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Instagram: Engaging Learners in a Collaborative Environment

Sean Bloomfield

KSP 619: Using Technology in the Classroom

Minnesota State University, Mankato



This research paper will review the educational applications of the social media tool, Instagram,

in secondary classrooms. The research shows that peer reviews and critique, though not

entirely sufficient in replacing teacher feedback, can be an effective learning tool for students.

There is also a variety of research that shows how social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and

Instagram help engage learners in their content. Teenage learners have gradually shifted from

Facebook and Twitter to Instagram, a social media platform that focusses on pictures and

videos, with captions and comments available for users. Combining the advantages of using

familiar social media with students, and providing a forum for peer feedback and an authentic

audience, Instagram can be an effective means of integrating technology into the classroom.

Finally, studies show that young adults are leaving high school and college with an insufficient

understanding of social media’s benefits and dangers. Providing an opportunity for students to

learn responsible social media use at a young age provides life-long opportunities in the

workplace. When teachers use Instagram in secondary level classrooms as a journaling and

feedback tool, it allows for higher levels of engagement and enhanced learning opportunities

for students of the 21st Century.


Instagram: Engaging Learners in a Collaborative Environment


Instagram Defined

In a 21st Century classroom, students are encouraged to drive their own learning

through collaboration, critical thinking, and real-life applications. Social media tools like

Instagram provide opportunities for students to perform all three of these learning tasks with

an instrument that many teenagers are familiar and comfortable with. Instagram is a web-

based application that is used primarily for picture and video sharing, with captions and

comments available for users to add to each shared post. Facebook and Twitter, two other

popular social media tools among teenagers and adults alike, uses similar sharing functions, but

the trend towards widespread adult use has driven adolescents to a newer, and seemingly

more private tool like Instagram.

In the classroom, teachers often work to find online tools that students engage with,

which has led many to Facebook and Twitter in recent years. Now that Instagram is quickly

becoming the web-app of choice for teens, teachers are following the trend. While Twitter and

Facebook are convenient tools for teachers to connect with students, share work, and provide

help, Instagram can be better used for students to communicate and collaborate with each

other. In a 21st Century classroom where collaboration is a focus, Instagram fits conveniently.

The purpose of this review is to show the positive impacts that Instagram can have in

student learning and engagement through collaboration and peer feedback. While the research

does not directly paint this picture, using a variety of related studies it will be shown that peer

feedback promotes student learning, social media for feedback engages learners, and that

Instagram is a social media tool of choice for adolescents.

Categories of Technology

From Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works - 2nd Edition (Pitler,

2012), Instagram falls into the “Communication and Collaboration Software” category of the

“Nine Categories of Technology” list. In terms of the iPedagogy Wheel, Instagram is largely a

tool for students to blog their work, provide peer edits and critiques, and discuss their work

during and after it is completed. These specific uses would land Instagram in the “Evaluate”

section of the wheel. Of note, other social media tools like Twitter, fall under different

categories, such as “Remember and Understand.”

Blooms Taxonomy

Two of the major uses of Instagram in the classroom would be blogging and posting

information to show progress, which would largely be in the “Understand” level on Blooms

Taxonomy, and providing peer edits or evaluations, which would be at the “Evaluate” level.

Often, students can reach understanding in a traditional classroom setting, with limited

technology, and with mostly teacher-centered instruction. Moving learning to evaluate

however can be easier accomplished by integrating technology for students to review each

other’s work.


Academic research in the area of social media is plentiful, but when digging deeper into

searching for conclusions about social media in the classroom, or specifically using Instagram in

class, the studies become fewer and farer between. For that reason, logical steps must be taken

into account during the research process by associating Instagram and other social media tools

as functionally the same. While Instagram contains some unique features, for the purpose of

this study, those intricacies are unimportant.

According to Feldman (1988), students’ perception of teacher effectiveness at higher

institutions was based on helpfulness and accessibility, while faculty emphasizes self-initiated

learning. These two concepts, while demonstrated at the college level, carry over to all parts of

education. Student’s natural tendency is to ask for extra guidance and help from teachers,

while teachers in turn maintain the goal for training students to be more self-directed. While

seemingly at odds with each other, providing the opportunity to give feedback to each other

can teach students to be more self-directed, while also allowing them to receive the help that

they need.

One major fear in allowing students to provide feedback for each other, certainly at

younger ages but even in post-secondary school, is the lack of student understanding in how to

provide quality feedback. For example, research shows that college faculty’s greatest fear of

peer feedback is the perceived incapability of students to produce quality feedback to each

other (Pond, Ul-Haq, & Wade, 1995). This fear is an understandable drawback, but if students

are provided with instruction on how to give valuable feedback, then peer reviews work as a

mutually beneficial teaching method (Rubin, 2006). This instruction, of course, must be

appropriate and modified for age level and readiness.

Evidence suggests that students who use social media platforms for peer feedback show

higher levels of engagement, as well as improved critical thinking skills and higher quality of

material that is being reviewed (Demirbilek, 2015). While many studies use Facebook or Wiki’s

as Web 2.0 tools of choice to review perception and effectiveness of social media in the

classroom, Instagram contains the same essential functions.

