Does Snapchat Have a Place in the Classroom? Social Media for Teachers

This little ghost might actually be scary

By Scott Sterling

This is the final post in a series about social media strategies for the classroom. Previously, we discussed using TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, and Instagram in instruction. Today, we’ll explore an app that’s wildly popular, yet inherently controversial: Snapchat.

Snapchat basics

There’s no shame in Snapchat ignorance—if you’re over the age of, say, 30. Unlike the other four apps we’ve covered in the Series, Snapchat is almost exclusively the territory of the young.

It starts with a simple premise. Instead of sending a picture to someone through text and it potentially living on their phone forever, Snapchat lets you send pictures that only last 10 seconds. Think of the messages that self-destruct from Mission: Impossible. This led people to believe that less-than-appropriate messages would simply go away. As we see later, that’s not true.

Like other apps, Snapchat has added new functionality as it’s grown. You can create “Stories”, which are collections of snaps that hopefully form some sort of narrative. “Live Stories” are the same, but made by a group of people for a common purpose, like capturing a concert from multiple perspectives.

Finally, last year they added live chat and video chat, the difference being that these chats go away once the chat is closed out (unlike texting or other chat programs).

Snapchat according to teachers

Poll most teachers and they believe Snapchat is at best disruptive and at worst dangerous. When the video chat update came out last year, teachers compared the experience to Armageddon on blogs and Twitter. The kids simply would not focus on anything other than testing out the video.

Then there is the sexting, which actually opens up our first teachable moment when it comes to Snapchat. The truth of the matter is that everything on the Internet is permanent, even snaps. The receiver can simply screenshot a snap to be able to keep it on their phone forever. There have also been a few security exploits of the network over the years.

This opens up an opportunity for teachers to have a discussion with students about digital citizenship, responsibility, and the future effects of the things we do online. One teacher in London took a screenshot of a private snap of herself (safe for work) and then posted it on Facebook for everyone to see (a common and likely occurrence for snaps). In the caption, she asked for everyone to like it and share it so she could show her students how far her “private” photo’s reach could be. 19,000 liked it and 25,000 shared it.

Other Snapchat lesson ideas

There’s not a lot of room in education for functionality that (theoretically) isn’t permanent. We need evidence, the ability to reference student work weeks or months after the fact. Students can’t turn in snaps; they would be deleted before you could find their name in the grade book. There’s also the question of adults invading a place where students think they’re still safe. You’d lose a lot of credibility.

But there are some ways to use the functionality for educational benefit.

  • Collaboration – It does have chat and video functions, even though the transcripts go away. But if everyone is using Snapchat already, it might be the best option for students to work together. And because there won’t be adults around, they might be more honest.
  • Flashcards – There are some examples of ELL students using Snapchat as a way to visually practice their language skills. The teacher might give them a list of vocabulary words and they have to find pictures. Or, in reverse, the student is shown a picture and only has 10 seconds to identify it in the target language.
  • Stories – The stories function obviously allows students to create a visual narrative on the topic of their choice. They only last 24 hours, but it might work as some form of assessment using a rubric.

Are there better educational tools out there? Absolutely. Do any of them have the reach that Snapchat does with our students? Absolutely not. But don’t let your need to be the cool teacher undermine educational efficacy. You still need a solid lesson that accomplishes a goal.

We believe that the most important thing a teacher or leader can do is to fuel each student’s passion for learning. When this is achieved, a lifetime of accomplishment becomes possible for that learner. Through partnerships with schools and districts throughout the country, we help educators and leadership transform each classroom into a powerful learning environment that prepares students for lasting success in school, the global workplace, and beyond. Our vision for the future is big and bright, and we love helping schools get there. Learn more about Learning Sciences International.

Other articles you might like: