Virginia Tech professor gets creative with TikTok assignments

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BLACKSBBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)— At Virginia Tech, hundreds of professors have had to modify their curriculum in a matter of two weeks, shifting lessons online.

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One professor has taken to the popular social media app TikTok as a way for students to turn in their weekly vocabulary assignments for History Analysis of Musical Styles.

“I was trying to come up with a platform that would let me engage with my students in a fun way that would help with retention of ideas, that would let them teach each other, internalize what they’ve learned and make something creative,” said Elizabeth McLain, a professor musicology.

McLain said she got the idea from a colleague, Shanna Katz Kattari, at the University of Michigan.

“She’s also been using [TikTok] over this break to stay engaged to offer them self-care tips or tips for navigating the new environment,” McLain said.

For McLain’s assignments, each student is given a vocabulary term and tasked to find a unique way through the video platform to make it engaging and something peers can find memorable.

“It’s like a quick definition that you can basically get the gist of the term instead of reading it out of the book because that’s boring,” said sophomore Bella Kitts.

Kitts came up with a way to explain an augmented second, a musical term that can be interchanged with a minor third, depending on the key the song is written in. TikTok gives students 60 seconds to come up with a way to explain their assignment.

“With each class it has been a struggle and it has been difficult, but knowing that there are professors who are willing to take that step and willing to make it work makes a good thing out of not a really ideal situation,” Kitts said. “It’s important to have that quality of education that we have had and I think that’s something I’ve really appreciated that Professor McLain has done.”

McLain is hopeful the students inspire each other with each assignment. When everything goes back to normal, she wants a new inclusive normal to emerge to make learning accessible to everyone.

“Maybe they’ll learn something they never would have learned in a traditional teaching environment, and that would be fantastic,” McLain said.

She said she is a disabled scholar, student and professor herself. She is trying other tactics to adhere to the Principals of Universal Design, considering the different learning environments students might be in at home.

“I’m hoping they’re using what they’re learning in history and theory but also having fun with each other, using these platforms they already know or many of their peers know, they can continue to get that benefit from studying music,” McLain said.

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