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Using Social Media as an Investigative Tool

By Christen Campbell

In my presentation, Au delà baguette et du béret, I invited participants to view the francophone world beyond the standard stereotypes that we, and our students, typically think of when considering all things French. There is absolutely nothing wrong with students exploring topics that intrigue them, such as French pastries, but it is also our job to help expose them to hidden gems they may not discover on their own.

Previously, when I introduced a new subject, an author, literature, or artist with my students, I typically would go the traditional route of finding information and summarizing it, so that we could get to the real content faster. While direct instruction can be effective, we know that students gain more by doing the investigative work for themselves. While a quick Google search will reveal valuable information, I’ve started encouraging students to view a given topic based on social media resources.

Let’s be honest, social media captivates our students’ attention. For example, when my students were learning about the Franco-Congolese writer, Alain Mabanckou, instead of force-feeding them information on paper, I directed them to his various social media pages. Not only are there vibrant images of the author, but he shares his values, his life, and connections to things he finds interesting. Scrolling through Mabanckou’s Instagram account is like a carefully curated autobiography of the author’s life presented in a way that speaks to our students. They will quickly discover his political activism, his close ties to American culture, his two cute French bulldogs–Moki and Lavomatic, and his eclectic style.

Furthermore, by discovering an author this way, we are also connecting to the larger web of writers and artists that Mabanckou follows himself. Mabanckou frequently shares the books he’s reading, quoting other authors. On June 8th, 2020 Mabanckou posted “S.O.S” by Léon-Gontran Damas, a Guyanais and a founding member of the Négritude movement whose poem still resonates today.

Just as many of us found solace cooking during the confinement period, so did Mabanckou, showing us how to prepare his childhood favorite, le foufou. It was through this post that I discovered another francophone author, whom Mabanckou refers to as his accomplice, the Djiboutien, and acclaimed author, Abdourahman Waberi. Mabanckou highlights their recently published collaboration, Dictionnaire enjoué des cultures africaines (Editions Fayard, 2019). I am ashamed to say that I have never heard of Abdourahman Waberi, but now, because I dove into the rabbit hole of Mabanckou’s Instagram page, I am quickly discovering new material to share with my students.

But my school blocks social media!!! Yes, I hear you, so does mine. In my experience, teenagers have been pretty quick to get around such roadblocks. As many schools are currently operating in a hybrid model, this might very well be the perfect antidote to engaging our students outside of the classroom. Our students are already using these platforms, how many of them would roll their eyes if we suggested they conduct research this way?

Watch Christen’s Webinar, Au delà baguette et du béret here:


Additional Resources:

Link to instagram post where Alain is making le foufou: 


Post of SOS, Léon-Gontra Damas:

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