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Research & TikTok

April 17, 2023

While information literacy is fascinating to those of us who are information professionals, it is often a struggle to get our students excited about this topic. Over the past year, I have been trying to think of ways to make research, especially citations, more exciting to students. As we all know, TikTok is the social media platform of choice for this generation, and so, I started thinking about how I could use TikTok as a means of connecting with my students. This thought led me to create my “How is research like social media” activity.

For this activity, I get the students’ attention by asking them to get out their phones and scroll through TikTok and Instagram. This immediately gets them to sit up and pay closer attention because they’re often surprised and a little skeptical that an instructor actually wants them to get on social media. Then, instead of mindlessly scrolling, I ask them to follow a specific hashtag, trend, or account. I give them only about three to five minutes to do this because they do this so much, they don’t really need a lot of time on this part of the activity. After this, I give them a peer-reviewed research article to skim through. This works best if you can pick an article that has the citations hyperlinked. I have the students skim the article and specifically focus on the in-text citations and the reference lists.

Finally, we come back together and have a class discussion on how research is like social media. This is a tricky concept for students to grasp, but normally, one or two students start to put the pieces together by this point. Once one student starts thinking out loud about it, the whole class starts to jump in and understand. The purpose of this activity is for students to see citations in research articles as similar to tags and hashtags in social media posts. Just like how we tag people in a social media post to give them credit for an idea, we use in-text citations in a research paper to give credit to the original researcher. I explain that in-text citations are the equivalent of “@ing” or “tagging” someone.

Students also point out that the citations all lead to articles on similar topics to the original article, and they notice this is similar to the way hashtags link together social media posts on similar topics. Often during this activity, students will say that both scrolling through social media and clicking through the references and citations in a research article allow them to “go down the rabbit hole” on a particular subject. I then push this idea further and explain to the students that their research is part of a conversation on their research topic. I tell them to think about their paper as a response to the other researchers just like how they may comment, share, and interact with content on social media.

So far, this has been more popular than a typical plagiarism discussion, and it gets the students much more excited about research! I have also noticed many of the professors who have watched me do this activity have been surprised and walk away thinking about social media in a different way. This activity has been a great way to get students to look at research differently, and it has made faculty see social media differently. Therefore, having this conversation has helped bridge that gap between the generations, and I look forward to continuing to develop and use this discussion in my info lit sessions.

One Comment leave one →
  1. jennifercribbs permalink
    April 24, 2023 3:53 pm

    I love this – incorporating social media makes it such a relevant and engaging activity. Thank you so much for sharing!

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