The Instagram Challenge for Teachers

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By monitoring the use of social networks in the classroom, teachers are also showing students how to create and protect their digital identity.

Have you integrated social media into your teaching-learning process? Right now, Instagram is one of the most popular social network services in the world. With one billion active users, it is the sixth most-used social networks, below only Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, FB Messenger and WeChat, according to the Global Digital 2019 report. This means that since the current world population, according to data from the US Census Bureau (in real time), is approximately 7.568 billion, about one-seventh of all the people on Earth, are connected to Instagram.  

Why Instagram?

Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular social media sites among young people between 18 and 30 years old. Even though Facebook still reigns supreme in social networks, it is important to analyze which user types prefer it over other applications. One reason could be that teenagers feel more comfortable using a different social network than their parents or that is popular among older people. Hence the opportunity we have as teachers to connect with our students in a medium in which they feel comfortable.

Social media in education

Using social networks in the classroom generates a dynamic that will increase students’ active participation and enhance the development of their tech competencies and information skills to check data that has just been shared or to delve further into a topic. Properly-oriented information skills encourage the development of high-level cognitive processes. With our help, students will be able to analyze any information they find and decide whether or not it is reliable, thereby developing their critical analysis and decision-making capacities.

Instagram allows us to post photos and interact with students by conducting short surveys, sharing stories and providing instant feedback to connect with them through a simple ‘like’ or emoticons. By monitoring the use of social networks in the classroom, teachers are also showing students how to create and protect their digital identity. Networks are communication, entertainment and business media, but students must understand the importance of maintaining their privacy and making good use of their digital identity at all times, to avoid situations that could jeopardize their physical and moral integrity.

Furthermore, the use of social networks in class allows teachers to implement the flipped classroom strategy, in which students play a fundamental role in the preliminary search for information that we, as teachers, subsequently complement.

How to get started?

The first step is to create our Instagram account, making sure that it is professional and that our profile reflects this. We don’t want to share every detail of our private lives with our students, though perhaps a few from time to time, so they can understand that we are "normal" people who have good days and bad days and that we know how to have fun as well. We can use Instagram to post funny or comical photos and even memes that will achieve a connection with the subject we are teaching and the knowledge we seek to transmit.

If we already have a professional Instagram account, the next step will be to get our students involved. But how? First, with simple activities to engage them, such as short surveys. Let them respond and feel that they are participating, i.e., give them a voice outside the classroom as well. With Instagram’s new features, we can implement short surveys or polls, use geolocation, mention people and even use a hashtag that identifies us as a group, thus assuring, to some extent, the generation of a sense of belonging.

Later on, we can ask students to share a photograph that reflects the content of a topic and to write about it. We will need to manage a "core hashtag," which means putting our domain on the network. This hashtag should be as specific or as long as possible, so that only the right target audience uses it, for example, #studentstecmtycampussinaloacalculusIem2019gpo1. It is rather long, but this specification degree is necessary to assure we have the right users and not too many "interlopers." Getting started is always the most challenging part, but after this stage, you can consult other ideas for classroom activities that use Instagram.

Finally, "follow" accounts or hashtags related to your profile. Here is a list of education Instagram influencers you could follow. You should also look for trending topics related to education or that use words in their # associated to the subject you teach, such as, in my case as a math teacher: mathematics, math, love math, physics, experiments, educational games, etc.

There are many advantages to belonging to this social network. A new feature was recently installed that will allow us to buy items or services within this app, turning Instagram into something like a new Amazon for us. If the network’s popularity is growing day by day, why not take advantage of this momentum to give education a helping hand it needs?

About the author

Argentina Garza Gastélum (argentina.garza@tec.mx) holds a B.Sc. in Industrial and Systems Engineering and a Master’s degree in Humanistic Studies, specializing in Ethics. She teaches science and mathematics at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Sinaloa.