May 29, 2014

Instagram – a possible edtech/outreach tool?

Posted by Laura Guertin

Instagram – “… a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures. Snap a photo with your mobile phone, then choose a filter to transform the image into a memory to keep around forever” (Instagram FAQ page).  Do you have an Instagram account?  Odds are, you don’t.  Instagram still struggles to grow significantly as a social media tool among online adults, as documented in the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Social Media Update.

Social media sites, 2012-2013

There are examples of where Instagram is being used beyond sharing photos with family and friends.  Professional photojournalists have found a use for Instagram to capture and share still images people, places and spaces (see Mashable article).  Instagram also allows the user to record and a post a maximum 15-second video, and The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) has been taking advantage of this feature in their booth at conferences.  Using social media, AGI has been asking people to swing by their booth to be recorded answering questions about their passion and interest in the geosciences (see the video clips on the AGI_Updates Instagram page).  AGI has found a way to use Instagram to celebrate and share the joys of geoscience, making it an outreach tool for their organization.

Photography contests are growing in popularity on Instagram.  In 2012, National Geographic Channel hosted the Untamed America nature photography contest on Instagram.  Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) designed an Instagram photography contest themed on raising awareness about plastic litter.  Perhaps we can expand beyond creating contests on Instagram and use this tool with our own students for documenting work on field sites or for capturing visits to museums (see Weilenmann et al., 2013) – although, I have blogged previously a cautionary note Before you Instagram your next museum visit….

I think we’ll still find some of our students using Instagram, but far from a majority. For those that do utilize this social media tool, can we find an educational use? Or perhaps a better question is… should we?  Although images play an important role in geoscience teaching and learning, maybe we can just let our students make their own connections to celebrating Earth science with a social media tool like Instagram.  Take former student of mine Abbey Dufoe (in the Instagram image below, used with her permission).  Currently pursuing a masters degree in the Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism at the University of Montana, Abbey can’t get enough of sharing #nofilter photos of herself enjoying our national natural public lands (here she is on her first trip to Rocky Mountain National park last week).

Additional sources for exploration

Henkel, L. (2014). Point-and-Shoot Memories – The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour. Psychological Science, 25(2), pp. 396-402. (Abstract online)

Hu, Y., L. Manikonda, S. Kambhampati (2014). What We Instagram: A First Analysis of Instagram Photo Content and User Types. Proc. of the 8th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM’14).  (PDF online)

Salomon, D. (2013). Moving on from Facebook – Using Instagram to connect with undergraduates and engage in teaching and learning. College & Research Libraries News, 74(8), pp. 408-412.  (Full text and PDF online)

Weilenmann, A., T. Hillman, B. Jungselius (2013). Instagram at the museum: communicating the museum experience through social photo sharing. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 1843-1852. (Abstract online)