Using Instagram to Support Sociology Students
May 2020 | Edited May 2020
You’ve probably heard of this thing called Instagram. Since its launch in 2010, over a billion users have posted upwards of 50 billion images; including selfies, photos of their breakfasts, and of course, pictures of their beloved pets. The platform is used by all sorts of people to post all sorts of content. But a growing number of students and teachers are using Instagram as a way to showcase their work – by uploading study notes, mind-maps and other revision materials. These posts aren’t your typical, scribbled notes from class; they’re slick, informative and—perhaps most importantly—aesthetically appealing.
The ‘studygram’ community is popular with both creators and audiences alike—and it’s not hard to see why: the content producers say they do it to motivate themselves to work harder, and those liking the posts see it as an accessible way of improving their own learning. The content looks great, there’s loads of it, and it’s all freely available on an app that’s used habitually by much of the student demographic.
As someone with their own little following on Instagram; and being the Head of Sociology at a school in the UK where over 200 students study the subject, I set out to contribute to the sociological studygram community by hosting some of the best work I’d collected during the academic year. I decided this would take place over the course of April 2020, by posting one piece of student work on my Instagram page (@allsociology), per day, under the hashtag #studenttakeover. The rationale being that this would be the best way to support other sociology students revising for their final exams (which, here in the UK, start in May). Of course, the coronavirus had other ideas by closing schools and cancelling exams, but that wasn’t going to get in the way of showing off some of my students’ amazing work!
Amongst the over-flowing cache of examples I’d collected since the start of September, it was no easy task to select the work which made the final cut for the #studenttakeover. Over 70 pieces were whittled down to just 30 (to represent each day in April), based on a criterion of accessibility of their sociological content, and the extent to which they met the spirit of studygramming—being informative, impactful and pleasing on the eye. The chosen work came from a variety of students aged 14 – 18, and had either been produced in-class, come from student homework assignments, or from the students’ own personal revision notes. After gaining permission from each student to share their work, the work was digitised, formatted into an appropriate aspect ratio and branded with a #studenttakeover watermark, ready for posting.
The #studenttakeover launched with a beautifully hand-drawn overview of sociological debates on childhood, and in the following days featured posts on topics such as theoretical views on the role of education, gender socialisation and links between crime and the media. As April progressed and the posts kept coming, the #studenttakeover gathered momentum and it was clear the work was finding an audience. Users commented on how the posts were useful for their own revision: ‘I’m absolutely loving these mind-maps…’, or how they were helping those they teach: ‘Fantastic – passed on to my students straightaway’. Others shared the work on their own pages, fellow teachers launched their own versions of #studenttakeover and students from around the world started asking me how they could send in their own work.
A call to action inviting new submissions was put out midway through the #studenttakeover and Sociology students rallied by submitting mind-maps, guides to exam success and other such content. All of the work that met the criteria was uploaded in addition to the planned posts, with some of it featuring as daily stories and others accessible via time-limited links in my page bio. Those who created the work expressed delight at seeing their efforts displayed online and were happy to be credited for their contributions. This provided a key indication that students were taking pride in their work—and for me, this was the most rewarding part about the whole #studenttakeover project.
Aside from using Instagram, I’d also been cross posting the work to Twitter and uploading high resolution versions of the work on Facebook. This enabled me to extend the reach of the #studenttakeover and provide access to downloadable, usable versions of the work. Adding this element of permanence was a key part of the project, owing to the temporary nature of Instagram, where within moments, posts can become buried beneath myriad others. It was important to host the work in such a way that students could revisit it, not only now, but also in years to come.
By the end of April 2020, the work collectively featured in the #studenttakeover had been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, by tens of thousands of people. My most ‘liked’ Instagram posts are all those that were featured in the #studenttakeover and they’re still generating engagement to this day. Messages of thanks and support have come from all over the world and it has been truly humbling to hear how helpful the resources have been to so many people. Whilst exam cancellations meant the #studenttakeover did not get the chance to help students in the way it originally intended, it has undoubtedly acted to support those studying towards a qualification in Sociology, alongside those just taking a passing interest in the subject.
I hope the legacy of the #studenttakeover will lie not only in the 30+ pieces of outstanding work that students so kindly allowed me to share with the world, but also in its demonstration of the power of Instagram in hosting and sharing sociological content. At the very least, it’s shown me that Instagram is so much more than #dogoftheday and pictures of avocado on toast!