Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk: Humour as a Teaching Tool — Mark Morton

Humour can be an effective pedagogical tool. This is borne out by a study that I undertook, five years ago, of about a thousand comments that were posted by students to RateMyProfessors.com: a good sense of humour turned out to be among the top five characteristics that undergraduates appreciated in an instructor (the other attributes in the top five were being approachable; having good lectures; being helpful outside class; and having a passion for the discipline). In my own teaching experience, I’ve found that a humorous or witty comment — whether it’s made by myself or by a student — can reinvigorate a class. After all, the simple act of laughing gets more oxygen into the blood and to the brain. And by its very nature, humour elicits higher order thinking: it usually demands that we intellectually appreciate some sort of incongruity.

Of course, humour can also be a means of conveying an observation that might otherwise raise hackles. For example, I might antagonize some of Waterloo’s undergraduates if I claimed that a reliance on technology has diminished their ability to process information. But the same notion, conveyed in a cartoon such as the one I created above (using bitstrips.com), might be more readily accepted.

As the spirit moves me, I might create more cartoons using the bitstrips tool. Stay “tooned”!

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Mark Morton

As Senior Instructional Developer, Mark Morton helps instructors implement new educational technologies such as clickers, wikis, concept mapping tools, question facilitation tools, screencasting, and more. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Mark taught for twelve years in the English Department at the University of Winnipeg. He received his PhD in 1992 from the University of Toronto, and is the author of four books: Cupboard Love; The End; The Lover's Tongue; and Cooking with Shakespeare.

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