Faculty Club / Teaching with Technology / 5 Tips for Using Instagram to Improve Student Engagement

5 Tips for Using Instagram to Improve Student Engagement

A special Instagram account helps Christie Novak, DBA, CPA, connect with her accounting students—and gives learning a whole new look.

A special Instagram account helps Christie Novak, DBA, CPA, connect with her accounting students—and gives learning a whole new look.

Christie Novak, DBA, CPA


Assistant Professor of Accounting,
Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York

DBA, CPA, MS in Accounting, BS in Professional Accounting

Anyone who thinks that students’ social media life is centered around Facebook might want to think again, says Christie Novak, DBA, CPA, assistant professor of accounting at Le Moyne College. Students view Facebook as their parents’ platform—and they find it cumbersome and wordy. Millennials (like Novak) and Gen Z prefer quick access and visual emphasis.

So when she was looking for a communications platform to help her connect with students on a daily basis, she realized she needed something familiar and easy. For her, that ruled out not only Facebook but also most college learning management systems. Though these online platforms do work (and can work well), they often come with a steep learning curve, says Novak. Considering the fact that accounting itself is totally new to her first-year students (not to mention a challenging subject in its own right), Novak wanted something simpler.

As these things often go, Novak eventually realized that the solution was staring her in the face—literally, every time she opened Instagram. Today, Novak uses a special Instagram account that she has created just for her classes to create an online learning community that appeals to today’s students.

Below, she shares a snapshot of how she did it.

See materials


“Instead of battling the cell phones, I decided to put myself where the students are already focused. I thought, ‘Let me put my content and my brand of accounting in the place where they’re already looking.’”
-Christie Novak, DBA, CPA

Course: Principles of Accounting I

Course description: An introduction to the study of basic concepts and principles of financial accounting from both the user and preparer perspective. This course includes a study of the classification and recording of original business transactions, the preparation and evaluation of financial statements, and financial reporting standards.

Using Instagram Stories to connect with tech-savvy students

Novak began her Instagram experiment by creating short, punchy, off-the-cuff videos called Instagram Stories. This allowed her to cover concepts related to work done in class—and allowed students to view them (anytime, anywhere) on her Instagram feed. Each video typically reviews an accounting fundamental and then poses a question for students to answer.

For any professor who might wish to make use of Instagram Stories as a classroom communication tool, Novak offers the following guide:

Emphasize authenticity, not perfection

“Come up with a general idea of what you want to talk about,” advises Novak. “The nature of an Instagram Story is that it’s not perfect, so nobody is looking for your videos to be well shot or well developed.” It is even OK if you stutter or say something wrong. This adds authenticity, she says, and students will love you for it, not judge you.

Limit how far you drift into personal territory—yours or your students’

“I have a real life too, and I think sometimes students are looking for that,” says Novak. This is why she often records videos in her home, garage, or backyard—bloopers and all. “Students want you to be a person, and they want you to connect with them on a different level, so I’m like, ‘Here I am in my backyard!’ I think it makes them more comfortable with me.”

[block id=”22428″]

That said, Novak maintains strict topical boundaries in her Instagram interactions, keeping discussions focused on accounting only. She also promises her students that she will not “follow them back” on their personal Instagram profiles. “This is the world where I’m going to talk about accounting,” she tells students. “I’m not going to come into your personal space, and you’re not going to come into mine.”

Observe a posting schedule—but stay silent on holidays and weekends

Novak has found that posting once a week is “the sweet spot” between sending out videos so often that students get sick of checking Instagram and so seldom that they forget about it entirely. She avoids posting on days when she knows students will have exams or on weekends when they would rather not focus on academic matters.

“They can get notifications on their Instagram feed whenever I post something,” she points out. So she knows they know when something is there for them to watch, and that she looks for a response.

Offer extra-credit points for students who respond to video questions

After viewing the video question in an Instagram Story, each student can respond personally and privately with their analysis and answers. Correct answers earn students extra-credit points.

“If they know the answer, they can easily type that back to me,” Novak says. “If they don’t know it, then they know they should know it.” This prompts them to return to their notes and the textbook to review concepts they might have missed or that they misunderstood at first.

Some students choose to respond with Instagram videos of their own that show them working through the problem on paper.

Keep Instagram responses private to make it OK to fail

The ultimate goal of Novak’s Instagram interaction is to build personal relationships with students. To do this, she has found that it is vital to protect the relationships she has with each of them by keeping those interactions private. This approach, she says, allows students to take risks to try (and sometimes fail) in a venue not visible to their classmates.

Christie Novak

“I can ask them a question or ask them to do a practice problem, and when they reply, it comes directly to me,” she notes. “Nobody else is seeing that, and nobody else is judging them about whether they got it right or wrong.” This also prevents them from simply copying somebody else’s answer from a discussion board and reposting it.

Novak has seen favorable results: “Students who followed the Instagram account on average had a higher overall course grade—by 8.86 points,” she says. “At the end of the course, 29% of the students responded with a higher likelihood of majoring in accounting.”

She has also received positive feedback from students. Comments include:

  • “It was very helpful since it required me to study harder in order to get the extra credit questions correct.”
  • “Instagram was a good tool utilized to help keep me involved and engaged with the topic at hand. I would recommend more professors try this out.”
  • “It was a fun and great way to help myself and other students engage in the course and boost their grades.”

Giving the technology a human touch, Novak believes, is what made the difference. “Even though it’s through this medium of a phone, it’s still a one-on-one conversation,” she says. “And by using the videos on Instagram Stories, I feel I’ve helped my students get more comfortable with me.”

See materials

Get the Faculty Club newsletter

Browse by Topic