August 17th, 2010

Humor in Online Classrooms: New Ways to Learn and Laugh

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Humor, whether in the form of jokes, riddles, puns, funny stories, humorous comments or other humorous items, builds a bond between the instructor and students; bridging the student-teacher gap by allowing students to view the instructor as more approachable. A number of researchers have found that humor is instrumental in creating an inviting classroom environment, reducing stress, improving attention, enhancing learning, creating a positive emotional and social environment, reducing anxiety, enhancing self-esteem, and increasing self-motivation.

Professors have discovered a number of creative ways to incorporate humor in classes. Items such as cartoons, top ten lists, comic verses, and phony or bogus experiments all help break the ice and open the door of friendly learning. Most studies have centered on face-to-face studies, but students in online courses enjoy humor, too.

In some preliminary research with 126 students in six online criminal justice courses, this author has received very supportive student responses concerning humor in the classroom: discipline-oriented jokes, cartoon, videos, etc. Utilizing a seven-point Likert scale (Very strongly agree – Very strongly disagree), 98 percent of respondents agreed (VSA, SA, A) that humor can facilitate interactions and allow students to view the instructor as more approachable.

Nearly all agreed that humor can add a sense of flavor to the class experience (98%), including the ability to relieve stress (97%), improve student attention (94%), enhance learning (94%) and influence student interest and participation (97%). In addition 83% agreed that humor can augment teaching and 87% said humor can help promote course objectives.

Appropriate and timely humor in the college classroom can foster mutual openness and respect and contribute to overall teaching effectiveness. Humor creates an inviting classroom environment. Humor “is often cited by students in traditional courses as being a major factor in their enjoyment of a course, and research supports the theory that it also enhances learning.”

The process for using humor in online college teaching has only just begun. The population of online students are more techno-savvy and expect (or demand) more entertainment, gadgetry, and humor. Many online instructors either do not have the advanced technical skills or do not go out of their way to find and use humorous material in their courses. They have found that it simply takes extra planning and effort to make humor happen in online classes.

Instructors who are pressed for time find that it takes more time to be humorous than it takes to just get the job done. For individual instructors that teach an occasional and/or single-section course online, this trend will most likely continue. However, for those institutions with course development teams and instructional course developers responsible for multiple-section courses, there can be an expectation for growth in humor.

Michael T. Eskey, PhD is an associate professor of criminal justice at Park University.

Resources
James, D. “A need for humor in online courses.” College Teaching. (2004 ). Vol 52, no. 3, 93-94.

Smith, W., (2008). Decoding Generational Differences: Fact, Fiction, or should we just get back to work? Retrieved on August 4, 2010 from http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/us_Talent_DecodingGenerationalDifferences.pdf.