A Funny Thing Happened at School Today …

Some teachers might laugh at this new study, but it seems classroom levity boosts student interest and participation.

At least in an online school.

"We know students taking online courses often view them as very distant and sometimes boring and impersonal, so we thought about the idea of trying to incorporate humor into online instruction with the idea of enhancing it," explains professor of psychology and jokester Mark Shatz.

All kidding aside, Shatz teaches a humor-writing course at Ohio University.

In the study, 44 students in a virtual classroom were randomly assigned the existing curriculum or a new one that included cartoons, self-deprecating jokes and top ten lists -- all related to the subject matter, of course.

The study tracked how often students logged on, as well as their participation in discussions. Then they were surveyed to find out how much they enjoyed the course.

As you'd expect, the humorous course got better reviews and more participation.

"Teachers don't need to be comedians," Shatz says. "Our job is not to make students laugh. Our job is to help them learn, and if humor can make the learning process more enjoyable, then I think everybody benefits as the result of it."

Here, however, is the punch line:

"We did not expect to find differences in performance and we did not find differences in performance, because our view is that humor itself is not some learning potion," Shatz said. "Humor is more of a social lubricant. It can facilitate interactions, and that is exactly what we found."

The results, announced today, will be detailed in the journal Teaching of Psychology.

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