Science professors using Snapchat to connect with students

Nov 25th, 2019

Kelly Foss

Science professors using Snapchat to connect with students

Some professors in the Faculty of Science are meeting their students in their natural environment: Snapchat.

The mobile messaging app sends photos, videos, text and drawings that disappear once viewed on a smartphone. Influencer Marketing Hub counted 178 million users of the app in 2018.

‘Cumbersome’ email

Dr. Travis Fridgen, associate dean (undergraduate and administrative), Faculty of Science, and a professor in the Department of Chemistry, first got the idea in the fall of 2018 when his daughter messaged him via the social media site. She’s in her second year at Memorial.

“She Snapchatted me a question about her biochemistry homework and I thought, ‘What a good idea!’ In the past, when students would email me and try to explain a chemistry problem they were having trouble with, I would often say, ‘Can you send me a picture of your workings?’ But most students don’t use email, and it’s cumbersome. With Snapchat it’s so easy, just click and send.”

Instant response

Since providing his Snapchat handle to his students, he’s seen a dramatic increase in questions coming from students and a reduction in students looking for help during his office hours.

“Sometimes, before a test, the lineups outside of my door would be long,” said Dr. Fridgen. “Or they would be doing their assignments at night and I’m not here in the night. Now I can get back to them immediately, or at the latest, within 24 hours. It also decreases their anxiety level, because they’re not carrying a question around until they can get to see me.”

Dr. Fridgen delivered a presentation on his use of Snapchat at the Faculty of Science Teaching and Learning Retreat in February 2019. Since then, other faculty members have been using it in their classrooms.

Dr. Kelly Shorlin is a professor of Physics and Physical Oceanography. She started using Snapchat the day after she heard Dr. Fridgen present on it.

“The No. 1 indicator of whether a student enjoys their time in university is whether or not they feel connected,” she said. “First-year science courses often have large class sizes, which can be very intimidating to students, and big lecture halls are very isolating. But Snapchat is such an easy way to reach out to them.”

Dr. Shorlin uses snapstreaks – when Snapchatters message each other for consecutive days – giving prizes at her last lecture of the semester to students who have maintained a streak of snaps with her. She also puts bonus questions in her Snapchat story – posts that are visible for 24 hours and can be viewed more than once.

Students helping students

Dr. Rick Goulding, the undergraduate studies academic program officer for the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, also teaches first-year physics classes. He’s found Snapchat to be a great time-saver when working with students.

“What I have found useful is that when a student sends me a pic of a question, I can sketch a solution on paper really quickly and just “snap” a pic of it back to them,” he said. “It saves us from having to send a lot of clarification emails back and forth.

“This is particularly useful the night before an exam where students have lots of last-minute questions. I can leave my Snapchat open and be available to students wherever I am.”

Dr. Barry Power also uses Snapchat to field questions from his first-year chemistry students. But he’s not the only one providing them with assistance.

“I’ve arranged my students in groups of 32, and they can send pictures and ask questions to me or the group,” he said. “I’ve found they mostly ask within the group and other students will often answer before I get a chance.

“So, while Snapchat is great for professors interacting with students,” he continued, “I also think it helps students interact with each other and meet people they normally wouldn’t in a class of 200.”

Building a better environment

Carter McNelly is a second-year ocean sciences student. He’s been in classes with both Dr. Fridgen and Dr. Shorelin and says Snapchat builds a better environment between students and their professors.

“They don’t feel as distant,” he said. “It helps to know if you’re stuck on a question, it’s okay to reach out and ask for help and your professor will be there.”

He’s also taken advantage of Snapchat groups to meet and arrange study sessions with his classmates.

“My friend and I were in Dr. Fridgen’s class and we didn’t know anyone else,” he said. “So, we said, ‘Why don’t we just book a study room at the library and tell everyone in our group to feel free to come join us,’ and they did. It just takes one person to start the conversation. The second somebody makes the first move everyone’s more comfortable doing it.”