How producing movies on TikTok is impacting instructing

“I think it made a change in the way we actually teach. Hopefully it goes in a direction where it becomes more engaging and interactive. “

Anna Blakney flutters and glides in front of a green screen and shows a graphic of a cell membrane. As she breaks into the can, she points to text boxes in the graphic and explains the difference between antibodies built up by infections and those made from a vaccine. She claps her hands and pumps her fist as information about the COVID-19 spike protein emerges.

It is an introductory biology course if this course was held in a night club.

Of course, Dr. Blakney doesn’t put her students in the middle of a dance floor. She is creating a video for TikTok, the newest social media channel that has caught the attention of young people. Dr. Blakney has created hundreds of videos explaining scientific concepts in just 60 seconds. In one video, she reminds viewers to “wash their face masks as often as they wash their underwear” to keep them clean. In another case, she tilts her head from side to side and answers questions about the solar system, the periodic table of the elements, and magnification in an on-screen scientific quiz.

It is accessibility and immediacy that Dr. Blakney, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of British Columbia, initially moved to TikTok. She joined the app in October 2020 as part of Team Halo, an international collection of scientists eager to provide the public with answers on everything to do with the COVID-19 vaccination effort. Now Dr. Blakney has more than 215,000 followers on her TikTok account, including her own students.

However, the production of the videos also had an unexpected result and offered Dr. Blakney has more opportunities to engage with her students. As she recruits students for her lab, every student she interviewed asks for their TikTok. “I was surprised, but every one of them mentioned it.”

@ anna.blakney

What is rna ## teamhalo ## learnontiktok ## RNA

♬ Original sound – Dr. Anna Blakney

While TikTok is decidedly looser than the average college lecture (Dr. Blakney laughs at the thought of dancing in front of her elementary school class, for example), there are lessons in creativity and conciseness that she has drawn from producing the videos. “I think being able to explain things that people can understand is a really useful skill,” says Dr. Blakney. “I think the more you get into science, the harder it is to do this because you’re so rooted in it and you kind of forget that not everyone is at our level.”

Though TikTok hasn’t adopted her lesson plan yet, she hopes the skills she has developed to create compelling videos to explain science concepts in easy-to-understand terms find their way into university classrooms, especially virtual classrooms. “Maybe there is a 20 minute lecture that you watch beforehand and then you have interactive time during the actual class. I think it provoked a change in the way we actually teach. Hopefully it goes in a direction where it becomes more engaging and interactive. “

Gigi Osler also noticed a difference in her teaching style. The assistant professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the University of Manitoba originally opened her TikTok account as a former president of the Canadian Medical Association. Her multi-part video series featuring real and occasionally heartbreaking stories from healthcare workers went viral, and now Dr. Osler opened her account to answer questions mainly related to COVID-19. She has noticed that TikTok’s success often depends on videos that have what she calls the Four It’s: “emotional, engaging, entertaining, and educational.”

As Dr. Blakney got Dr. Osler noted that TikTok made them reevaluate some of their teaching methods as the app encourages quick videos with clear explanations. She even took inspiration from an unlikely source: TikTok recipe videos that can show dozens of steps and cooking styles in a minute. “I’m going to watch a video and I’ll be like, ‘oh, this looks really good.’ And then I’ll do more research on that one recipe, “explains Dr. Osler.” As a teaching tool, TikTok really forces you to analyze this essential message. And how are you going to explain that message in a way that is engaging and engaging within those 60 seconds is instructive? “

However, there are reservations about using TikTok as a teaching tool. Kate Tilleczek, professor of education at York University and director of the Young Lives Research Lab, says relying on apps can put more pressure on students. For one, many students suffer from zoom fatigue, exhausted from a series of virtual courses to keep up with. Dr. Tilleczek’s research also found that students have privacy and addiction concerns when it comes to social media.

For all professors interested in TikTok, Dr. Tilleczek expressed the desire to try something new or to share teaching moments in a kind of digital town hall. But she asks the professors to ask: “Is that instructive? Is there anything better we could do? Just because there are young people [using TikTok]Does that mean the tool will somehow promote deep learning and basic learning? “

According to Dr. Tilleczek educators have a responsibility not only to question the educational value of the tools they use, but also to involve their students in these discussions. “We are not alone in this. Let’s ask our students. Let’s make them full partners in this conversation about what’s useful to them, ”she says. “I believe there is a deep responsibility, especially now that students, through no fault of their own, have been living online their entire lives, more than before.”

Both Dr. Blakney and Dr. Osler acknowledge that TikTok does not yet have a permanent place in their curricula. Dr. Osler sees the app as a complement to her other teaching and as a way to reach people with important health news. “If I can produce information that is science-based, evidence-based, educational, and easy to explain, then, if it helps a person, we have made a difference in a hopefully person’s life.”

That way, TikTok is just another tool for faculty to reach out to students and create an educational space – themselves (or maybe especially) if they can – can.

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