Get Rid of TikTok, Keep What TikTok Tells Us About Our Students
I hate Tiktok. I love what Tiktok videos are telling me as an educator.
Besides being obsessed with vids about English Bulldogs (See: @bulldogspab on instagram with the very English English bulldog, Pablo, as the star), Tiktok videos, particularly from young people, tell me volumes about how our students shape their own educational experiences which have nothing to do with formal school but really should.
When you’ve been in education long enough, it becomes increasingly difficult to observe the world outside the lens of student learning. What I read, observe, see, hear and say have an impact on my understanding of how to improve student experiences. But, educational institutions have this nasty way of making you think that learning happens only in schools and institutions, and that when you walk out of the building, somehow the learning stops. Some would argue that schools, because they are about teaching, actually inhibit learning and what happens outside of school is a much more authentic education. If you’re like me and watch too many TikTok videos, you start to see that there is something to this framing of our current educational culture.
Tiktok videos, particularly from young people, tell me volumes about how our students shape their own educational experiences which have nothing to do with formal school but really should.
So, here is a non-exhaustive list of video genres, representing age-old forms of communication, that could have real educational value for teachers inside of classrooms:
Testimonial: Children and young adults talk about the systems in their lives, both in funny and profoundly moving ways, that impact their views of their communities and their larger existence. An example: TikTok provides students with essential ways of talking out loud about such horrible events of school shootings and the aftermath in their communities.
Observational (critical or just more mundane reflection): Whether it’s family dynamics or trips they take or moving events, students show us the world as they perceive it and often in very creative ways.
Dramatic: Yes, students create drama in these videos. And, they’re good at it!
Constructed Commentary: They do interviews with others around them which frame powerful narratives. They’re expressing how authentically curious they can be.
Humor: Boy, can our students be funny. About school, their lives, the quirks of growing up in contemporary society…etc. We should nurture this drive to express themselves and important ideas through satire and parody.
Critical Commentary: They have important things to say about the politics and culture in which they live. TikTok allows them a platform from which to express themselves and be heard. (Perhaps our complaints about TikTok also reveal our own discomfort with what they are saying.)
Transitional: They express both a mourning process and celebration of getting older, what it means to them and their hopes for the future. These can be seen as video letters to their future selves.
Creating these videos requires using many of the habits of mind that we often talk about in terms of providing authentic educational experiences for our students. And, they just do it, free of charge, without asking what the grade will be or how many points it’s worth. They spend hours on perfecting them. They fail and then do it again with even greater enthusiasm. They go through an iterative planning process because they want to get it right.
The videos also fall into critical categories that signal genuine learning such as connection to identity, creativity and eventual mastery of several critical skill sets, most importantly public communication which we do not address nearly enough in our educational system. Their eventual sense of success is both in its completion as well as in live performance, reaction (likes), and exhibition, (people commenting or sharing). They are public displays of learning which have meaning for them and often their audiences.
Creating these videos requires using many of the habits of mind that we often talk about in terms of providing authentic educational experiences for our students.
In no way am I discounting the way social media is negatively impacting the lives of young people. It is both well researched and real. What sites like TikTok express to me is that students are capable of profound expressions of their knowledge and thoughts, ideas, and sentiments. We should engage these energies, not by turning them into another hijacked school experience, but by allowing students to express themselves in all sorts of authentic ways.