This year, I wanted to create a community where students felt comfortable and secure, without feeling pressured to be present in an academic community at all times. I chose to make a point of engaging with my students through technology and debated a variety of platforms: LMS’ like Google Classroom and Schoology, Google+ groups, Twitter, and Instagram. For me, Instagram is the perfect choice for meeting students at their level and focusing on our interaction rather than something worth points toward a numerical grade.
Once I chose Instagram, I could not find any guidelines or helpful hints for getting started! Through many searches and twitter chats, I cobbled together an idea of what decisions needed to be made, and what research needed to be done, to get one started. I hope that I save a few other educators time by sharing the questions I contemplated before starting a classroom Instagram account.
1. What is your goal? Why is Instagram part of your class?
Like any technology, there is the hazard of creating a class Instagram account because it seems interesting or fun. It it easy to jump on board with a new app or program with the intention to use it for the entire school year, but then drop it when you realize that it doesn’t enhance student learning or your classroom environment.
Starting and stopping with many different tools and resources is exhausting and unfocused. Students and teachers end up feeling tired and overwhelmed by all the available resources.
I would recommend choosing an app or tool with a goal in mind and the committing to it for at least the first semester. If you are thinking about Instagram, why did this jump to mind? How will you utilize Instagram? For homework reminders? To share picture of student work or students working?
Be sure that Instagram is the right tool for your classroom. What are the benefits of Instagram over other types of social media or educational apps? What are the limits of Instagram when communicating with your students? Are you going to be able to commit to posting on a regular basis?
My answer: I want to create a community through images and sidestep the pressures of the 24 hour learning environment on a Learning Management System (LMS) like Schoology or Canvas. Instagram is a social platform that students already use, rather than one they have to learn strictly for academic use.
Student feedback indicates that they appreciate finding Earth Science information on the Instagram feed that they already look at on a daily (hourly?) basis. Instead of learning a new system or signing up for text and email reminders, they just connect with our class on social media. Also, Instagram is an excellent way to bring valuable lessons in digital citizenship into my classroom while students connect with Earth Science and each other.
2. What will you name your account? What will your handle be?
Choosing an Instagram handle is an important decision, especially if you are hoping to make Instagram part of your classroom for years to come. The name of your account is the first thing students will see about your class Instagram and will be their first impression of using social media with their teacher. Questions to consider:
- Is your Instagram handle appropriate? Check with some friends to make sure there is no possibility of multiple meanings or unintentional innuendo.
- Is it easy to spell and remember?
- Will it be easy for students to find you on Instagram with your handle?
- Does your handle mesh well with your goals for Instagram?
- Is that handle or some variation of that handle already taken? Will it be difficult for students to distinguish between your Instagram handle and one very similar to yours?
My answer: I chose @earthsciedu as our Instagram handle. It is simple and easy to remember for students. We also use earthsciedu as our Socrative code, so they have it memorized by now. I personally chose not to include my name to ensure that the focus was on earth science education and my students rather than my classroom.
3. Will your account be private or public?
So, what does this mean? A public Instagram account is visible to, and can be followed by, any other Instagram user. If someone found one of your images or your account, they could immediately access all of the images you have ever posted. A private Instagram account is only visible to followers that you approve; your images do not show up in general search results and can only be seen by your followers.
My answer: Public. One of my goals was to create a social space and to have a public setting for students to share their work and accomplishments. I also want to create an opportunity for us to discuss digital citizenship in our classroom. Therefore a public Instagram account was the best option for us.
4. How old are your students?
My answer: In 9th grade all my students are over age 13 and therefore are of the age to have Instagram. I also do not require students to have an Instagram account, they can follow (or not) as they choose. Additionally, please see question #8.
5. What are your school policies on student privacy?
If you don’t know the answer, find out! Many schools have student privacy forms that parents fill out each year. Parents can indicate that no photos may be taken of their child during school or for publications (etc.) and it is your responsibility to find out. There are many reasons parents make this choice, from personal privacy concerns to custody disagreements, and their wishes need to be respected.
