As COVID-19 forced university courses to be delivered online, Stuart Middleton, a tenured professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, was struggling to connect with his remote students. So he decided to try to find them where he heard they like to hang out: on TikTok.
He started making videos on TikTok and worked to tailor his posts to the playful spirit of the platform. In many of her videos, she interprets scenes from famous Hollywood movies, as well as changing the terms of the strategic management courses she teaches.
For example, in one of them he plays the character of Clint Eastwood in the movie "Dirty Harry", in an iconic scene in which he asks "Are you happy?" instead of saying "Did I fire six shots today or just five?". The professor says, "I observed five forces, or just four," referring to a management theory known as Porter's Five Forces.
Other clips he created include modified scenes from Zoolander, The Sixth Sense, and Titanic.
The professor admits it's "cheesy stuff," but says he was inspired by seeing other major TikTok influencers like artist Drake.
"He does a lot of cheesy stuff," Middleton tells EdSurge. "That's how she was related."
Turns out, he's not the only teacher trying out TikTok in his classes. It is difficult to determine how widespread this practice is, but some scholars,including Middleton, have recently published articles in scientific journals about their experiences. And even some TikTok teachersquickly became known.
But the TikTok platform is also becoming increasingly controversial. Have at least 20 state universities in the USblocked the use of TikTok on campus networks, often to comply with new government laws and regulations that prohibit applications on government devices and networks. Officials in those states argue that the platform, owned by a company in Beijing, poses a cybersecurity threat or fear it is spying on the Chinese government.
Despite this, data shows that TikTok is currently the go-to place for college students. 67 percent of teens in the US say they use the service.a recent Pew Research Center surveyand TikTok recently overtook Google as the most visited website on the web.
Will it have a role in university classrooms?
bring science to the public
One of Caitlin Light's many responsibilities as an assistant professor at Binghamton University is managing the social media accounts for the freshman research immersion program, and the students were quick to give her some advice: Nobody uses Instagram anymore. All students are on TikTok now.
So he decided to create his own TikToks, with the help of his students.
"I'm an expert on what students are facing and what they need to know," she says. "And they're the experts on what's going on with TikTok right now." Plus, she added, discovering TikTok can be like "falling down a rabbit hole."
Many of the publications that Light has created focus more on motivating students than providing instruction.
And I knew I had to make it interesting from the start for anyone to see.
"If it's something boring and didactic, like you'd see in a YouTube video, you're going to be ignored," she says.
one of your postsIt shows Light walking into the lab wearing a white coat and dancing to a popular pop song on TikTok at the time as a halo-like effect flickers around him. The text on the screen reads: "I am entering the lab in my second semester at FRI and am excited to improve my lab skills, be a good team member, and make new discoveries."
The goal, he said, is "to build some momentum and excitement for the semester."
As she learned more about TikTok, she decided to make creating short posts a class assignment. She challenged the students to use their TikTok skills by using posts to explain scientific concepts and what research looks like to the public.
"Most of my use in the classroom is to help my students explain their research to regular people," says Light. “Our research is there for people to create change in the world. If we can't get people interested, we're not making money, we're not having an impact. People outside of our little academic bubble should be interested."
She and a colleague published a newspaper article about their experiences over the past year titled "TikTok: a new way of teaching and learning scientific communication online.”
“It is the ethical responsibility of the researchers to make the results available to the public in a timely manner,” the document concludes. “As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, effective science communication is essential to meet this obligation. Inspiring the next generation of science communicators will continue to improve science communication and make exciting discoveries accessible to all."
"It's a language that children speak"
Shauna Pomerantz, a professor of child and youth studies at Brock University in Canada, doesn't use TikTok for class, instead finding ways to play TikTok clips in her lectures.
"I bring TikToks with me all the time," she says. Just this week, she says, she gave a lecture on racism. "I showed a TikTok compilation of black moms showing their black daughters the trailer for the new movie 'The Little Mermaid' starring Halle Bailey," she says. "I used this TikTok video to talk about the importance of representation."
She sees TikTok as the latest in a long tradition of teachers using popular and youth culture to connect with students.
"If you don't participate, you're going to miss a conversation," says Pomerantz. "That's why teachers tend to do it because they know the kids are there and it's a language the kids speak."
Pomerantz first became interested in TikTok at the start of the pandemic when her 11-year-old daughter found solace flipping through videos there. He ended up inviting her daughter to collaborate with her on a TikTok research project to document the platform's role in young people's lives.
"There are so many bits on TikTok that you can't really talk about them," says Pomerantz. "It's like being in a big high school where you know your people and ignore the rest."
Not everyone thinks that teachers should encourage the use of TikTok, which many see as a distractioncan prevent students from paying attention in classOr your studies. And others complain that he maintains a superficial attitude towards information.
“These little videos can perpetuate mythology,incorrect information, it distorts viewpoints and discourages truly critical thinking," educational consultant Paul Bennett told CBC News in an article they wrote about the Pomerantz experiment.
Middleton, the teacher in Australia, says he initially refused to use social media in class and rarely uses Twitter and at one point abandoned his Facebook account in protest.
But he decided to give TikTok a try, especially since many of his students were international students from China, where the service originated. Still, he makes sure to post all of his videos on his learning management system for social media users to see as well. “I don't want my students who don't have a TikTok account to miss out on this content,” she adds.
“Would I encourage my students to be on social media all the time? No," Middleton says. "But they're not going to leave social media because I told them to."
Jeffrey R. Joven (@jryoung) is an editor of EdSurge and moderator ofEdSurge-Podcast. He can be reached at jeff [at] edsurge [dot] com