Splices of screenshots from Aaron Dinin's TikTok account

17.4 Million TikTok Views and Counting

Duke’s Dr. Aaron Dinin is using the social media platform to connect with students

When he got back to his office, he uploaded the clip to TikTok and added a brief caption: “I couldn’t figure out why all my students were sitting on one side of the classroom…and then I looked up. Apparently, students are like moths.”

Within hours, Dinin’s clip was seen and liked by millions.

“It was incredible to watch,” said Dinin, a lecturing fellow in Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship. “You start refreshing the page every five seconds to see how much it’s grown and it’s blowing up. I mean, tens of thousands of views every five seconds.”

Today, that brief 15-second clip has compiled 17.4 million views, 2.2 million likes and over 5,500 comments. It’s an example of one of several viral posts Dinin has created that exemplify the power TikTok can have for reaching younger, rising audiences. Today, TikTok has more than one billion active monthly users worldwide.

The platform is especially popular among American teenagers age 13 to 17, according to the Pew Research Center, but a quarter of U.S. adults under 30 also regularly use TikTok, according to Pew.

Duke University launched a TikTok account in 2022, joining a growing trend of higher education institutions that are using the platform as a new avenue to reach current and prospective students.

Within the past year at Duke, the Lemur Center, Athletics, men’s basketball, football team and Admissions have also launched accounts. Duke University social media coordinator Anna Lee said across the country, higher education is still trying to figure out how to capture the attention of audiences on TikTok.

“We’re all in the same boat of trying different things, trying videos that have done well on other platforms,” Lee said. “Once one school figures that out, everyone’s going to join that trend, but nobody’s cracked the code yet.”

Still, department successes provide a window into how the social media platform can engage learners and people interested in Duke happenings.

For example, Dr. Bruce Donald, the James B. Duke Professor of Computer Science, Mathematics and Chemistry, uses TikTok to facilitate discussion questions in his math classes. Students respond to his prompts by making their own videos that use trending audio and visual effects to explain course content.

“I didn't expect it to be so funny,” Donald said in a Duke story last year. “I expected some things to be maybe a little bit dry, but they really found a way to integrate the class work with the youth culture and explain things.”

At the end of each semester, Donald awards bonus points to students who created the best videos.

In his courses, Dinin has used TikTok to show a different side of the “Professor Life.”

Some of his clips include hidden perks in his syllabi and the struggles of grading papers. He also shares messages he wants the next generation to know, like when he realized he was teaching in the same classroom where he once received a C in chemistry.

In the comments of that video, Dinin encouraged viewers that grades don’t define you.

“The best brand I can create on TikTok is humanizing faculty,” Dinin said.

As TikTok continues to grow, Dinin hopes he can use his platform as a place for positivity and spreading knowledge, which has a direct correlation to the values and goals of Duke.

“If the goal is to ‘enhance the creation, delivery and translation of knowledge for a rapidly changing world’ – that’s the mission of Duke and what we’re trying to do here — then the way we’re going to do that is with platforms that reach the world,” Dinin said. “There is value to this.”

Send story ideas, shout-outs and photographs through our story idea form or write