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Use Snapchat to Engage Students

By Wendy Tietz, CMA, CSCA, CPA, and Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA
August 1, 2018
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Snapchat is a camera application for mobile devices that enables users to communicate visually by using pictures or short videos referred to as “snaps.” While there are several social media platforms (such as Facebook and Instagram) that allow users to share pictures, Snapchat is unique because its pictures and videos are deleted automatically once the recipient views them. Because content is shared quickly and easily, often in real time, Snapchat is a widely used app for sharing images, especially for younger social media users.

 

Recent research has shown that 77% of college students use Snapchat, with 50% of college students using Snapchat to communicate daily. In 2017, Snapchat became the most popular social media network of U.S. teenagers. Snapchat is an alternative way to connect with students in addition to traditional methods such as email and a learning management system.

 

 

USING SNAPCHAT WITH OUR STUDENTS

 

Although Snapchat is a fun tool for personal use, it also has practical applications for classrooms and student engagement. We both teach introductory accounting in large class sections where student engagement can be challenging. Wendy also uses Snapchat with her smaller online summer classes and finds that the app really helps to increase engagement in what can feel like an anonymous online environment. We categorize our Snapchat class usage into six main categories:

 

  1. Illustrate real-life accounting examples

 

One way to use Snapchat with students is to highlight examples of accounting in real life. The idea is to take pictures of everyday life and put accounting-related captions on the snaps.

 

For example, assume that you’re teaching an introductory financial accounting course and recently discussed the different forms of business organization in class. While running an errand at the local Pier 1 store, you snap a picture of the storefront and use the caption “Pier 1 is a corporation, meaning that its owners (stockholders) aren’t personally liable for its debts, unlike sole proprietorships and partnerships where the owners are personally liable.”

 

Or you might be eating at a local restaurant and see through the window that the restaurant is getting a food delivery from Sysco. You dash outside to the street to snap a picture of the delivery truck and use the caption “When Sysco makes a delivery of food on account to a restaurant in Acorn Alley, Sysco will have accounts receivable due from the restaurant.” Alternatively, you could rephrase that caption to also make it appropriate when teaching about current liabilities and payables.

 

Another idea would be to snap a picture of equipment being used in a business when you’re covering property, plant, and equipment in class. Recently Jennifer was visiting the Florida Aquarium and took a video of an octopus crawling up the glass and captioned it, “An octopus would be considered ‘property, plant, and equipment’ on the Aquarium’s balance sheet.” She received several responses from current and former students on that snap, surprised that the marine animals were assets.

 

This real-life strategy can also be used to share content for management accounting classes. For example, when baking cookies, you can snap a picture of the ingredients and comment that these are raw materials inventory for a cookie company. A subsequent snap of the batter can be considered work-in-process inventory, and the baked cookies are finished goods.

 

Jennifer also snapped some pictures of new dorms being built on her campus and added text about how the decision to build the dorms was an example of a capital budgeting decision for the university. Real-life accounting concepts can be found just about anywhere—you just have to keep an open mind and be a little creative.

 

 

  1. Reinforce key concepts

 

Another way to use Snapchat with your students is to reinforce key concepts in the course. For these, we generally think of a main concept to reinforce and then take a snap to mirror that concept. For example, early in the financial accounting course, Wendy does several snaps called “accounting tip of the day.” On one of these, she might snap an interesting background and then simply write “revenues minus expenses equals net income.” Another accounting tip might be “Unearned revenue is a liability until it’s earned.”

 

We both like to post short accounting practice questions with Snapchat. Wendy often creates a series of snaps to set up the question, pose the question, give a hint, and then reveal the answer and how it’s calculated. For example, her first snap will say, “Test your understanding of Friday’s class.” The second snap might say, “XYZ company has $100 in assets and $60 in liabilities, so what is the company’s equity?” The third snap will include that same information and give a hint, showing the accounting equation. The fourth snap shows the answer with all the computations. The key to the story snaps is to post each sequential step in succession so that students can cycle through those snaps in your story in that order.

