After a few trials, I developed a few guidelines that shape the way I use Instagram in class. As it is an on-going learning process, these guidelines are still open to improvement, but they’ve helped to a great extent. First of all, using personal accounts is not wise. Students will reach a point where they refuse to participate to not ruin their online images or to not spam their followers. Hence, asking students to create academic Instagram accounts is a requirement. Have them use their IDs and college emails to create these accounts. Make it clear that these accounts are only used for classroom purposes, that they should not share any private information, and that all their accounts must be set to be publicly viewed. This will eliminate the “it’s embarrassing to post this” complaint that can greatly limit your activities. It will also limit the amount of irrelevant posts that will spam your feed. It’ll also make it a lot easier to identify students; anyone can be a @blueprinces29, but only one student can be @9238273 in section 2 for example. Another technique that helped me identify students is to post a picture with their section’s name from the beginning and to ask students to post a comment from their accounts with their names. If there was ever a need to learn who is posting from a certain account, you can always go back to that post to identify that student from his/her comment.
Having learners post their content without your acknowledgement is a demotivater. Following their accounts is a good start. Acknowledging their content and appreciating it can be done in many ways: displaying it in class (via projector), liking their pictures, and posting comments. Also, having others interact with their posts, as part of activities, is a great source of motivation. They love it when others comment on their pictures, no matter what kind of comment it is. Formal acknowledgements are also helpful. You can assign badges for students who post X number of posts or comment on Y number of posts by others.
Another main issue to keep in mind is to make sure the hashtags you use for your classes are unique and not previously used (you can explore the hashtag before using it to ensure that). Otherwise you’ll risk having your students explore hashtags that might contain inappropriate or irrelevant con- tent. Assigning a hashtag for each week was the easiest way for my classes, for example #EN- G100week1, #ENG100week2, and so on. Also, after noticing that many students like to share photos just for the sake of sharing (with English captions of course), it could be useful to create a general hashtag for your class, a lounge hashtag.
Avoid posting questions that have one correct answer. Students will end up copying each other (including each other’s mistakes). I tried to require students to answer only one question, but some students could get excited and answer all questions. And, avoid making these tasks too challenging or unclearly related to their learning objectives/needs. I would also generally call for avoiding having students search for content that is not controlled by you (like general hashtags or keywords).
One last best practice advice is to not burden yourself or overuse it. Sometimes, we could get excited about a new tool that we could overuse it to the extent that it become redundant and boring. It’s not a goal to reach; rather it’s a tool that should only be used when relevant and needed.
Using Instagram in my language classes was a challenge at first. Not all students were excited at first because they only saw it as a way to “ruin” their Instagram experience by using it for class. I think this was mainly because they couldn’t see the possibility of using Instagram to learn more than makeup techniques or fashion tips. However, after improving the way Instagram is integrated in class, students loved it! These activities got them highly engaged and motivated to actively complete tasks. The excitement of being the sole owner of a picture that is displayed in class and seen by others got to them. They do not only love to take pictures, but they enjoy the challenge of following a set of instructions without limiting their creativity. They also were happy about the fact that they were finally able to post English captions that make sense without using Google translate, something they usually struggle with.
What grabbed my attention the most is their reactions when I assign an activity that require them to produce something written. Once they know that they’ll be posting it on Instagram to be viewed and commented on by their classmates, most of them would ask for another paper to redo their assignment or frantically go about trying to make their assignment look neat and be correct. Although, this could be mean spending more time on a task that was already supposedly done, it was always worthwhile to have them pay more attention to their products and make sure they meet expectations if not exceed them. I also found it noteworthy that they often log into their academic Instagram accounts after class (on their own) and respond to bonus activities I continuously post, without being asked to do so.
After using it for two semesters, I’d say: give it a try. If not for in-class use, then think of using it as a backup plan that is always there for you. Keep posting content whenever you see something that can work for you and address your learning objectives and keep it for later use, or post it to your bonus activities hashtag. You can see more of these activities on an account I’ve created for conference presentations: http://instagram.com/confinsta
1 A hashtag is a keyword that describes your content. It should start with a # and no spaces separate words. Once its used for the first time, an archive is automatically created for this hashtag to view all posts that use it.