Thirty-six percent of university freshman are frequently bored in class, according to a 1997 national survey of more than 250,000 freshmen at universities across the nation.
One Iowa State university economics professor is doing his part to change that.
Ron Deiter is director of undergraduate advising in economics and ag business. "More than 20 years ago, I taught my first college-level economics course and bored my first group of students," Deiter says. "After that first class, I told myself if I was going to continue teaching as a career, I had to change how I taught to make it fun not only for my students, but for myself."
One of the ways Deiter attempts to make his classes interesting is with humor. "The main reason for using humor in the classroom is to improve student learning," he says. "The creative development and expression of humor in the classroom deals with how to teach, not what to teach. Humor is simply a teaching tool."
Humor in the classroom can take several forms, Deiter says. Jokes are the most obvious, but also the most risky. Other options are quotes, cartoons, multiple-choice items, Top 10 lists, current events and humorous definitions.
Deiter says humor helps create a more positive learning environment by building rapport between students and the teacher. "Students are less intimidated and less inhibited about asking questions or making comments," he says.
Humor can help students retain subject matter, especially if the humor reinforces the class material, Deiter says. "And humor may give students a reason to attend class. While it's no substitute for substance, humor can create a more positive, fun, interesting environment that promotes class attendance and student learning," he says.