 

Jennifer will often pose questions for her management accounting class with a picture and have students respond using the chat function. For example, she has posted a picture of her favorite Starbucks drink and asked, “If the selling price per cup is $5, with variable costs of $2 per cup and fixed costs of $6,000 per month for this location, how many cups of this drink must be sold to break even?” As students respond, she immediately gives them feedback. If they guess correctly, she usually gives them a “high five” emoji. If they guess incorrectly, she responds with the correct answer worked out for them. She will then repeat the question the next day during class as a polling question that counts toward students’ grades. This repetition helps to reinforce the concept and also allows students who aren’t participating in Snapchat to be included.

 

  1. Remind students about due dates

 

Use Snapchat to remind students about due dates and other course-related items. You might be able to take a snap of the computerized homework system and circle a due date for an upcoming homework assignment. Or you can take a snap of a calculator to remind them of the exam coming up.

 

We also like to use snaps to reinforce administrative details. For example, Wendy may want to tell students that certain study aids aren’t available during exams, so she will snap a picture of those study aids in the computerized accounting software, circle them, and caption the snap with, “These aids aren’t available on the exam.” This is covered in class and stated in the syllabus, but the snap is just another way to reinforce it. Another example would be to post a snap of an ID card (blocking out private information) to remind students they need to bring their photo ID to the exam. Again, this is something covered in class and the syllabus, but it’s an extra reminder for students.

 

  1. Interact with students

 

One of the most rewarding ways to use Snapchat is to interact with your students. Although you normally talk with students before and after class, a snap will often spark a response from a student in real time, outside of normal class times and days. For example, Jennifer took a snap while watching the Super Bowl and asked students for the journal entry the NFL will need to record now that the game has aired—and she received more than 50 responses from students during the game! Snapchat also really helps to facilitate interaction more frequently with online students you might not see or with students who are in classes that meet only once a week.

 

Snapchat Stories. One feature that helps student interaction is Snapchat Stories. That’s a special section you can use to include snaps of yourself and create a sort of timeline that students can view. This helps make you seem much more human and real to your students, especially in large classes like the ones we teach. It’s a great way to introduce yourself at the beginning of the semester. On the first day of the semester, Wendy often has a running story of her day. First, she might post a snap of going into the building before school starts and caption it “Welcome to Class!” She will also take pictures of the classroom being set up for students, creating a behind-the-scenes look. She will also take a selfie in the hallway, captioning that she’s excited to be off to her first day of class for the semester. After that first class, she takes a picture of her office door and invites students to come see her. She also will walk around and take selfies with students, asking them permission to post it to her story. Most students are excited to participate, but if she senses any hesitation she just moves on quickly.

 

Jennifer will often post snaps to her story when she’s traveling with students to the regional and national meetings of Beta Alpha Psi, the international accounting and finance honor society. She posts pictures of the city they visit, the hotel, and her students making presentations or accepting awards. This allows the students who are interested in accounting to see what some of the junior and senior accounting majors are doing outside class. The snaps also get our first- or second-year students excited about possibly joining the Beta Alpha Psi chapter one day.

 

Receiving Snaps. You can also receive snaps or chats from your students, which we believe is one of the most exciting reasons to use Snapchat with them. We have both received a wide variety of snaps from students, and it makes the class seem so much more personal and engaging. We even receive some accounting-related snaps from students who have graduated.

 

Frequently we will receive introductory snaps from students, where they take a selfie and caption it with their name and what they might be feeling about the class thus far. These snaps are more interesting than an email. Students have sent us pictures of their cats, dogs, or new babies. We also receive pictures from students’ adventures during a study-abroad semester when they’re taking the class online. Those study-abroad snaps are especially rewarding if they are accounting related. Jennifer once received a snap from a student over winter break from a Starbucks in Paris, referencing her favorite drink and the contribution margin per glass. One of Wendy’s all-time favorite snaps from a student was a snap of a Soft Soap Aloe Vera Liquid Hand Soap container. The student captioned that snap “Assets = liabilities + owners’ equity…ALOE.”

 

We also have students send us snaps of the grade screen in the course, showing their excitement over a particular exam grade. We even have students send us snaps of average grades, but they tell us they’re going to do better in the future. We have also had groups of students send snaps of them studying together for exams, showing us how hard they’re working. Those snaps always make us smile and give us the opportunity to send an encouraging word back to them in real time. On the night before the final exam, Jennifer will often take a snap of a stack of Dunkin’ Donuts boxes and tell students to meet her in the library lobby within the next 30 minutes for a study snack. There are usually 50-100 students waiting for her there to grab a donut and ask any last-minute questions.

