Using Visual Social Media in Language Learning to Investigate the Role of Social Presence


  • Fabrizio Fornara University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI)
  • Lara Lomicka University of South Carolina



social presence, community of inquiry, mobile learning, visual social media, Instagram


In this paper, we attempt to investigate the pedagogical value of visual social media platforms, specifically Instagram, for the development of the online social presence of language classes. Students in intermediate university-level French and Italian classes used Instagram for a six-week period to reply to a series of questions prompted by the instructor as a way to engage in interaction with their own classmates. This research examines how students establish a community of inquiry (CoI) and investigates the development of social presence in students’ posts. Using a mixed methods approach, we performed a content analysis of the transcripts of Instagram posts, coding for social presence. Given the visual nature of Instagram, we also conducted a visual analysis of representative posts to investigate the multimodal projection of social presence. Additionally, we administered voluntary pre-questionnaires to capture demographic data and students’ experience with Instagram. We analyzed the data using the social presence density calculation and performed basic statistical analyses. Findings indicate that students did build online social presence, which can promote the development of a CoI. Both language groups performed in similar ways, which may be a result of the tool rather than the language and context. This finding is consistent with the general use of visual social media as a tool for self-expression, self-identity, and community building.

Author Biographies

  • Fabrizio Fornara, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI)

    Fabrizio Fornara is Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland. His research interests include social media, instructional design and technology, and computer-assisted language learning.

  • Lara Lomicka, University of South Carolina

    Lara Lomicka is Professor of French and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of South Carolina. Her research interests include teacher education, intercultural learning, social media, study abroad, service learning, and computer-assisted language learning. She currently serves as the President of the American Association of University Supervisors and Coordinators (AAUSC), and President of the National Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (NFMLTA), and recently finished a term as the Past President of the Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO).


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How to Cite

Fornara, F., & Lomicka, L. (2019). Using Visual Social Media in Language Learning to Investigate the Role of Social Presence. CALICO Journal, 36(3), 184-203.