4 Ways Snapchat is Going to College

Snapchat CollegeSnapchat is a social media platform with a bad reputation, but it’s changing for the better. Known for users’ way-too-personal posts (i.e., sexting), this tool’s features and functions also have the potential to improve communication when used in a different context. It’s also got a pretty substantial following among college students.

Business Insider’s 2015 social media analysis found that Snapchat has the “most youthful user base” with 45% of its adult users between the ages of 18 and 24. A separate study from ComScore revealed that 71% of Snapchat users are under 35.

As enrollment in online programs gains popularity with younger students there may be an interest in using this platform in an educational setting. So, what is Snapchat and how are colleges already putting it to use?

Snapchat Basics

This mobile app is available for iOS and Android devices, and is focused on image-based sharing. Snapchat is similar to Instagram in that users post photos and videos, but there are several key differences that make this app unique:

  • Posts or “Snaps” are temporary, and can be set to last as long as 10 seconds. They are sent directly to an individual user and once viewed “disappear” from the system, though they are not necessarily deleted.
  • Stories” offer the option to “string Snaps together to create a narrative that lasts for 24 hours.” Stories can be made public, or sent to a specific group or the account’s followers (a.k.a. friends).
  • The Chat feature allows users who are connected in the system as friends to communicate in real-time via chat screen or video. These conversations also disappear when they are over.
  • Users can add captions or draw on images before they are sent as Snaps.
  • Snaps and Stories can include an audio recording, in addition to the featured image, added text captions and drawings, and special filters and overlays.
  • There are no “like,” favorite or commenting options in this system, putting the main focus on the communication taking place through sent and received messages.

Privacy and Security Issues

There are user hacks for viewing messages that have expired. It’s also not uncommon for Snap recipients to take a screenshot during the brief time that a message is visible, creating a more permanent artifact of what was sent. Snapchat improvements and updates are in progress and earlier this month two-factor authentication was added as an optional security feature.

A 2014 study from educational researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University [PDF] found that “security and privacy concerns are overshadowed by other influences and why and how respondents choose to use or not use Snapchat.” The majority (59.8%) of users reported their primary use of the platform was for sending non-sensitive, “funny” messages with “silly or mundane content.” Hootsuite notes that Snapchat is not only easy to use (and free), but also fun. It’s not designed for permanent communication, so the approach is often more casual and spontaneous than the carefully edited updates we find on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Snapchat and Higher Education

A 2014 study from Sumpto, a marketing firm, found that 77% of college students surveyed used Snapchat on a daily basis. The most popular reason for using this platform was “creativity” (37%) followed by “keeping in touch” (27%). Another 23% reported that sending a Snap is “easier than texting,” while only 2% said that they use the platform for “sexting.” How can we make the most of this social platform to encourage students’ creativity and meet the need to keep in touch?

  1. Recruiting and Marketing: Time Magazine recently featured six college Snapchat accounts that share details about campus life with prospective students through activities such as sports, special events and scavenger hunts.
  2. Reminders and Alerts: The Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted how West Virginia University’s Snapchat account reminds current students about important deadlines, while the University of Houston’s account provides students with updates about weather-related campus closings.
  3. Campus Awareness: Education and social media researcher Josie Ahlquist documents several ways colleges can (and should) consider the possibilities of a Snapchat account, such as creating Stories around college events. Think about how you might connect online students with their on-campus peers, as well as with campus-based services and activities.
  4. Class Assignments: Multimedia Professor Chris Snider shares his Snapchat storytelling template, and an example of how it’s used in his communications classes to help students tell their stories and explore the platform’s features. Hillcrest High School provides examples of how Snapchat is used to practice foreign language vocabulary with younger students.

Snider surveyed his students about their Snapchat use earlier this year and found that 92% were “open to the idea of following brands.” As colleges increasingly brand themselves in the competitive online higher education market students may be willing to connect this way. Time also asks “what’s next?” for Snapchat in higher education. The possibilities may include “professors who … Snap grades individually to students.” There’s a potential for quick, audio and video-based feedback here.

Getting Started

It’s critical to understand the capabilities of this tool, and any form of communication, before deciding to use it in an online class or academic context. I’m new to Snapchat and exploring the options. In October I’m scheduled to co-present a related session at the Online Learning Consortium‘s Annual Conference. In the meantime, here are a few of the issues I’ve worked through so far:

  • Privacy Settings: As with any new social account, you need to be aware of how you are sharing your updates. Snapchat’s settings allow you to determine who can send you Snaps and who can view your Stories.
  • The Interface: Creating Snaps and Stories includes a variety of gestures that may be new to you, such as pressing and holding or tapping the screen to record. There’s a bit of a learning curve here.
  • New Icons and Menus: While many apps have similar toolbars and functions, Snapchat has its own inventory of features and icons to identify and use, which may require a little practice.
  • School Guidelines: Your institution may already have a Snapchat account. It may also provide specific advice for students and faculty interested in using this platform, as well as other social media options. Cazenovia College’s Office of Communication provides an example of the Snapchat tips you might find at your school.

Are you using Snapchat? The best way to learn more about this app is to try it out. It may, or may not, help you solve a communication challenge in your classes, but first-hand experience allows you to make the best decision either way. Consider sharing your ideas, suggestions and concerns about connecting with online students through Snaps and Stories.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog