During an early fall barbeque at the beginning of this academic year, a friend of mine, a faculty member at another university in my area, told me about her new fascination with TikTok. I was surprised as all I knew of TikTok were short dance move, magic trick, or “how to” videos. She explained her interest started when she found out that one of her students was a TikTok influencer, which had inspired her to have this student help their class create a project producing videos to promote issues facing the deaf community. I was intrigued. Here was a platform on which students could work with faculty to produce a project for the digital public sphere with reach far beyond what they could get in an academic journal or even on a class blog.
Still not sure how to proceed, I decided to start my own TikTok account as a graduate student and lurk for a bit. It was hard to find straight-up scholarly videos, specifically ones that presented or integrated the ideas of others – most videos of scholarly nature I found were “opinion pieces,” which are fine in their own right, but they were not providing the scholarly conversation I was seeking. So, I posted a video of music I like to listen to while grading, Halloween decorations in my yard, and a water fountain. Two months later, when I happened upon an interesting article that I wanted to share with colleagues in a concise, easy-to-access fashion, I decided to try a TikTok video.
In my composition program, we teach rhetorical reading, with a focus on helping students see a writer’s project, from exigence through to a final new offering, with attention paid to audience and purpose. As a result, I now tend to mark up texts for these features myself, and I find it is one of the best ways to summarize a text as it keeps me tightly focused on these key features. Such a tight focus seemed perfect for 3-minute TikTok video, so I made my first one about a psycholinguistics article that presents research on polite language benefiting the outcome of negotiations (Maaravi, Idan & Hochman G 2019).
The video did not get as may views as my Halloween decorations one, but it shocked me that people even watched it. I was beginning to see some potential for scholarly TikTok videos, so I have kept making video summaries of scholarly readings.
The greatest benefit I get from making these videos is focus. I have to read a text not only to fully understand it but also to isolate and crystallize its key concepts and ideas. After that, I need to present these ideas in a unified, logical way in under three minutes. This is hard for a long-winded academic, so it has been really good practice for me. The focus extends to coming up with hashtags. They need to present key concepts from the text, but they also need to draw in viewers, appealing to both a specific and a general audience. I have learned that applying filters or asking a question draws in more views, so I have tried to add these elements to some of my videos as I learn the rhetorical nature of TikTok videos and their audiences.
The second benefit is a product of the first. If it has been a few weeks or months since I first read a text, the ideas from it can get a bit foggy in my head, but I can easily go back to a three-minute TikTok video and get a quick refresher on it. I think it is obvious that a concise summary is a good way to refresh one’s memory, but I think the physical activity of speaking my summaries, recording, and posting them has helped engage other parts of myself that I do not engage when I only make annotations and write written notes. The speaking and “doing” activates embodied learning, adding other dimensions to my learning, and thus recall, processes.
My experience has been so positive, this semester I am offering extra credit to students who make TikTok videos of a scholarly text they read for their semester research project. They will be making annotated bibliographies and this extra credit assignment will be an extension of that – turn one or two of your annotated bibliography entries into a TikTok video following my models. I don’t want to force the experience on them, but since they get trained up on the same rhetorical reading and annotation strategy I use, I think they will find the same benefit I have found in making scholarly TikTok videos: laser focus, heightened awareness of audience, and an easily accessible digital repository for their work that can help to expand the scholarly use of the latest “hot” new digital media. Oh, and they might get more followers than they expected.