Instagram Scavenger Hunts in the Writing Classroom

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It all started with a contest sponsored by Virginia Tech University Relations. Next thing I knew, I was seeing options for Instagram assignments everywhere.

At the beginning of the month, I was checking email before class, and I found details on the #SeeVT: Pic – Post – Win contest in the daily news email. The contest seemed on topic for my Writing and Digital Media course, so I quickly edited the day’s post to add this note:

Prove that you are a smart user of digital media. Participate in the #SeeVT contest, adding the hashtag #Engl3844s16 to your post. We will bring up the photos in class. If you win a prize, you win two excused absences. If you have perfect attendance, we will negotiate an alternative.

NOTE: You will have to give me your Instagram name if you win. Don’t worry; however, I won’t follow you or stroll through your old messages.

Gardner_Apr26_223b.jpgSeveral students participated, though not as many as I had hoped. Since it was only for extra credit, I didn’t worry about it. I mentioned it at the three class sessions the week of the contest and pulled up the submitted images with the course hashtag. The winners were random, so I did stress that everyone had a chance. Happily, I can tell you that one of my students (shown right) won one of the daily contests, winning a t-shirt.

After the contest that week, I am seeing Instagram and hashtag-based activities as a possibility everywhere. Most recently, I was in a meeting where a Crops and Environmental Sciences professor was describing how she wants students to learn more about how the grains they study are used in their food as well as how those crops related to different cultures and festivals. Immediately, I thought about how much students love to take photos of their food. So why not ask students to post photos of what they eat, tagging the crops that are involved and if possible connecting to any relevant cultures and festivals?

As I think about my own classes for next term, I have been thinking about challenges to post images that relate to whatever we are covering each week. For my Writing and Digital Media class, students could simply post photos of any well-designed multimodal texts, and I will probably encourage that. Very specific challenges, however, will ask students to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts. Further, we can pull up the images in class and review the ideas.

Generally, students will take photos of texts that demonstrate specific concepts from class. Along with the image, they will post an explanation of what makes the example effective as well as the relevant hashtags (one for the challenge of the week and one for the course). I’m thinking of the activity as a kind of semester-long scavenger hunt. Here’s the first draft of the challenges (in a list of ten, of course):

  1. Great use of color
  2. Multimodal text focused on performance
  3. Simple effective design
  4. Effective use of negative (white) space
  5. Strong use of visual emphasis
  6. Convincing use of a weblink (not on the web)
  7. Eye-catching poster or flyer
  8. Effective multimodal text with no linguistic text
  9. Strong multimodal text that uses only two colors
  10. Powerful use of photography

I have a few goals for the list. First, I hope to encourage students to think beyond the comfortable understanding of texts as equivalent to words. Second, I want students to document only positive examples to avoid creating a critical tone in the course. I don’t want to unleash a squad of design police on the world.

Next week, I will consider the logistical issues, like tracking and grading students’ submissions. Have you used Instagram or other shared photos in the classroom? Do you have suggestions to share? Let me hear from you by leaving a comment below.

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.