In UCLA, one study suggested that college age students use Instagram more than

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. The study also showed that Instagram was the source of the

highest level of student engagement and attentiveness to the content (Salomon, 2013).

Students who are using Instagram can use the same effective measures of peer review as those

with other applications, yet may be even more engaged due to familiarity.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The added advantages to using Instagram over other social media tools is two-fold. One,

students are more familiar and engaged with Instagram than they are with Facebook and

Twitter. Studies show that students are more engaged with Instagram (Salomon, 2013), and the

novelty of using their favorite social media tool provides added interest in the lesson. Second,

students who use Instagram in the classroom can use this opportunity to be trained for the

world beyond K-12 education. Many employers, specifically in the Marketing field, are finding

that new members of the workforce are leaving school lacking the proper education on

effective and responsible use of social media (Brocato, 2015). Students also remain unaware of

the consequences that their digital footprint, or their permanent posts onto social media, has

on their future. Teaching and utilizing responsible social media use is an advantageous step

towards preparing young learners for life after school.

Social media use is not without its own disadvantages. Naturally, when students use

social media, their perceptual understanding of right and wrong shifts, as they are no longer

speaking face to face with an individual. Cyber-bullying is a common problem with today’s

youth, and promoting a tool that enhances cyber-bullying to a new level could be seen by many

as distasteful, or even downright wrong. Without proper training of appropriate etiquette on

social media, problems very well could arise, making the use of social media a disadvantage on

its own.

There is something to be said for allowing students the opportunity to speak face to face

when providing peer feedback. Giving and receiving honest critiques can be challenging for all

individuals, regardless of age, but providing an outlet for students to practice this is essential at

some point. For that reason, shifting all reviews, updating of progress, and peer feedback forms

to online is not a recommended approach, and such uses must be done in moderation.

Application of Technology

A prime example of using Instagram in a social studies class can be taken from a

nationwide Project Based Learning unit called History Day. During a two month process,

students in History Day choose a topic from history that they wish to research, become experts

in their topic, and then create a product with which to share and compete against their peers.

Options for products include a paper, exhibit board, documentary, website, or performance.

Students may also work individually, or in groups of up to four. In a project of this magnitude,

progress monitoring, self-reflection, and peer reviews are necessary to stay up to date on a

quality product.

Enter Instagram. Students can take pictures of their progress, and provide a caption

explaining where they are in the process and what they have learned. Teachers can require a

certain number of posts either daily, weekly, or bi-weekly. These posts provide an opportunity

for students to show creativity, and reflect on their own work and progress. At the teacher’s

discretion, students may also be required to comment on a set number of their peers’ work

through Instagram. Comments could range from compliments, questions, or critiques on

other’s work. It is in these situations where students must understand ethical and responsible

use of social media.

Students can use Instagram for more than progress updates and critiques. In a math

classroom, a teacher could assign students to create one instructional video on some type of

math equation or problem per unit. In these videos, students may be required to show an

example of the problem worked incorrectly, correctly, and instructions of how to avoid

common mistakes. Other students may have the requirement to post a certain amount of

questions to video creators. Not only may other learners in the class benefit from the added,

alternate explanation from what the teacher provided, but creating one’s own instructional

video will often deepen the understanding of that student’s knowledge on the topic.


In assessing a student’s use of Instagram as a peer feedback tool, students should be

graded on their level of constructiveness in their comments, quality and helpfulness of

feedback provided, and appropriate use of technology. The first two aspects of this assessment

would be constant whether or not students were using technology, but remains essential parts

of the use of social media in this instance. The last aspect, appropriate use of technology, is an

important element for young students to learn, as this is where the use of social media in the

classroom differentiates itself of social media use at home.

If learners are creating training videos on Instagram, for a math class or otherwise, their

assessment should be based off of clarity of instructions, proper video use, and self-direction in

posting to social media as well as maintaining communication by responding to questions that

students pose in the comments. Providing feedback to peers who ask questions remains an

essential aspect of classroom social media use, so even though the majority of an assessment

such as this is based off of the instruction given in the video, feedback remains emphasized.


Students who use social media tools in the classroom show increased engagement and

provide helpful support to students who need it. Instagram specifically is considered by many

adolescents to be the social media tool of choice, so using it over other tools like Facebook or

Twitter may increase engagement due to familiarity and interest. The implications of this fact

provides a reason for teachers to cease avoiding social media use in the classroom, and instead

embrace it as a valuable learning tool.


Brocato, E. D., White, N. J., Bartkus, K., Brocato, A, A., (2015). Social media and marketing education:

A review of current practices in curriculum development. A Journal of Marketing Education,

37(2), 76-87.

Demirbilek, M. (2015). Social media and peer feedback: What do students really think about using

Wiki and Facebook as platforms for peer feedback? Active Learning in Higher Education, 16(3),


Feldman, K. A. (1988). Effective college teaching from the students’ and faculty’s view. Matched

or mismatched priorities? Research in Higher Education, 28(4), 291-344.

Pond, K., Ul-Haq, R.,& Wade,W. (1995). Peer review: A precursor to peer assessment. Innovations

in Education and Training International, 32, p. 314-323.

Rubin, R. S. (2006). The academic journal review process as a framework for student developmental

peer feedback. Journal of Management Education, 30(2), 378-398.

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), 408-412. Retrieved