful platforms of information however, the data also shows that very little of this time for tweens and teens are spent focused on creation rather than consumption (Higgin, 2017). We must not social media from school given how prevalent it is in the lives of our students. To support our students in becoming digital citizens, we as educators must provide opportunities for students to use social media for creation and to build a learning community while modeling responsible engagement and management of digital identities.
Do’s and Don’ts of using Instagram with students:
Common Sense Education offers a review of Instagram’s privacy concerns and tips for teachers on protecting student privacy. This is helpful in presenting some of the barriers and considerations of using any social media tool as well. Overall, Instagram scores a 57% warning rating because of possible safety and privacy concerns. Instagram collects a broad range of personal identifiable information. Some of this information, like access to a user’s contacts and facebook friends, can be blocked. Although Instagram’s terms state they will not rent or sell user’s information without consent, they still may share non-personal information with third-party organizations and advertising partners. It’s possible Instagram may use information from a user’s mobile device to be used by Instagram or a third party affiliate to track and target content. An additional concern that is common for most social networking platforms is the interaction among users. Instagram does have a compliance policy that governs what users can post and say, but this still could be deemed inappropriate for the age group of students you teach. Users can choose to make their content private, but this also does not allow for their own posted content to be more widely shared and searchable. There is also space for private messaging (direct messaging) that is problematic in an educational setting. Parallel to using other popular social platforms, using Instagram responsibly requires awareness, dispositional thinking, and sound judgment (Common Sense Privacy Evaluation for Instagram).
The reality is that most teens already have accounts on this platform (or ones with similar risks) and are engaging with it outside of an educational context. Using a platform like Instagram in your classroom can not only be a great opportunity for students to express themselves and practice key communication skills, but it can also support students’ digital citizenship skills that can be transferred to their personal uses with social platforms. It is also crucial to note that using Instagram for educational purposes qualifies it to be reviewed as an educational record under FERPA. The following are a list of best practice “Do’s and Don’ts” for teachers to use Instagram safely and transparently with students for educational purposes:
- Review your district’s social media guidelines.
- Communicate with your administration, families, and students how you will leverage Instagram in your class. Explain clear parameters to all stakeholders.
- Create an account strictly for professional use. Share your account information with your administration so that there are multiple adults overseeing the account.
- Use parental consent/op-out forms
- Instruct students to create a separate, private-account strictly for educational purposes that is also not tied to any identifying information, like email.
- Instruct students to never share personal identifiable information in their posts. Links to their posts can be shared through your school’s LMS so that you know who created which post.
- Use and teach basic photo-editing tools to remove sensitive information should there be a need.
- Take inventory and possibly remove any visible student/class information in your classroom.
- Be mindful of how your posts could commercialize your classroom.
- Closely review any picture/caption before posting. Model this skill for your students.
- Turn off location services.
- Consult with your district’s legal time to be mindful of FERPA related information.
- Teach healthy digital habits and anti-distraction techniques to support students healthy digital habits.
- Start using Instagram without consent/opt-out forms
- Share students’ faces or names without parental consent. It would be best to never share them at all.
- Make any grades, assessment, or any part of students educational/PI record public (FERPA)
- Forget that handwriting is personally identifiable information (FERPA)
- Communicate with students through private messaging on Instagram. Share any communication initiated by a student with your administration. Sharing your classroom professional account with your admin helps make the use of this platform transparent.
There are other potential barriers that need to be considered before using Instagram in your classroom such as:
- Access/ADA compliance is a major barrier educators need to be aware of when considering apps like Instagram.
- Distraction from ads and browsing.
- Spam followers or suspicious accounts. You may consider encouraging your students’ professional accounts to be private to limit this (they would need to approve your follow request for you to view their posts).
- the algorithm of some social media networks could also provide unwanted links.
- Potential publicizing of content where accounts outside of the classroom could interact with student accounts. Private accounts would help combat this.
- Lack of institutional support. Be sure to develop and communicate clear parameters to your administration as well as highlighting the benefits of using Instagram.
