|dc.description.abstract||This study explored the use of humour in teaching and learning in higher education classrooms. Despite the growing body of research on humour in higher education, limited studies have attended to teachers’ perspectives. This study focused on understanding humour from both teachers’ and students’ perspectives. It drew on an interpretivist approach to explore how and why five New Zealand university teachers used humour while teaching, and how their use of humour affected students’ learning in the classroom.
Study participants included five university teachers and 10 students. I recruited the teachers from among those identified as humorous in the annual Students’ Association Teacher of the Year awards. The student participants were learning in these teachers’ classrooms. Data were collected in three stages. First, I observed and video recorded the teachers in university classrooms. Next, I approached the students for one-on-one interviews. Finally, I invited each of the teachers to participate in a stimulated recall interview. To code the data, I drew on superiority, incongruity and relief theories of humour; instructional humour processing theory (IHPT); and emotional intelligence (EI).
The teachers used eight types of humour, either intentionally or spontaneously, while teaching. These included self-deprecating humour, disparaging humour, teacher-student teasing, sarcasm, ad-lib humour, funny comments, riddles and funny photos or quiz questions. The teachers noted that they used humour intentionally to facilitate student learning, attract students’ attention, or both. The students indicated that the teachers’ use of humour affected them in two ways: by enhancing their learning (for example, by helping them to understand or recall key concepts); and by engaging their attention (for example, by providing a ‘tension break’ or eliciting laughter). The teachers’ and students’ interview discussions revealed more similar than different perspectives as to what constitutes appropriate (or inappropriate) and relevant (or irrelevant) humour. They described appropriate humour as humour that is relevant, timely and used in a suitable manner; as enhancing teachers’ credibility; and as requiring careful judgement, and sometimes, planning. They described relevant humour as humour that is related to lecture content and/or to students’ daily life experiences.
My study findings extend our understanding of ‘instructional’ humour. According to IHPT, instructional humour is appropriate and relevant humour that enhances students’ learning in the classroom. However, my study findings suggest that humour that is not directly content-related can also perform an instructional function, for example, by re-focusing students or allowing them to feel comfortable and ready to learn. Additionally, my study offers some pedagogical suggestions for teachers who wish to incorporate humour effectively in the classroom. These include considering students’ perspectives when using humour, planning the use of humour to illustrate course content and/or foster students’ sense of comfort, and checking jokes or funny anecdotes with others prior to using them.||