top of page

Some teachers are using TikTok to reach teens, but concern over app's effects persists

Full article:

Jessica Wong · CBC News · Posted: Oct 19, 2022 1:00 AM PDT | Last Updated: October 19, 2022


When Shauna Pomerantz saw her daughter's smartphone use rocket up during the pandemic, she investigated and discovered the reason: TikTok videos. Her next step? Pomerantz, a professor of child and youth studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., dug into the world of TikTok alongside her teen. Besides picking up some fun dance choreography together and noting how 14-year-old Mimi connected with friends, Pomerantz also saw TikTok being used as an informal learning tool. 

"My daughter was using it to really get up to speed on things like war in Ukraine, COVID-19, sexism and racism, police shootings and murders of people across the globe, particularly George Floyd and Sarah Everard," the professor said. "She would show me TikToks and then we would talk about them together." 


'Common sense' learning

Describing herself as "the most conservative person" and someone who dresses for the classroom as she would for church, Claudine James (@iamthatenglishteacher) might seem like an unlikely TikTok star. 

Yet the small-town Arkansas teacher's easy manner and enthusiastic back-and-forths with students while delivering accessible grammar lessons — snippits of which she started posting to reach students quarantining at home with COVID-19 — have netted her more than 4.4 million followers since Dec. 2020. 

"I haven't done any dance moves. I haven't done any twisting. It's just common sense of learning and everyone has a thirst for that," said James, who teaches English language arts and creative writing to Grade 8 students. 


Never a fan of students listening to audio books before, James said attending a conference that vividly demonstrated the difficulty a person with dyslexia can have reading a book traditionally changed her mind. 

'Fleeting images'

Yet that very snappy, continuously scrolling format — TikTok offers a constant reel of uber-short videos the app's algorithm has customized for each user, inducing a dopamine response or feeling of reward in viewers' brains as they continue watching — is exactly what concerns educational consultant Paul Bennett.


The director of Halifax-based firm Schoolhouse Institute and adjunct professor of education at Saint Mary's University is wary of its use given what he says Canadian teachers are already facing in the classroom: narrowing attention spans.

"These little videos can perpetuate mythology, incorrect information, slanted views and actually discourage critical thinking," Bennett said.

"It discourages kids from going into more depth, to concentrating, to focusing ... to analyzing it line-by-line. Who's going to analyze anything line-by-line if it's all about just fleeting images?"


He thinks it's fine if teachers simply want to catch students' attention via TikTok, provided it's only used in limited doses and that more detailed, structured learning also happens. Otherwise, he said, "it's a kaleidoscope of flashing images and immediate dopamine rushes with short videos and that's not conducive to ... serious learning, certainly over the longer term."

bottom of page