If you had asked me a year ago “what is Instagram?”, I would have answered you glibly, “something to do with photos”. Social media was not a large part of my life! Then my online teaching became full-time and the technological aspects of my life started changing dramatically.
One of the often-undiscussed aspects of teaching is the relationships that you build with your students outside timetabled teaching time. The early morning interactions, the rainy breaktimes in the classroom, the little conversations between lessons… When students get to know their teachers as more than a teaching robot it enhances the teaching-learning experience and can dramatically increase interest and enthusiasm for a subject.
Sitting at a desk in an office, trying to create a classroom feeling on an internet course for CambriLearn was one challenge; finding an informal way to get to know my students was another. Then the suggestion was made – we’re an internet-based school so why not use internet-based informal communication?! And Instagram entered my life…
I started out with a huge amount of trepidation but as I explored more, I discovered an entire group of people just like me! Instagram has thousands of nerds! There is an endless list of people who are dedicated to learning and research. There is an entire community focused on studying #studygram. This was the start of a whole new adventure, and the discovery of an entirely new aspect of learning.
When I acquired 17 new followers overnight because someone mentioned that they liked my maths notes, then it was all confirmed… I had social interaction and connections because of maths. There is a whole community of students out there who are involved and participating in a study-focused lifestyle.
On my last check before posting this blog… #studygram boasted 1.8 million posts.
Motivation for successful studying
“If only he/she realised how important it is” is a statement often made by both parents and teachers. If students understood the importance of their education, they would actually find it easier to do the work. Motivation is a major ingredient of successful studying. When students take responsibility for their learning, they create a vastly better learning environment for themselves.
Even strong students have wobbles when it comes to motivation and one of the top outcomes of my survey was that students are becoming more motivated to study. 86% of respondents believe that Instagram can act as a motivational tool for studying.
Survey respondents also left anonymous comments:
“A great community of motivation and inspiration, working for goals and dreams.”
“When I see others doing work, it motivates me to do the same.”
“I was lazy to work before using Instagram but now I see everyone else studying and getting good grades so I’m motivated to do the same.”
“Seeing how other people study motivates me to study.”
There is also an incredible positive-feedback loop happening here. When you motivate someone else to study, you have a feeling of reward. This then encourages even further studying. High achieving learners are often marginalised in classrooms where the focus is on the ‘average’ student. #studygram is providing these students with positive feedback for high quality work; it is giving these students rewards for going the extra mile.
Social media and studying
As with anything internet based, age appropriateness will be a consideration for the vast majority of parents. As a parent, one of the wonderful things about these study-based accounts that I like is that they are often effectively anonymous. The students generally do not provide a profile picture of themselves, and the account photos are all studying based. When information is shared, it is done from an anonymous email address linked to the Instagram profile. These accounts are one of the most impersonal personal accounts that I’ve seen! The students share their personal stories, study work and school marks, often without any personal images or names.
I’m a statistics teacher so I had to sit down and do some stats before writing this article. I ran an online survey for two weeks to see what information came out of the #studygram community. The majority of my respondents (86%) were high school students, though a quick look through the hashtag on Instagram will show that there is a strong university student presence as well. The majority of survey respondents were in the age bracket of 16 to 18 years, corresponding to the last couple of years of high school. 67% of the survey respondents had a study-style account on Instagram.
Benefits of the Instagram study community
One of the fascinating things that came out of the survey was that there are two benefits of equal importance when it comes to the study community: motivation and friendship. If we think about the traditional stereotype of the hardworking learner, they are often isolated. Here is a community where their talents are both welcomed and celebrated. It is important for a teenager to feel included and understood, and many teenagers are finding this inclusion through social media.
71% of survey respondents believe that Instagram is a valuable source of study information. When asked what other things they have gained from #studygram, responses can generally be split into reward and resources. Students feel like their work is valuable and worthy, and they receive a sense of reward for putting in effort and helping others. Feelings like these are so beneficial when a student is aiming to take responsibility for his/her work. Students are motivated to study harder and to make higher quality notes that they can then share with others. Taking responsibility for something that is an obvious benefit is much easier. Instagram can also provide a context for a student’s education, exposing them to information about future careers and giving learning a purpose.
Resources abound in the #studygram community. Seeing other peoples’ notes can be a source of inspiration, and this also opens students up to new study methods. Students can connect and relate to other students studying the same course. The global network provided by Instagram enables students to connect with each other across the world. There are smaller subject-related groupings within the community that help each other to work on difficult questions. As a student, learning from a peer and teaching a peer are both valuable sources of learning. Students who can’t afford private tutoring have access to academic support through social media.
If you take the time to look at some examples of these accounts you may be very surprised at what you find. Some accounts are beautifully curated collections of detailed notes, for example @sg_studies01. For other students looking at this account, these summaries can be really helpful for highlighting the important points in a topic. @sg_studies01 also takes the time and effort to include a motivational quote with each post.
Another account that caught my eye early on in my explorations was @threesciencesforalevel. This student stood out because they stand by their profile slogan of “Sharing is Caring”. This student prepares mind maps for Biology, Chemistry and Physics as part of their studying, and freely shares these mind maps with others. Being a Biology teacher (not just a Statistics and Maths teacher), I had to pick a Biology mind map to showcase here!
Time management is a key skill for studying and @shoot.for.the.moon_official has really taken the time to recognise the importance of this. When students work together to keep each other accountable and manage their time, productivity increases. This student drives a lot of peer support and has done time challenges to track concentration. This is more than just an app that tracks your productivity on your phone; this is a challenge that rewards and motivates and the intention is to share the experience with others.
You don’t have to have a studygram account in order to take part in the studygram community. Only 43% of the survey respondents both provide and follow #studygram material. My account (@drarendse) is not a traditional studygram account; there is far too much non-study content because my aim is slightly different! However, I have had friendly responses from studygrammers and I receive subject-related questions from very random Instagram accounts. Many students use their ‘personal’ Instagram to interact on other people’s studygram accounts. The general opinion of the survey respondents is that people involved in #studygram are inspiring and kind and I agree with this wholeheartedly.
Real life considerations
Like pretty much anything in life, there are of course downsides to #studygram. Survey respondents mentioned issues like pressure to buy fancy and expensive stationery, and drama within the social community. As with anything peer-based, “popularity” plays a role with the number of account followers not always reflecting the quality of the content. Some accounts with small numbers of followers have high-quality and carefully created content. However, learning to deal with issues such as these is all part of learning the ‘living’ part of life rather than just the academics.
The major potential downside to #studygram is balancing time. It is important to balance the time spent looking for inspiration and motivation with time spent actually doing work! Self-discipline and regulation are very important in a community that contains thousands of opportunities for distraction. But then, self-discipline and regulation are incredibly important life skills that we’d be happy for our teenagers to work on and develop.
As a parent of three (ages 24, 21 and 11), and a teacher with 6 years’ experience, I’m fully aware of the challenges involved with education, social media management, social responsibility and family time. However, I’m also aware that we need to move forward with the times. As parents and teachers, we need to be aware of alternative sources for learning and think about how we can capitalise on them. Our children and students can learn life skills as well as acquire academic knowledge. When we take learning beyond its traditional classroom boundaries, we prepare them more thoroughly for real life in so many ways.