This second blog is based on reflections facilitated by a discussion with the PGCAP tutor following their observations of a teaching session. The focus of this reflection is on the use of humour in the learning environment. The session observed by the PGCAP tutor involved students hearing a speaker talk on his experience of using an aspect of the National Health and Social Care service. This is a key session for the students as they use their experience of the session to write an essay based reflection of what they have learnt about the challenges of being a service user of health and social care in the UK. At the beginning of the session the PGCAP tutor noted how I used humour at the beginning of the session to draw attention to the importance of the session to the assignment.
Although I do not claim to be a stand-up comedian, I agree with the work of Tait et al (2015) who argue that teaching is a form of public performance and as such a teacher will adopt different types of persona’s to inform their performance, including the use of humour. In this instance, my motivation for using humour was based on the assumption that it would be an effective way of drawing the student’s attention to the importance of the session without sounding authoritarian. However, in discussing the use of the humour in this situation with the PGCAP tutor, the tutor raised the argument that rather than motivating the students to engage in the session it could have raised their anxiety levels about the assessment. This feedback was a concern to me as my intention had been the reverse and it made me consider what the role of using humour is in my teaching is.
In the teaching environment humour has been described as a communication device that can be used by the lecturer (Wanzer, Grymier, Wojtaszczyk and Smith 2006). A literature review, by Banas, Dunbar, Rodriguez & Liu (2011), into the use of humour in higher education identifies three broad functions in the teaching environment. The first function is it can be used to build relationships with students. The second is it can be a method of managing difficult situations that arise in the classroom environment or from the learning material, for example using humour to explain a difficult concept. Finally, humour can be used as a method by which the lecturer builds their reputation and standing amongst the students. In this situation my intention was to use humour to manage the tension that can arise from discussing assessments with students.
As with all types of communications devices, Wanzer et al (2006) warns it is important that humour is used competently and based on their research findings they identified the following features for the appropriate and competent use of humour in the learning. Firstly, although humour can be used to promote positive student behaviour it should not be used to isolate or stigmatise a particular student or group of students. The amount of humour used is also important, over use of humour can be distracting for students. Finally, if using humour to introduce and explain difficult or important concepts it is imperative that the teacher provides supplemental teaching material and ensures students have understood the material fully.
Using the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education, from this reflection I have learnt that humour is an effective teaching device (A2) and when used appropriately can be employed to support student learning (K3). However, as with all teaching tools it is important that when I use humour in the teaching environment it respects the needs of individual learners (V1). From this reflection I have begun to take the following action– the letters in brackets demonstrates how this action relates to the descriptors in the UK Professional Standards:
- Identifying the ways in which I use humour in the learning environment to ensure that it support learning (A2)
As recommended by in the above reading:
- Avoiding the over use of humour in the classroom environment (A1)
- Ensuring I do not use humour to raise anxiety levels of the students (V2)
- Ensuring any humour used to explain concepts is supported by additional learning material and checking that the students have achieved the intended learning outcomes (K5)
Bekelja Wanzer, M., Bainbridge Frymier, A., Wojtaszczyk, A.M. and Smith, T., 2006. Appropriate and inappropriate uses of humor by teachers. Communication Education, 55(2), pp.178-196.
Banas, J.A., Dunbar, N., Rodriguez, D. and Liu, S.J., 2011. A review of humor in educational settings: Four decades of research. Communication Education, 60(1), pp.115-144.
Heacademy.ac.uk. (2017). UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) | Higher Education Academy. [online] Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf [Accessed 10 November 2016].
Tait, G., Lampert, J., Bahr, N. and Bennett, P., 2015. Laughing with the lecturer: the use of humour in shaping university teaching. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 12(3), p.7.