*This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on February 25, 2019. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
Snapchat is a video/photo-sharing app that has become nearly ubiquitous with young people due to a couple of unique features. One, the shared content automatically disappears after a set time. A shared Snap (a single image or video) goes away after being viewed by the recipient, while a Story (a collection of images or videos) disappears after 24 hours. Second, it allows users to add cartoon images to the content, such as the bunny noses that you see reposted on Facebook. It also has filters for changing the color and other aspects of shared images, captioning, and texting options.
I wanted to see how communication in my class could be enhanced by leveraging a social media app that students were already using. Specifically, I had four goals in mind:
- Improve instructor presence.
- Engage and connect students outside of the course site to build community and encourage the development of friendships that might extend past graduation.
- Address frequently asked career-related questions, which come up regularly, but are not part of the curriculum.
- Explore the potential use of a new social media platform in online education as a professional development activity, moving us all out of our comfort zones.
Participation was voluntary, so I was careful to not post any information about the course via Snapchat that was not also available in the LMS. No graded assignments required the use of Snapchat. I essentially invited students to use Snapchat as they wished to see what would happen.
Here are the steps I followed to get the class started with Snapchat:
- Course announcement. At the beginning of week two, I invited students to participate in what I considered would be a social media and communication adventure. I provided a link to more information and emphasized that participation was completely voluntary.
- Student guide. I shared a Google Doc that described my goals for the project, what students could expect each week, how to get started with Snapchat, and how to connect with me on the Snapchat platform.
- Activity planning matrix. Mapping out the course modules, I created a plan for when and what I would “Snap” or share each week: Mondays – general announcements, Thursdays – assignment reminders, Friday – career tips.
A small number of students joined my Snapchat adventure, but I was overwhelmed by the different ways these students used the app to communicate. Here are just a few examples of the interaction we experienced via Snapchat:
- Assignment clarification. A student snapped a picture of assignment instructions on her computer screen with the question: “It says there is a checklist for the peer reviews. Where can I find that?” Well, there wasn’t a “checklist,” so I was able to quickly respond and direct her to a rubric, and then change the wording in the assignment to improve the instructions for everyone.
- Making connections. I eventually added a Saturday Snap to my routine, sharing small details about my travel, hobbies, etc. After sharing a Snap that showed long-awaited good weather, a student replied using the chat tool to say, “Looks relaxing. My son had a band concert tonight that was pretty good.” On another Saturday I shared a screenshot of my grading interface (no personal information visible) with the caption, “Rainy days are good for catching up with grading … and perhaps a lot of email.” A student replied “I’m doing the same today … lesson plans and finishing grading. Progress reports go home this week.”
- Bitmoji integration. I quickly realized that it’s easy to use Bitmoji with Snapchat. Bitmoji is an app that allows you to create a custom cartoon avatar of yourself. This enhanced the experience as my students and I communicated with Snaps and chat messages using our Bitmojis to express thoughts and emotions. I wondered if the use of avatars would help students get comfortable expressing themselves to others and I found that it did seem to help us get to know each other a little better.
I deployed two surveys during the last week of classes. Of the students that participated, half had not tried Snapchat before the class started. All of them found the Monday announcements, Thursday reminders, and Friday career tips “useful,” while half found the Saturday posts “useful” and “fun.”
I also asked this group to weigh in on my goals. Everyone agreed that I was able to enhance my instructor presence in the course, while half said that my Snapchat use impacted their engagement and addressed relevant career topics.
As my comfort level with Snapchat grows, I will be offering more meaningful opportunities for students to interact using the app. For example, once I realized you could add an attachment to a Snap, a host of sharing options opened up (e.g., sharing the survey link via a Snap). It would also be interesting to tie Snapchat into an assignment. Students could, for example, submit an article critique through a narrative series of images and videos as a Snapchat Story, instead of a paper or presentation.
If you are interested in trying Snapchat in your courses, don’t be afraid to share your newness with using the app with your students. Students are more willing to help you learn about the app. It also helps to have a “buddy” in the process. Find a colleague who is interested in trying something new with you and share your successes, failures, confusion, and discoveries along the way. Stepping out of my comfort zone never seems to get easier, but almost always proves to be worth the effort.
Melissa A. Venable teaches instructional design and project management at the University of South Florida and Saint Leo University.