TikTok and Gen Z in the Classroom

                                                                               Article written by Dr. Caleb Mezzy

Gen Z, the generation born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s, is the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital age. As a result, they have unique perspectives on education, particularly when it comes to college. As a college professor, I have made a significant impact by engaging Gen Z, but this engagement is not enough. In many forms, engagement is an overused buzz word and when talking about Gen Z, we need to step down from the balcony and join them on the dance floor. This dance floor moves quickly, but as educators, it is imperative that we forget about our *research*, and our degrees to remove our ego and join our students where their attention is paid. If we want to teach Gen Z, we must reach Gen Z.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the ways Gen Z is approaching college and what it means for the future of higher education. Gen Z faces a different world than their teachers faced during their days as students in the classroom. A good friend of mine laid out ten surprising truths about Gen Z in his book titled: Aliens Among Us. This book by Steven Robertson shares tools that parents, coaches, educators, and business leaders can use to connect with this “disconnected generation”.

Gen Z is approaching college with a unique set of priorities and concerns. They are looking for ways to reduce the cost of college, value diversity, and inclusivity, prioritize career preparation and seek out resources and support for mental health. These trends are likely to shape the future of higher education as colleges and universities adapt to meet the needs of this new generation of students.

To engage Gen Z in the classroom, it’s important to understand their unique perspectives on education and leverage technology with interactive learning methods. Here are some strategies that may be effective in engaging Gen Z in the classroom:

  1. Use technology: Gen Z grew up with technology, so incorporating technology into the classroom can help to keep them engaged. This includes using tools like interactive whiteboards, online quizzes, and educational games. Technology can also help to personalize learning by allowing students to work at their own pace and providing instant feedback.
  2. Foster collaboration: Gen Z values diversity and inclusivity, and they tend to be more collaborative than previous generations. In the classroom, this can be fostered through group projects, discussions, and peer review. Encouraging students to work together and share ideas can help to create a more engaging and inclusive learning environment.
  3. Connect with real-world issues: Gen Z is interested in pursuing careers and preparing for the real world. Connecting classroom content with real-world issues and current events can help to keep them engaged and motivated. This can be done by incorporating case studies, current events, and guest speakers into the curriculum.
  4. Provide immediate feedback: Gen Z is used to instant gratification, and they value feedback. Providing immediate feedback on assignments and assessments can help to keep them engaged and motivated. This can be done through online quizzes or peer review.
  5. Create a sense of community: Gen Z values diversity and inclusivity, and they tend to be more socially conscious than previous generations. Creating a sense of community in the classroom can help to keep them engaged and motivated. This can be done by encouraging students to share their experiences and perspectives, creating a supportive learning environment, and celebrating diversity.

If you digest each of these strategies individually, what comes to mind as a possible solution to address them collectively? For me, it’s social media!

Here’s why:

1) Technology – this is the platform and use of various technologies baked into the platform.

2) Collaboration – collaborating via social media is what makes it….*wait for it* social. There are even options and features in the platforms encouraging people to collaborate!

3) Real-world issues – think about the last time you heard or reacted to a real-world issue. My guess is, if you’re reading this, it was on social media.

4) Immediate feedback – sadly, social media provides this whether you want it or not. I say sadly because it’s not always positive. However, what is a like, a comment, a share, or a view? It is immediate feedback!

5) Sense of community – this should go without saying, but social media ebbs and flows with its community. You can be involved in a community very quickly or take the temperature of a given community by reading the comments or consuming the content.

So, let’s try mixing in social media to engage Gen Z in the classroom. By understanding and leveraging these strategies, educators can create a more engaging and effective learning environment for Gen Z students.


TikTok, the popular short-form video app, can be used in a college classroom in various ways. Now I am not the only one using TikTok in the classroom. There is a course called Influencer 101 at Duke University. A student in this course is quoted as saying, “this is the only class I’ve taken where it directly relates to what’s happening in the world, out there.” The course emphasizes influence and the business structure of audience building.

Here are some ideas for how TikTok can be used to enhance student learning:

  1. Create educational content: Professors can create educational content on TikTok that summarizes complex topics, offers study tips, or introduces new concepts in a fun and engaging way. This can help students to learn more effectively and retain information better.
  2. Assign TikTok projects: Professors can assign TikTok projects that require students to create short videos that demonstrate their understanding of course material. For example, students in a psychology class could create a TikTok video that illustrates a psychological concept, such as cognitive dissonance or social identity theory.
  3. Spark discussions: TikTok videos can be used to spark discussions in the classroom. Professors can share relevant TikTok videos and use them as a starting point for discussions about course material or current events.
  4. Encourage collaboration: Students can collaborate on TikTok videos to create group projects. For example, a group of marketing students could create a TikTok video that promotes a new product, and then present it in class.
  5. Stay current: TikTok can be used to stay current on trends and cultural events that are relevant to course material. For example, a communications professor could use TikTok to share videos that illustrate the impact of social media on communication.

It’s important to note that TikTok should be used in a way that aligns with the values and culture of the college.


So, back to that big takeaway. How am I using TikTok in the classroom and how does it align with the Ten Surprising Truths about Gen Z?

In 2022, we faced several challenges as educators.

  1. How do we reach Gen Z?
  2. How do we reach Gen Z after a pandemic?
  3. How do we combat digital fatigue and ignite a new, fun classroom environment after being online or hybrid for two years?

Bring in TikTok. The students were on there anyway, look at any statistic and you’ll see the pandemic and TikTok were closer than peanut butter and jelly (or lamb and tuna fish, Big Daddy fans).

Bringing in TikTok is great, but how? Easy, let the students take control. In March 2022, I let the students name a TikTok account and start to populate content to see where it would go.

The name: @mezzin_around (credit to Sean Flannery for creating his own TikTok legacy, hopefully, he copies this link to count it as a share).

The first post told the stories of Sport Management student stereotypes. This tipped us off to branding the page.

Following that, prompts went out to work individually or in groups to create a TikTok that would get the metrics to score some extra credit. That was one class and it was a course centered around Digital Media, specifically in Sport.

The momentum needed to continue throughout my courses to reach students. It excited them, it got them away from their normal funk and repetition through their five-course schedule.

Next up, I assigned documentaries and a framework to address the business aspects of assigned sports documentaries. Again, scoring some extra credit helps. This generated buzz in the Introduction to Sport Management course.

How do we keep this rolling in Governance, Policy, and Legal in Sport? Simply put, gamify the need to find newsworthy stories around Sports Law. Each week, students shared what was happening in sports from a legal lens. They had a chance to create a TikTok about their story if it was voted the best one and this chance could get them more points in this ongoing class assignment.

What else could we do? Bring in a client who could always use fresh and evergreen content, and let them present their situation and their brand to the students. Then let the students take a spin at creating a “commercial” for that brand given their goals. That worked well and students could add this experience to their portfolio.

Let the games begin. In the first full year, we did not want to get complacent because TikTok lives on trends. This is when we introduced the TikTok Olympics. Students were placed into groups and sports were assigned. Group 1 would play Group 2 while Group 3 would act as the social media team. We mixed this up so every Group would act as the social media team once. I know you want to know what sports we played, so I’ll let you watch the TikToks yourself.

Keep it going. Before you get lost in the TikTok algorithm and find yourself watching the videos below, make sure to share this article and comment on how you might use social media (bonus points if it’s TikTok) to connect with Gen Z in your own industry, world, home, or classroom.