Oh Snap.

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Snapchat: Is it getting in the way of learning or a tool that can enhance learning? Another school system banned Snapchat, a popular photo-sharing app, from the school’s Wi-Fi networks. That decision lit-up twitter as students complained, whined and begged for the decision to be reversed. They even started an online petition.

Not quite sure what Snapchat is?

Some schools and teachers characterize the app as a distraction – a teacher’s worst nightmare. And a majority of parents tend to agree, with school district administrators adding that it has no instructional value.

A mobile app that started in 2011 as a photo messaging service, Snapchat enabled teens to trade spontaneous selfies of their everyday lives. The messaging app then evolved into a social network once they launched a feature called My Story, which lets users post photos and videos for large groups of friends to see for up to 24 hours. Even news outlets are using the Snapchat Discover feature, which lets publishers reach new younger audiences with well-produced stories that are made specifically for that platform. And now, with their newest feature, Live Story has become a broadcast platform, crowd-sourcing real-time content – in September, for example, Snap users could see others’ experiences shared over Snapchat of the Pope’s visit to the U.S. and even travel across the world to discover curated shared stories of Namibia.

Admittedly, when I first downloaded Snapchat two years ago, I didn’t get it. My teenage girls snapped all the time. It was a constant struggle to have dinners, a conversation, or even a walk around the neighborhood without a selfie being snapped.

And then a light bulb went on. It was all about engagement. Meeting them at a place where they felt comfortable and connected.

GlobalWebIndex, a marketing research firm, said that Snapchat is particularly popular with teens, with 84 percent of the app’s estimated 200 million users younger than 35.

Couldn’t this be more of an opportunity to engage students in learning? Through storytelling. Tapping their creativity. Building competencies like communication skills, decision-making and good judgment. What a powerful medium to reach learners.

I attended a school-to-career meeting that convened educators, business leaders, community volunteers and student representatives – ideas were being tossed around by the adults, suggesting ways to engage students. I sat next to a student who twisted uncomfortably in her chair, ringing her hands, awaiting her turn. She finally burst out:

“I think you’re all thinking about it the wrong way. We should share information over Snapchat and Twitter. That’s how we connect and share information.”

Most of the adults scoffed and the conversation continued.

Later I talked with her and other students.

Junior: “Ok yeah. Snapchat is fun. But it’s also a way that we can share information. At lunchtime and during passing period, kids are always on their phone. Sharing information, and ok yeah, selfies. But we also chat about school. Homework assignments, project work.”

Freshman: “Yeah. Like over Live Story. We could like create a School Story and share announcements out or like that SAT word of the day thingy.”

Senior: “We use Snap in my Spanish class to help with vocabulary and pronunciation. It’s kinda cool to be able to snap a video of me talking in Spanish and then the person I’m paired with has to chat back how it’s spelled. But now that’s done. They banned Snapchat.”

Opponents say Snapchat has no instructional value or can’t serve as a learning aid. Didn’t they once say that about computers in the classroom, YouTube (think Flipped Classrooms), and Twitter – which btw, @wcpss and many schools successfully engage with tens of thousands of followers daily through this social media app.

I read on one of the comments by parents reacting to the school system’s decision to ban Snapchat:

“Kids need to be learning. Not distracted by technology, social media and other devices. We need to prepare them for the 21st century.”

We are in the 21st century. Preparing our students for the future also means allowing them to be innovative and help shape the way technology better connects and engages them and others to learn.

As KnowledgeWorks prepares to release our Future of Learning Forecast 4.0, this exchange with students about Snapchat and other new technologies really made me reflect. With the exponential advancement in information and technology, we are ushering a new era of learning and living. Snapchat is just one example of a technology that is reshaping the social realities that influence learning.

Perhaps we all can be more open to learning how new technologies may do more to engage than to distract.

Article by Cris Charbonneau