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The Embedded Lesson Approach to Social Media Research: Researching Online Phenomena in an Authentic Offline Setting


For American teenagers, social media participation has become a routine feature of everyday life, with ready access to their online networks via smartphones, tablets, and computers. Despite questions and concerns about its effects, relatively few educational researchers have qualitatively explored how students use social media. Complexities such as parental consent, unintended access to non-consented peers, and privacy rights may be deterrents to this research. In this paper, we describe our embedded lesson approach to studying teenagers’ social media use in a high school setting. We designed and delivered three consecutive lessons about social media to two classes. Embedded within these lessons were opportunities to collect data via surveys, focus groups, and observations, along with member checking as a form of quality assurance. This approach rapidly yielded a rich data set, while also giving students the opportunity to articulate and reflect on their social media activities and experiences.

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Author information

Correspondence to Vanessa P. Dennen.

Ethics declarations

This study was not funded. This study was approved by the researchers’ Institutional Review Board, and all procedures involving human participants were in accordance with these ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

Vanessa Dennen declares that she has no conflicts of interest. Stacey Rutledge declares that she has no conflicts of interest.

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Dennen, V.P., Rutledge, S.A. The Embedded Lesson Approach to Social Media Research: Researching Online Phenomena in an Authentic Offline Setting. TechTrends 62, 483–491 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-018-0315-4

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  • Embedded research
  • Social media
  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Research design