Social Media in Academia: Instagram for Engaging with Students Outside Class

During an in-class discussion early in the semester, I made an offhand comment suggesting that the course should have its own hashtag.  I was surprised to notice several students nodding vigorously in agreement.  Sparked by this unexpected response, I decided to create an academic Instagram account.

KGRInsta1Since my pedagogy invites students to work directly with actual artworks in what I call “art history labs,” I decided that my Instagram feed would feature photographs of artworks from the Connecticut College campus art collection and my department’s Wetmore Print Collection.  Several times a week, I post images of artworks we will be studying in class, images of campus sculptures, or photographs I have taken while setting up labs.  I also regularly post photos of campus spaces (Shain Library, for example, or other professors’ offices or research spaces), shots of field trips, and images related to my research and to current events on campus.   One student observed, “Instagram is contributing immensely to my learning in art history by making the material present outside of the classroom context. Seeing images that we are studying in class pop up on my phone has incorporated art history into my daily life, making it more approachable and keeping it on my mind throughout the day.”

While I don’t require my students to follow my Instagram account, participating does have some benefits.  Some of the posted artworks appear on exams, and I sometimes refer to an Instagram post in class.  During the semester, I created several hashtags:  #conncollcampusart and #wetmoreprintcollection for Connecticut College’s artwork collections, and hashtags for this semester’s courses:  #ahi261, #ahi246.  Over time, students have begun to use these hashtags and contribute their own images to this fledgling community.  

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In addition, I think of following feeds and liking images as teaching tools.  I intentionally make connections relevant to course content and to my research as one way to help students engage with the contemporary art world in a curated way.  As one student noted, “Instagram provides a new platform for sharing and engaging in thoughtful conversations about art outside of the classroom. With a simple click of a ‘like’ the interest surrounding a piece of art becomes visible to all participating.”  My feed currently has a small but active following of students and staff at Connecticut College, as well as a few global artists, gallery owners, arts foundations, and museum staff who extend my feed well beyond the college.

While Instagram appears to be a natural fit for contemporary art history, I think this platform could be productive for faculty across the disciplines.  Faculty might share images from fieldwork, labs, or even photographs of a chalkboard with a complex data or problem set.  If you are considering Instagram, here are some guidelines I have developed for my own feed:

  • To assuage any student concerns about sharing their own images with me, I clearly state in class that I do not follow or even look at student Instagram accounts unless expressly invited to do so.
  • In response to the Connecticut College social media policy, I avoid posting photos of students.
  • To respect photographic rights, I limit my posting of artworks to those owned by the College or those publically displayed at museums.  When posting anything that might be construed as someone’s property or private space, I ask for permission and tag the photo with the person’s Instagram username.
  • Finally, using social media for pedagogical purposes does create yet another task on my to-do list.  However, I maintain this Instagram feed because I enjoy taking photographs, creating visual dialogues, and communicating through images.  If you are considering incorporating Instagram or other social media into your classes, you might start by identifying a platform that you are already using and finding fulfilling in other areas of your life.

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