 

 

  1. Field student questions

 

Sometimes students use Snapchat for questions. Rather than describing the issue at length, they can snap a picture of the item and then caption the snap with their question. It makes it easy to just reply with a quick chat to answer the question if it’s fairly simple. For more complicated questions, we normally ask the student to email us directly so that we can answer the question more fully. It certainly helps cut down on the emails we receive, though, because the majority of questions we receive from the introductory students can often be answered in a sentence or two.

 

  1. Share professional activities

 

Snapchat also enables us to share our professional activities with students and to model professional behavior.

 

For example, Kent State University holds a “Meet the Accountants Night” where junior and senior students meet with representatives from prospective internship firms. Wendy posts various snaps of the event for her sophomore students to see the event, get an idea of what the event entails, and view proper professional dress. The hope is that this makes the event seem less intimidating when those same students attend as juniors the following year.

 

We both also post snaps when we attend professional conferences. Students see us in professional settings, and it also demonstrates that learning is a lifelong process, not just something done during college years.

 

IMPLEMENTATION CONSIDERATIONS

 

Because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), we’re very careful how we use Snapchat with students. Most important, we never use Snapchat to convey any private information about a student. If a student snaps and asks for information about his or her exam results, performance in the course, or any reason for missing class, we respond with a request to either come see us during office hours or to send an email. We don’t discuss private information in Snapchat—mainly because we have no way to verify that we’re talking with the student. We also always ask a student for their permission before posting a picture of them on Snapchat and respect their wishes if they prefer not to be posted.

 

We also include a statement in our syllabi to discuss our Snapchat usage and policies, including that we can and do screenshot their snaps to us. Wendy tells her students she does this because she enjoys their creativity and wants to share their awesomeness with her colleagues. By posting this in the syllabus, students know that we may screenshot their snaps.

 

We often receive questions from other professors about having a personal Snapchat account separate from a professional use account. We don’t recommend using two Snapchat accounts because it’s very easy to mix up which one you’re using, and Snapchat isn’t very flexible when it comes to switching between multiple accounts. Keep in mind that Snapchat is used in real time on the spur of the moment. It becomes very tedious (and you often lose the moment) if you have to switch between two accounts.

 

To manage between our personal and professional snaps, we generally post our accounting/student-related snaps to our stories. For anything personal, we simply share snaps directly with friends and family, and it isn’t posted to our story. Think of your story as the public view of your life. Snaps sent directly to your friends aren’t publicly viewable; only the friends you select see the direct snap. You can also send group snaps, but we strongly advise against this for your use with your students. If you send a group snap to your students and someone replies, everyone sees the reply. This can become almost like spamming if everyone keeps responding. By sending all of your public snaps to your story, all students can see it, but any reply is sent only to you rather than to the whole group.

 

We also have received questions about whether students feel like we’re intruding in their personal lives with Snapchat. We don’t believe so. First, we post to our story in Snapchat, and it’s the student’s choice whether to click on it or not. This choice is very different from Facebook or Instagram, where you scroll through and see all of the content. A student has to actively click on your icon in order to see the story. Second, the snap will disappear within 24 hours. And, third, we don’t require our students to follow us on Snapchat, so it really is their choice. In our experience, students appreciate our use of Snapchat and view it as a way to connect with us outside of class—and some even stay connected once they leave our classes.

 

Snapchat has been easy to implement, and students have really embraced our effort to reach them in a different way. It’s enabled us to have a presence with students even outside of class and after they leave our classes. It truly has been a rewarding experience.

 

Wendy Tietz, CMA, CSCA, CPA, Ph.D., is a professor of accounting at Kent State University. She is also a member of IMA’s Akron Chapter. You can reach Wendy at wtietz@kent.edu or on Snapchat at wendytietz.
Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA, is a clinical professor of accounting at University of South Florida. She is also a member of IMA and the FICPA. You can reach Jennifer at jmcainas@usf.edu or on Snapchat at prof_cainas.  
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