My answer: I checked with both our guidance department and main office staff as well as communicating the purpose of our Instagram account with parents before sharing photos of students on our class Instagram.
6. How do you want to interact with students on Instagram?
Likes/Hearts: The easiest and most common method of interaction, click the heart or double-tap the image to like it.
Comments: Students and, if you have a public Instagram, other people can comment on your images. Comments can be used to collect student feedback, responses to questions, or to provide them with a space to ask questions of you.
Hashtags: Like any other social media, hashtags create a common and searchable language that makes it easier for users to find posts. Some popular hashtags for educators on Instagram are #teachersfollowingteachers #iteachtoo and #teachersofinstagram.
Direct Messages (DM): On your Instagram home screen, there is an icon that looks like an inbox tray in the top right corner of your screen. If you click this icon, you can send direct messages including text and images to one person.
Tagging: Similar to Twitter, if you add a person’s Instagram handle to an image or comment, they will be notified. Tagging streamlines communication by ensuring the person who is tagged knows that you are interacting with them.
My answer: I have tested out each method of interaction over the course of the semester and will be using each of these tools to interact with my students.
Comments are the simplest way to interact with your students on Instagram. For example, in the image below, I asked students a review question prior to an exam and they responded to the question in the comments.
I also use Instagram to showcase student work. In this example, I shared selected images of cross sections that students created in a mastery assignment. I used hashtags like #earthscience to help other earth science educators find these images and #crosssection for our classroom so that student could find each of the cross section images.
Initially, I was hesitant to use Direct Message or DMs with my students, but they have proven to be an easy way for students to submit photographic evidence of their work. In this instance, I needed a photograph of their certificate of completion after we practiced triangulating earthquakes in an online simulation. Submitting images through DMs has been more successful than email because there is no risk of students typing in my email address incorrectly.
Lastly, I have found that my students are used to being tagged in images or comments. If I do not tag them in a comment that is directed at them, they might not see it until much later.
For example, a student asked a question about a lab in a comment and I replied, but did not tag her in the reply. Unfortunately, she did not see the comment before coming to school. This student taught me (very quickly) how to tag someone in an image or comment and I will continue to do so to encourage open lines of communication.
7. Can students contribute to your class account or hashtag?
Will you hand over the camera to your students during class or the school day? Would it be valuable for students to choose the images being shared on the class Instagram account? Are there hashtags that you will use to allow students to contribute to a stream of images about a certain topic?
My answer: In our second semester, I am hoping to increase student contributions by starting a student of the week program and creating hashtags specific to our class.
8. How will you make parents part of the conversation?
As always, the more transparent you are about your motivations and goals, the more comfortable and at ease people will be. If for any reason you feel that you need to keep your class Instagram account a secret from anyone, don’t start one. While you may choose to have a private Instagram account for student privacy, communication and interaction with students on social media should be open and honest, not secretive.
Additionally, you need buy-in from parents. They are in charge of their children’s online presence and they need to know how and why you will be interacting with students on social media.
My answer: I put information about the class Instagram in our syllabus and discussed the reasons for it with parents at back-to-school night. To my delight, the parents were enthusiastic; some even started their own Instagram accounts to follow us!
I also have table tents on student desks so that any student, teacher, administrator, or parent that comes into the room is aware of our class Instagram. It makes people feel that they can join any time and keeps our classroom social media public. If you feel the need to have social media interactions with students hidden rather fully visible, please carefully consider the purpose of your social media interactions.
Get Your Free 8 Question Guide to Starting a Class Instagram Workbook
If you are ready to tackle these questions and start your own class Instagram, download the free 8 Question Guide to Starting a Class Instagram workbook Google doc and make a copy! The workbook provides a space for you to determine if Instagram is the best social media platform for your classroom, brainstorm how you could use Instagram to enhance your class, and organize your thoughts and to-dos around creating a class Instagram account.
- Download your free 8 Question Guide to Starting a Class Instagram workbook and create a plan to interact with your classes on Instagram.
- Share with us in the comments: How do you currently use social media to interact with your classes? and What is your greatest concern or obstacle regarding interacting with students on social media?