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Using TikTok to teach chemistry

Posted on 18 August 2020

‘The Chem Collective’ launched on TikTok social media platform

Recently graduated BSc Chemistry students Clare Hayes and Katie Stott performed research into developing new and innovative methods to aid with chemistry education and public dissemination, as part of their research project under the supervision of Dr Glenn Hurst and Dr Katie Lamb. By utilising a systems thinking approach to contextualise theoretical concepts, Clare and Katie created new learning resources including a YouTube video on carbon dioxide utilisation, which won a CO2Chem video prize.

A major component of this research involved investigating the use of the mobile phone application TikTok for teaching chemistry as well as a public dissemination tool. Systems thinking has been used with numerous online teaching tools and mobile phone applications. Previous work at the University of York has highlighted how Snapchat can be used to facilitate contextualization of undergraduate chemistry and led to the creation of “Green Tycoon”, a free mobile phone application that teaches fundamental green chemistry principles to undergraduates. Considering the recent transition to online teaching due to COVID-19, the use of social media to aid teachers with chemistry teaching and communication is now extremely important.

Clare Hayes (top left), Katie Stott (bottom left), Katie Lamb (top right) and Glenn Hurst (bottom right)

TikTok is a social media video-based phone application that enables creative and engaging videos to be shared on social media platforms worldwide. Despite its young age, TikTok is now one of the top ten most downloaded apps of all time. As TikTok is mainly used by people aged 18 or younger to make creative and often humorous online videos, this was an opportunity to make informative, fun and visually engaging chemistry videos that could reach younger audiences, as well as the general public, and inspire them to learn about chemistry.

Thumbnails of TikTok videos created by Katie and Clare for the “The Chemistry Collective” account

Using an online TikTok account, “The Chemistry Collective”, 16 chemistry outreach and educational videos (15-60 seconds long) were created, reaching approximately 8,500 views in May 2020. Upon surveying participants, viewers of these TikTok videos strongly agreed that they had learned something new about chemistry since watching these videos and had an increased interest in chemistry. This highlights how TikTok can be used in a creative and innovative manner to enhance public and undergraduate student engagement with chemistry education, together with facilitating the ability of the public to understand how chemistry can be fun, performed at home and is part of our daily lives.

“It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of this research project and to co-supervise Clare and Katie with Glenn” says Katie Lamb. “Clare and Katie were incredibly creative and I am so pleased that their hard work has resulted in a joint first-author publication in the Journal of Chemical Education.” Clare and Katie’s work: “Making Every Second Count”: Utilizing TikTok and Systems Thinking to Facilitate Scientific Public Engagement and Contextualization of Chemistry at Home, is now available to read online. Katie and Clare also wrote an article for The Times Higher Education, reflecting on their experiences of creating new and innovative methods for teaching chemistry.