Exploration of Instagram Chats as a Valuable Online Discussion Tool in Public Relations Courses

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

As public relations (PR) pedagogy evolves to keep up with the progression of the field, social media has become a core educational area within PR and strategic communication curriculum. Join us in a stimulating conversation on using social media to increase motivation, emotional presence, and community in PR courses.


Dr. Candace Parrish has a background in public relations, visual communication, and social media research. She is interested in strategic communication from health (promotion and prevention) to entertainment. She has presented and won awards for her research in visual communication, public relations and social media both nationally and internationally. Dr. Parrish has consulted several organizations and artists on consumer insights, social media strategy, and graphic design.
With over 10 years of experience in higher education and instructional design and training and 3 years experience of teaching at the collegiate level, Courtney is passionate about creating a great student experience through curriculum design and instruction.

Extended Abstract

Social media usage among adults and college-aged students has steadily increased over the past decade. Social media (SM) platforms were initially created as a tool for purely social communication purposes. However, over the years, SM has become a core aspect of business and communication practices in the field of public relations. SM is defined as technologies that facilitates social interactions, allow for collaboration and enable deliberation across stakeholders. As public relations (PR) pedagogy evolves to keep up with the progression of the field, SM has become a core educational area within PR and strategic communication curriculum, allowing education to take place in informal spaces. This promotes meaningful student interactions and encourages active learning versus passive learning among students. Social media has the ability to remove the restrictions of learning management systems and enables collaborative interaction, connects learning to real-world problems and facilitates personalized constructive learning.

One of the most popular and successful SM platforms—Instagram, has remained a top platform since its launch in 2012—primarily because of its combination of visual and textual digital content. Needless to say, Instagram (IG) is an SM platform that is often researched, discussed, and used as a tool for communication within PR courses. Although there is scholarly literature regarding the significance and experiences of students using Twitter Chats in PR classroom discussion, there is minimal research regarding the use and effectiveness of IG chats as a tool for communication and online discussion in PR courses. Synchronous communication can be useful in quickly building and establishing confidence and modeling social presence. Twitter Chats foster classroom community, collaborative writing, make announcements and send reminders. IG chats provide opportunities and incentives for students to test and apply their knowledge beyond the (virtual) classroom.  IG chats also allow students to apply their knowledge in environments in which they are familiar as Instagram becomes more commonly used.

The goal of this research is to (1) explore student perceptions of IG chats and their effectiveness as a tool for discussion in PR courses and (2) to further solidify the classroom tool as an innovative approach to online and blended learning teaching. This research is based on the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework, as a social-constructivist model to create a meaningful learning experience through social, cognitive and teaching presence. This includes capturing the ideas and arguments of their peers along with interacting with their peers and knowledge and guidance from their instructor. This study will serve as a mixed method exploration of IG chats. The first level of research will be a qualitative content analysis of written, one-page reflections from students in two Spring 2019 PR courses that used IG chats as a discussion tool. The second level of research will be a survey administered to (current and former) students at three different US academic institutions who have previously completed IG chats as apart of discussion in a PR course from 2016 to 2019. This research on the potential effectiveness of Instagram chats will help to (1) build a foundation for scholarly research on IG use in PR courses and (2) help progress tactics/tools for implementing online discussions in PR courses. While this research is based on PR courses, the methodological approach can be used across disciplines to promote rich discussions, increased engagement and make connections.

For engagement, researchers will allow audience members to answer a question via Instagram so they can experience how the chat works. At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will have a framework to utilize social media, specifically IG chats in their online classrooms to promote discussions, provide inclusivity and facilitate learning--regardless of discipline. Participants will also have the knowledge of student experiences to include in the design of future assignments involving social media.