If the term “social media” conjures up images of Facebook, then you're two or three years behind the millennial curve. Facebook has been called “your mother's social media site”; kids post to Facebook to throw their parents off the scent. Today's students have moved to Snapchat.
Snapchat is an app that allows users to send photos and videos to selected friends or followers. Sounds like Twitter, right? But here's the twist. The image or video disappears forever from the recipient's device 10 seconds after being viewed. The only exception is when the sender puts the images and videos into a “story,” which lasts a full twenty-four hours before disappearing.
Many high school and college students are viewing hundreds of “snaps” a day, with over 100 million users sending about 9,000 snaps per second. One study found that 7 percent of college students use it daily. Indeed, Snapchat's founder turned down Facebook's offer of $3 billion.
The value of Snapchat is in its immediacy. People can see what others are doing right now. If friends are at a bar down the street and a great band has just come on, they can post a video, and others can join them within minutes. While the same can be done with Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Pulse, the ephemeral nature of the snaps lend themselves to recording the immediate rather than what is intended to be preserved.
This is partly why Facebook is becoming passé among the younger generation. Young people do not want to have a history, and Facebook is built around the concept of recording a history. The bulk of a profile is the timeline, with images and videos being organized into “albums,” like the dusty photo albums that your mother keeps. Young people don't want to be reminded of their past. How many high school seniors want to see their freshman yearbook photo? Snapchat is for the now.
The notion of a system without a history might sound like anathema to higher education, which is fundamentally focused on preserving the past, but the app reminds us that the past is only of value in terms of how it can inform the present. Engineering principles around bridge design are only worth knowing in terms of what they tell you to do when designing the bridge that you are currently working on. Knowledge needs to be applied to life.
The application of knowledge to life is often left out of higher education. Too often education is assumed to happen within the four walls of the classroom, and life happens after you leave. That philosophy is built into the very structure of American higher education, which creates schools as self-contained campuses separated from their surrounding environment. This leads students to wonder about the value of their education beyond getting a degree that will get them a job. If all that matters is the degree, and they can get that with minimal studying and other shortcuts, then why not?
Snapchat can help integrate education with life. Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Marist College Michael Britt has been using Snapchat to record examples of the principles he teaches in class as they play out in his life. For example, if he is at a soccer game and realizes that it is a perfect example of deindividuation among the fans, he records this observation as a short video to send to his students. He also records himself using systematic desensitization to overcome his fear of dogs.
His students are also encouraged to make their own snaps that illustrate class concepts they encounter. Not only does the exercise of drawing up class concepts outside of class help solidify those concepts in their memory, students realize that class concepts apply to a variety of situations in their lives. In other words: the class has value.
This teaching device can be used in most, if not all, subjects. I teach the famous “prisoner's dilemma” model of social behavior in my philosophy course, and I'm a bike racer. I noticed that the model perfectly explains the strategy employed by riders in races. I can shoot a short video of a race I am watching on TV or a ride that I'm doing with my club to illustrate the concept.
Certainly, physics instructors and students can make snaps of physics principles applied to the design of parts of the campus. A business instructor or student shopping for clothes might shoot a business principle from class as it is being employed by a store. Certainly, those in art classes will find examples of general art forms in use around them.
While students could be required to shoot a certain number of snaps for a course (and an instructor can permanently record these snaps using screencasting software), it might be better to make the activity optional or ungraded. For one, the point is not to send students out on an assignment related to school. That only separates school from life. The point is to get students to stumble across teaching concepts during their everyday activities. This helps students see the integration of education with life. It might even be that students on the lookout for snaps related to their biology course start seeing how topics covered in their other courses play out in life.
Finally, the story function provides the opportunity for students to group series of snaps into a narrative. Maybe students spending the day hiking put together a story around features encountered that illustrate what is covered in their geology or geography course. Maybe students on athletic teams traveling for a competition put together snaps around organizational behavior issues covered in their business administration course.
Learn more about Snapchat at http://bit.ly/1Aozl1P, take a look at this quick tutorial on how to use Snapchat at https://youtu.be/PGhzjXawP4I, and learn how Michael Britt is using it at http://n.pr/1PDlXLa. Finally, consider using this resource in your courses.
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