TikTok as a teaching tool

28 Dec 2020

The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2020, TikTok as a teaching tool
Tuition teacher Saiful Rizal Azman, 32, has experienced what it could be like to be famous.

A group of kids clustered around him after asking their friends: "Is that the guy from TikTok?"
"I was shocked," said Mr Saiful, who posts videos teaching mathematics (@coach.saiful) and has more than 48,000 followers on the platform.

The founder of Math Prodigies Learning Centre often posts mini-mathematics tutorials on TikTok, including those on solving PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) problems. One of his posts on the short-form video platform, which features a "speed maths trick" to find what is 25 squared, was viewed about 3.2 million times.

Mr Saiful, who started using TikTok in September last year, said: "The goal is to make kids fall in love with maths and not to fear it, which is usually the main stumbling block for them."

He used to hate the subject himself. He failed it "many times" and got an F six months before his O-level exams. He worked on the mathematics 10-year series "three times over" to eventually score an A, he said. Amid a spike in TikTok videos with educational content created in Singapore, tutors and teachers are using the platform, once the preserve of dancing videos, to reach a wider audience.

TikTok's user and content operations manager, Singapore, Ms Doreen Tan, said there has been "an uptick" in videos with teaching and learning content on the platform in Singapore under #learningisfun. Videos with this hashtag have gained more than 208 million views on TikTok. The videos cover topics from revision tips and investment hacks to health advice.

TikTok has launched the hashtag #studytips, whose videos have about 290 million views, as part of a series of challenges with educational hashtags that have garnered "significant local traction on the platform", Ms Tan said.

Ms Bernice Loon, a geography teacher at CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), said educational videos gain traction from TikTok's popularity among children and youth. Ms Loon, 29, who also posts educational content on YouTube and Instagram, is known as That Geography Teacher on her eponymous website. She started making light-hearted TikTok (@bernice_loon) videos during the circuit breaker this year, but switched to posting study tips when someone asked for them.

She unpacks geographical terms and outlines techniques to nail examination questions for her more than 6,400 followers. "Students who benefit the most are those who are not able to keep up in class. I notice they will screenshot the TikToks and write it down like their notes," she said.

There are pros and cons to using TikTok for teaching, says Dr Andrew Yee, a faculty fellow at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

"Obviously, not all content is suited to be explained through videos that are shorter than a minute, so one of the challenges for educators is to identify what kind of content is best conveyed through TikTok," he said.

Still, he added, short-form videos can be "a useful tool for micro-learning, where new learning material is provided in a bite-sized package so learners can pick up new knowledge in a way that is engaging and less cognitively taxing".

But one controversial aspect of social media, he said, is the use of "recommender algorithms". Dr Yee cautioned: "While these algorithms are meant to curate content that is of interest to the user, they may not necessarily be oriented towards providing what is most beneficial to the user.

"Hence, it may be necessary for teachers or parents to actively guide kids' use of TikTok even if they are using it for education."

Private tutor Dylan Lim, 24, does not only use TikTok for teaching. Mr Lim, who gives maths tuition to secondary school students, also gives advice to teens.His account (@dylanlimfj), which has about 2,400 followers, has posts with titles like Passion Vs Paycheck and Say Goodbye To Careless Mistakes.

He has met students who are deciding whether to go to a polytechnic or junior college. He said: "Many fear that if they pursue what they love, their career prospects would not be good." Mr Lim said a student should first find out what he is curious about. He can start by reading about a subject he is interested in, and then taking up a related course or a passion project. This would give him the confidence to make a more informed decision on his academic and career choices later.

He said: "My intention is to engage students and I see TikTok as a way to hone their interests."