Using Instagram to facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement:
Students increasingly want their instructors to use social media as a learning tool while students are also reporting an increase in use of social media as a learning tool (Coffin & Fournier, 2015). When students use social media for educational purposes, they build connections with educators and peers that fosters a supportive learning community (Coffin & Fournier, 2015). Instagram, for example, has shown to “enable students to create a cooperative, collaborative and sharing atmosphere, supporting the formal classroom setting in addition to sharing class materials” (Erarslan, 2019). This same study supports the increase in students’ interaction time outside of the classroom and that students regard Instagram as a motivating tool fostering learning (Erarslan, 2019). So how can educators utilize a social platform like Instagram to create meaningful learning experiences, promote creative expression, and communicate learning effectively? Here are just a few examples to inspire you:
Instagram Portfolios: One way to leverage application is to consider a student’s professional Instagram account as a portfolio of learning. Throughout a unit of study or course term, students can use Instagram to convey their ideas and demonstrate competency-based learning. Students can create visual slides to communicate their learning while the caption of the post can provide additional context about the topic, assignment, or pose thoughtful questions related to their content to facilitate discourse in their comment sections. The limits for the number of photo slides and character length in the caption challenges students to convey their information concisely rather than a more long-winded medium like a formally written essay. Tips like these teach students how to curate their posts to attract more traffic and engage their audience; a useful skill applicable for branding and marketing. Educators can also use current trends for styles of posts to provide a scaffold for students to work off of similar to an essay outline. For example, “so you want to talk about…” has been a popular scaffold for instagram posts concerning a wide range of issues. Modeling different types of instagram posts teach students particular professional skills for the growing job market for social media managers.
Teaching literacy: Social media writing does not match standard classroom English norms, but they do follow patterns of language development. Instagram posts, and social media writing in general, is a great medium for teaching tone, conventions, and varying levels of formality. Just as we code-switch our language for different audiences we’re speaking to, Instagram can be used with other digital mediums to teach students code-switching their online language to fit the various audiences they aim to engage. Activities like Flip the Switch and lessons designed to analyze punctuation’s impact on tone can help students translate their knowledge of social media writing to the classroom and vice versa (King, 2017).
Instapoetry: Instapoetry is starting to carve out space for itself as its very own genre. Taking advantage of the visual elements of the Instagram platform, Instapoets contain short, free verse poems that are often paired with symbolic sketches or shared on images. Themes, colors, and images are the visual art considerations that enhance the poetry. Instapoetry can be interdisciplinary and empower students to express themselves creatively. Classes can study Instagram poets for common themes to help inform their own instapoetry (Gray, 2019).
Re-creation: Explore moments in history by challenging your students to imitate photographs or paintings.Consider a particular theme to drive student research and give students choice on which photo or artwork they’d like to investigate. Their posts can provide additional context about the photo or art.
Photojournalists: Students can attend and document a particular event. They strategically select pictures for their post that convey a particular tone for how they want to present their story. They can supplement their pictures with short video interviews and even write an article about the event that they can link to from their post.
Persona Posts: Students can take on the perspective of a particular individual or group to create a post from their point of view.
Instagram can serve as a powerful tool to foster students’ creative expression to communicate their ideas as well as build skills useful for the potential workforce they will enter. To do so appropriately requires educators to be transparent with all stakeholders, set clear parameters for the use of Instagram, and consult their institution’s policies. In addition to its varied uses for teaching and learning, what I did not explore in this module is how popular Instagram has become for educators’ professional use. Similar to a previous post I wrote about Twitter, educators are engaging with Instagram in similar ways for professional learning, networking, and identity construction (Carpenter et al., 2020). Instagram (and Twitter) can be employed to acquire and share knowledge as much as it can provide emotional support and develop community to combat isolation (Carpenter et al., 2020). While there are a growing number of studies examining educators personal and professional use of social media, there are less that explore Instagram use by students as a required part of coursework for secondary levels of education. I suspect that this will increase as Instagram use among young people continues to rise at a rapid pace and educators use of the platform for teaching and learning grows in response. State level and district policy makers will need to rethink how they can support these popular tools while protecting the safety and privacy of the students they serve.
Carpenter, J. P., Morrison, S. A., Craft, M., & Lee, M. (2020, November). How and why are educators using Instagram? Teaching and teacher education. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7380928/.
Coffin, T., & Fournier, J. (2015). Social Media in the Classroom: Opportunities, Challenges & Recommendations. University of Washington Information Technology. https://itconnect.uw.edu/learn/research/ecar-social-media/#opps.
Common Sense Privacy Evaluation for Instagram. The Common Sense Privacy Program. (n.d.). https://privacy.commonsense.org/evaluation/instagram.
Erarslan, A. (2019). Instagram as an Education Platform for EFL Learners. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 18(3), 54–69.
Gray, K. (2019, July 8). Using Instagram to Teach Poetry. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/using-instagram-teach-poetry.
Higgin, T. (2017, March). Protecting Student Privacy on Social Media: Do’s and Don’ts for Teachers. Common Sense Education. https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/protecting-student-privacy-on-social-media-dos-and-donts-for-teachers.
King, M. (2017, July 21). Social Media Posts as Exemplars. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-media-posts-exemplars-marissa-king.
Knutson, J. (2019, September). What New Research on Teens and Social Media Means for Teachers. Common Sense Education. https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/what-new-research-on-teens-and-social-media-means-for-teachers.