Using Snapchat 👻 as a Teaching Tool: Insights from Professor Michael Britt
On June 6 at 4 PM, ET, I had the honor of interviewing Professor Michael Britt, who shared how he uses Snapchat 👻 as a pedagogical tool. Professor Britt is excellent at his craft and I learned a lot from him. You can catch the replay on my Facebook’s public page, @AiAddysonZhang.
In this article, I share with you three major takeaways from the interview. Hopefully, you can apply some of these best practices and advice to your own classroom and pedagogical innovation.
First, let’s get to know Professor Britt a little bit.
Who’s Professor Britt?
Professor Britt is an adjunct professor of Psychology at Marist College in update NY, US. He was interviewed by NPR last year to share how he used Snapchat to engage his students. The NPR interview was how I discovered Professor Britt and became excited about his work. Professor Britt is also the Manager of the Higher Ed Faculty Community at Cengage, an education and technology company for learners at all levels. He has also been running his own podcast, The Premiere Psychology, since 2007. With over a decade of providing high quality shows, his podcast has become a huge success.
- Over 15 million downloads
- Over 5,000 downloads a day
- 2014 MERLOT winner, covered in the APA Monitor, the History Channel and NPR.
- iTunes top 10, 4 1/2 star rated.
Now you see why I am excited about Professor Britt! Let’s get started.
Takeaway ONE: Can you teach something meaningful via a ten-second Snap?
When I was reading the NPR interview, one student’s quote caught my attention. The student shared how she was able to pay better attention to ten-second Snaps than in-person lectures. Intriguing, right? As she mentioned,
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.
Professor Britt shared that this particular student’s comment actually triggered some controversies and criticisms. As he shared:
Many a professor has lots of distain for social media. How can something meaningful happen in such a short period of time?
In other words, can you teach students anything meaningful within ten seconds? Here is my answer: Yes and NO. Sure, Snapchat has a reputation of being a sexting tool and is developed to attract a young generation with short attention spans. Naturally, people tend to question, how can something that seems to be purely entertaining have any educational value?
Professor Britt’s experience told him yes. And my experience told me a similar yes. I have three reasons to share with you.
📌 First, students’ attention spans are short, but no shorter than the average adult’s. Research has shown that our attention span is shorter than a gold fish, which is 9 seconds. Humans, 8 seconds. So, ten seconds are short but long enough to grab students’ attention.
📌 Second, from a persuasion perspective, we are naturally drawn to people whom we feel relatable. In other words, we are much more likely to be persuaded and feel emotionally connected when someone is speaking our language. I teach public relations classes. One core message that I communicate to my students is to understand your organization’s constituencies so that you can speak their language. Teaching is the same. Students are professors’ constituencies. When we speak their language, they are able to pay better attention. As professor Britt stated,
Snapchat is where young people are. If you want to reach them, you need to go where they are.
📌 Third, Snapchat or social media in general is not replacing professors in the classroom. Professors shouldn’t fear that social media tools and apps are going to replace them. Quite to the contrary, in-person coaching, guidance, and mentoring is becoming even more important in today’s information overloaded society. Snapchat or any social media tool can be a powerful addition to what one professor can accomplish in the classroom. It amplifies one person’s impact.
Takeaway TWO: Examples of best practices
Professor Britt teaches psychology and has been using Snapchat as a pedagogical tool since Fall 2015. He uses Snapchat to engage his students via the following ways:
🔶 Offer course reviews. For example, take a look at this Snap, what theoretical concept is it about?
🔶 Give out multiple choice questions to engage students and gather their feedback on particular concepts
🔶 Offer exam reviews: Students cram for exams. However, if you Snap consistently throughout the semester, you hit them again and again, and points are made better.
🔶 Showing daily examples of psychological terms (replace psychology with whatever field you teach).
🔶 Relate real life situations to classroom learning and theories: Send students Snaps of what’s happening and relate it back to the class of what they discussed or will discuss. Here is an example that Professor Britt shared during the interview. He shared how he taught his students a lesson regarding goal setting at a gas station when he saw people trying to raise money to reach their goals without clearly stating what the goals were. Then, in class, he talked about these snaps and asked students to reflect on goal setting and share what they have learned.
If you want to see some Snaps of how Professor Britt connects with his students, click here to see the examples. Also, click here to listen to his original podcast talk on using Snapchat as a pedagogical tool that got NPR’s attention. Lastly, click here to read more of Professor Britt’s blog.
Takeaway THREE: Be a risk taker
Change is hard. Change is uncomfortable. Change involves hard work. We all love the comfort of familiarity, routines, and habits. When you do something as “radical” as using a “sexting” app in the classroom, you will encounter resistance and feel unease. However, that’s how we grow. We need to embrace change and be willing to take risks. This is particularly hard for professors, because as Professor Britt stated,
We professors like to have the feeling that we have mastered whatever it is that we are talking about in class. We know everything. We hate to look foolish. You have to get past that state.
We have to make some mistakes. Students will put some abbreviations in their Snaps such as ‘lol’ or even more complicated ones. At some point, I just have to ask, ‘what does it mean?’ You have to be willing to acknowledge that you don’t know everything.
I was learning Snapchat as I was using it. … When I just started using snapchat, I felt that Snapchat didn’t fit well into the definition of a ‘good lecture’.
I love how Professor Britt put himself in the mindset of a student and a lifelong learner. Social media has indeed flattened and decentralized knowledge creation and dissemination. Nobody is forever a teacher or a student. We are all teachers and students at the same time. Our roles are fluid.
Was professor Britt a natural when it comes to using Snapchat as a pedagogical tool? Of course not. Was he fully prepared before he incorporated Snapchat into his teaching practice? Probably not. The truth is that we can never be fully prepared. It is the process of doing that prepares us.
I was impressed by Professor Britt’s innate drive to experiment with new things and to be willing to take risks and to fail. His drive is not only admirable but effective at influencing his students to initiate similar actions. In fact, I think this is probably the most effective way to influence our students. Borrowing from Gandhi’s wisdom, we, as educators, should aim to “be the change that you wish to see in the classroom.”
If you are an assistant professor reading this article, you are probably climbing the tenure ladder. Let me share one secret with you.
Incorporating social media like Snapchat will improve your teaching evaluation scores. It will make students be more engaged and interested in learning.
Both Professor Britt and I experienced this in our teaching evaluations.
Ai Addyson-Zhang is a professor, speaker, live streamer, social media expert, and digital learning consultant. She connects the dots between social media and education. Ai is on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram @AiAddysonZhang. She’s the host of a weekly Facebook live show, Classroom Without Walls — Using Technology to Reimagine Education, on every Wednesday at 5PM, EST.