If you’re a middle or high school teacher, chances are your students are on Snapchat. Should you be too?
Many teachers are understandably skeptical. Isn’t Snapchat used for sexting, or at least for silly filters and selfies? What educational value could it possibly have?
A small but growing group of teachers is using the social media app as a way to push more learning outside of the classroom and onto students’ smartphones. After all, Snapchat’s user base is growing and becoming more engaged. And according to the company, almost a quarter of Snapchat’s monthly U.S. users is 13- to 17-year-olds (the largest chunk of the company’s user base is 18- to 24-year-olds, at 37 percent).
Still, despite the opportunity to reach students where they undoubtedly are, many teachers remain wary. How engaging can a 10-second snap be?
We’ll look at some of the ways teachers use Snapchat for instruction.
(Important disclaimer: Snapchat’s Terms of Service say that users must be at least 13 years old to have an account, so this guide is primarily for high school teachers. Teachers should also refer to their school or district’s policies on contacting students on social media.)
How does Snapchat work?
Snapchat has an extensive guide of everything you need to know to get started, but here are the basics. “Snaps” are picture or video messages that are sent to friends. They last up to 10 seconds after they are viewed and then disappear (unless the receiving party screenshots the message). You can add lines of text to your snaps or “draw” on the picture with different colors.
You can send snaps directly to specific people on your friend list, or you can post them to your “story,” where anyone who added you as a friend can view them—they stay public for up for 24 hours before disappearing.
You can add friends on Snapchat either by having their number in your phone’s contact list, or by knowing their username.
What should teachers know?
You probably don’t want to see what your students post on their personal Snapchat account, so the best way to start might be to give students your Snapchat user name and have them add you. You don’t need to add them back for them to be able to see your stories (depending on your privacy settings). You can add as many 10-second snaps as you want to your story—it’s like a day-long photo album.
You can also see how many of your students viewed your story to gauge what kind of reach you’re getting.
So how can Snapchat be used for instruction?
Teachers can use snap stories for several different educationally appropriate reasons: As reminders of an upcoming homework project or test, as a bite-size lesson, or as a way to make connections within the curriculum.
Earlier this year, NPR profiled a college professor, Michael Britt, who uses Snapchat in his introductory psychology class. His lessons can easily be applied to high school—Britt posts snaps of real-life examples of what he taught in class right before exams so students look at them when they’re studying.
He explains concepts like systematic desensitization and deindividuation in 10-second videos, using real-world examples. For instance, he shared a video of his young niece in a ballerina tutu, standing on one leg, to reinforce the fact that the cerebellum in the brain controls balance.
Matt Miller, a high school Spanish teacher in Indiana, blogged about 15 ways teachers can use Snapchat—highlighting ideas ranging from student takeovers, where students run your Snapchat account for the day as part of a lesson, to sharing amusing uses of content, like a clever math meme. Other good examples:
14. Speech bubbles -- Once you've taken a picture in Snapchat, use the drawing feature to add a speech bubble (draw an outline of it and fill it in with white). Add a funny, interesting or thought-provoking quote next to someone (or something's) picture. If students follow you, they can send these snaps to you to engage in your content. 15. Ask a question -- Want to bring up an interesting question in class? Stoke the fire by asking it on Snapchat before class. It'll give students time to think about it beforehand. If students follow you back, they can reply with a snap of their own!
Another ‘Snapping’ teacher-blogger, Ashley Bailey, put it this way: “I am building the skill to distill the essence of my lessons (for class purposes) into relevant, pithy, personality-rich packages for my own benefit as much as for the benefit of my students.”
College professor Britt said Snapchat is a way for him to ensure that his students are learning a little when they’re not in class.
And one of his students’ quote is telling: “When you’re sitting in an 8 a.m. lecture, it’s hard to listen to a professor. You may be listening but you’re not processing anything. [On Snapchat], it’s easier to retain information there than it is in class.”
On another one of Miller’s blog posts about Snapchat, a poster named Nathan commented:
We (educators) often balk at Social Media with students because of "all the bad things" that happen. We also sit baffled why our students would rather stare at their phone then learn. ... Why not Snap what's for homework or upcoming projects? We all know a student couldn't handle having an unopened snap on their profile. Let's meet our students where they are in the social media world and show the world that Social Media isn't all about inappropriate content.
Also, the app can be used to loop parents into their children’s learning. U.S. News spoke to educators at a school with its own Snapchat account and found that parents follow along too.
Can Snapchat be used for professional development?
Actually, yes—and in pretty compelling ways. Some teachers are using Snapchat to document their classroom in action.
-- Ms. York (@Room36Aloha) May 18, 2016
Visiting the classroom of another teacher can be a great opportunity for professional development—but one that is logistically tricky to accomplish in real life. But with Snapchat, some teachers are showing what learning looks like in their classroom. For example, teacher Ann Kozma posted a Snapchat story of how she uses educational technology like augmented reality to engage her students.
What are the drawbacks?
Snaps do disappear, leaving some educators frustrated. There are times when it would helpful to be able to replay the snap, or come back to it to reflect.
Also, it’s hard to imagine that such a short clip would have a significant impact on learning. Snapchat could reinforce or supplement lessons taught in class, but it probably can’t replace more in-depth learning processes.
Something else to keep in mind: One of the main draws of Snapchat for teenagers is that it seems like an adult-free zone. If Snapchat starts to feel too much like school, students aren’t going to engage like you might hope. Snapping educators recommend that you don’t make it mandatory for students to follow you on Snapchat, and you keep the tone light.
But if all goes well, you could be seen as a very cool teacher.
A student scoffed at me, saying, “What could teachers Snapchat about?”
Well, I showed her! Checkmate, youth! pic.twitter.com/14icyb17Mm
-- Jarrod Bolin (@JarrodBo) April 5, 2016
Teachers, have you experimented with using Snapchat for education? Share your ideas or concerns in the comments.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.