Students turn to TikTok for homework help. Is that something bad? -edweek.org | Team Cansler

Students are increasingly turning to social media platforms when they need to research topics for school.

One such platform is TikTok, a video-sharing platform popular with K-12 students of all ages. According to data from software maker Qustodio, children aged 4 to 18 spend an average of 91 minutes a day watching TikTok videos.

In fact, a general survey of TikTok users in the United States found that one in four uses the platform for educational purposes, according to a new poll from the online learning platform Study.com. And 69 percent of those who use TikTok for educational purposes said it helped them complete their homework.

The Study.com analysis also looked at which academic subjects had the most views on TikTok. English came first, followed by history, science and math. Respondents who reported using TikTok for educational purposes said they used it most often for teaching English.

Teachers who spoke to Education Week said they weren’t surprised that so many people were using the platform for educational purposes.

“It’s the app that the majority of students are on,” said Chris Dier, a history teacher at a New Orleans high school and the 2020 Louisiana Teacher of the Year. “So it makes sense that a lot of them get their information from TikTok.”

While TikTok could be used to better engage students in lessons, it was also a huge distraction. A set of viral challenges on the platform, educators have caused headaches. And like other social media platforms, TikTok could be a forum for bullying and misinformation, as well as privacy concerns. The platform is owned by Beijing, China-based technology company ByteDance.

Also, many experts remain critical of the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter for educational purposes. They say the platforms value quick learning rather than deep discovery and analysis.

“It’s also important to differentiate the learning that might come from a TikTok video from that of a book or a longer article or even a long-form video,” said Christine Elgersma, senior editor of learning apps for Common Sense Media, in an email. “We like it short, and sometimes that works for homework: kids might just want to know if they need a comma or how to cite a source.”

“But when it comes to critical thinking, forming opinions and values, or understanding key moments in history, surface learning just doesn’t do the subjects justice,” she added. “It may provide a piece of a larger puzzle, but it doesn’t lend itself to deeper thinking.”

Students bring information from TikTok to the classroom

Still, some teachers say they use TikTok to meet students where they are and then engage them in deeper learning through other approaches.

During the pandemic, while teaching remotely, Dier shot lengthy content videos for students. Then his students told him to try TikTok.

“At first I was like, ‘I definitely don’t want to join whatever this app is. It’s for kids.'” Dier said. “But once I started teaching, I noticed that students were bringing in information from TikTok. I would ask them, ‘Where did you get this information from?’ They’d be like, ‘Oh, I heard about it on TikTok.’”

Eventually, Dier created an account and started sharing quick history lessons. “As teachers, we should meet the students where they are, get involved and bring our content to life. What better way to do this than using the app [where] Students are already viewing content?” he said. (Dier’s TikTok account now has more than 146,000 followers.)

Claudine James, a middle school English/language arts teacher in Arkansas, also opened a TikTok account after realizing her students weren’t watching the grammar and vocabulary video lessons she posted on YouTube.

During a Fall 2020 term, more than 25 students were absent due to COVID quarantine protocols, but their YouTube video lesson only had seven views.

When the students returned to class, James asked them why they hadn’t watched the YouTube videos. Her students said they don’t watch videos on YouTube because they don’t spend time there.

“Someone said, ‘You should put her on TikTok. [Students will] be there and they will just see it [the videos],’” James said.

Two years later, James introduced her TikTok videos on grammar, spelling and other English lessons have been helpful to their current and former students. “I get a message from a former student like, ‘If you haven’t already, take a lesson on it because I want you to explain it to me.'” (James now has 4.5 million followers on TikTok . )

For better or worse, TikTok caters to children’s shorter attention spans

When asked why they use TikTok for educational purposes, 60 percent of survey respondents said the app is easy to access, 57 percent said it was easy to understand, 51 percent said there was a lot of content, and 47 percent said she is free Study.com survey.

TikTok “represented a new way of providing information that matched students’ attention spans,” Dier said. “The attention span is getting shorter and shorter. And now there’s an app that lets you create content that caters to the attention spans of younger generations.”

TikTok could also be used to share information that’s often left out of textbooks or the curriculum that students might never have heard of otherwise, Dier said. For example, Dier put together an instructive TikTok video after discovering historical records of a Reconstruction-era massacre staged by white residents against blacks in a Louisiana community in 1868, fueled by fears of whites that blacks had acquired the right to vote.

But since anyone can post a TikTok video, misinformation can be a problem. According to the study by Study.com, the majority of TikTok users judged the trustworthiness of the content based on the number of likes (55 percent), views (53 percent) and the number of followers of the creator (51 percent). Less than half, 44 percent, said they fact-checked a video before believing it was credible.

“[Misinformation] is a problem because I’ve heard students repeat things they’ve heard from TikTok that are definitely not true,” Dier said. But when he corrects them, he said the students are “really receptive”.

“As history teachers, we teach students how to analyze the source, how to contextualize information, and how to corroborate information with other sources. In many ways, this push into TikTok also underscores the importance of teaching these types of skills in the classroom, which can go beyond what we’ve learned in the classroom,” he added.

Elgersma echoed those sentiments.

“Likes and followers don’t mean a creator really knows what they’re talking about, so it’s always best to fact-check and consult multiple sources,” she said.

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