The Instagram Class

This case study is based on an Intro Photography course I taught at the University of Chicago during the 2022-2023 academic year.

Challenged with creating an engaging art class geared towards non-majors, I decided to turn turn the conventional art class experience upside down.

This isn’t a conventional UX case study, yet everything below is applicable to designing digital interfaces and experiences. I take an often subpar experience, completely restructure that experience, and improve the outcome for the intended audience.
Dashboard mockup


👨 I leveraged smartphones, group work, and social media to create an engaging classroom environment for students with zero photography experience.
🎭 The marquee assignment prompted students to concoct a character, and then perform as that character on Instagram.
🎨 Students who were shy and reluctant became active participants, and wanted to take more photography courses by the end.

🧩 Problems

I designed this class to address the following concerns:

How can I create a meaningful art class experience for students who aren't interested in the subject?

How do I design assignments that allow students to make work meaningful to them?

How do I teach them digital photography in a way that makes sense?

How do I get students to participate in class?
Credit card mockups

🛁 Solutions

📲 Replacing Digital Cameras with Smartphones

Conventional photo courses begin by teaching students how to use complicated, professional grade cameras.

Makes sense to teach students how to use the tools of the trade first, right?

The problem is these complicated tools have little to do with image making at a rudimentary level.

By using smartphones, students focused on the contents and composition of images, rather than fiddling with unnecessary buttons.

🏗 Logical Building Blocks

Each of the first four weeks of the course focused on a different aspect of photography. The first week was camera angles, the second was image composition, the third was lighting, etc.

Each week progressively built on the previous week, with assignments that incorporated each added element.

Adding elements at a rapid pace meant students quickly saw progress in their ability, which encouraged further progress.

⚙️ Learning Skills at a Variable Pace

I rarely lectured in class. For new technical skills, I assigned LinkedIn Learning and YouTube videos for homework. Students watched the videos at their own pace, and rewatched sections they struggled with.

Each class session reinforced the material taught in the videos with in-class exercises to practice the skills.

🤝 Peer Visibility and Collaboration

Students collaborated and grew with each other throughout their photography journey.

Students regularly received feedback from their peers in small group discussions, ensuring everyone received quality time to share their work and fair opportunities to speak in class.

🌟 Course Structure for Multiple Skill Levels

While most students had no prior photography experience, a few did. The class structure afforded advanced students to undertake more ambitious projects, and utilize advanced equipment if they desired.

The Instagram Project

Each student was tasked with creating a character (not necessarily an influencer), and then performing as that character via a series of still images.

Students created an Instagram account for the class; all students followed their classmates accounts.

The project took place over the course of four weeks, with three to four images created per week.

Characters included a fitness influencer peddling conspiracy theories, a college student diagnosed with a terminal illness, a pregnant college student, a goth influencer, and more.

This project gave students space to

📸 Reinforce newly acquired photography skills

🪴 Grow and collaborate alongside peers

🏫 Critically reflect on engagement with social media

🎨 Expand creative muscles

🪺 Testimonials from Course Evaluations

Note: All course evaluations were submitted anonymously
“This class was very fun, interesting, and very hands on. It taught me a lot about photography and photoshop…the teacher taught it in such a way that was so optimal, interesting, and applicable, that I was able to learn so much just from doing our assignments and from our discussions in class.”
“I really liked the way we always used class time differently; sometimes it was watching videos, sometimes it was discussions, sometimes it was small groups; it kept things interesting while fostering an environment conducive to learning”
“This course definitely challenged me creatively and I had a great time trying to come up with unique and creative photographs every week.”
“Flexibility and lack of harsh grading made the class much more enjoyable. Was more willing to take risks because we weren't always worried about grades”