Developing teaching practice


Politics and International Relations (Pol & IR) lecturers can capitalise on the established relationship between comedy and political analysis by using humour techniques to enhance the student learning experience and to develop students’ critical analysis skills. Using collected data from focus groups with 21 British and International undergraduate students from four UK universities, this small-scale empirical study advances a methodology that enables participants to engage in collective meaning-making without being restricted by a closed-ended question survey. This research highlights student perceptions that humour attempts can make concepts memorable, improve student-lecturer rapport, and increase student engagement and motivation when lecturers consistently adopt a friendly persona and use humour to supplement high-quality lecture content. Mild self-deprecation by lecturers improves the student-lecturer relationship. Lecturer "banter" with students is risky, but might be acceptable if the lecturer’s persona is consistently humorous and sufficient student trust is developed. Participants considered that analogies and pop culture references are beneficial explanatory tools, especially for complex Pol & IR concepts or theories. Memes were considered to be most effective when used as a summarising or concluding point, thus corroborating the "educate before subvert" principle.

Practitioner Notes

  1. While this paper corroborates literature arguing for the benefits of the use of humour in teaching, it fills a methodological gap in this literature by advancing student-centric research methods. Student-led focus group research on humour provides in-depth and nuanced perspectives that interviews with academics overlook and survey research can only superficially capture.
  2. Humour is a bonus: participants thought that lecturers should focus on being good teachers that provide high-quality sessions before attempting to use humour techniques.
  3. Adopting a consistently friendly and approachable persona facilitates rapport-building with students, which will subsequently make all humour attempts more acceptable.
  4. Using analogies and pop culture references facilitates explanations and deploying memes after explanations of concepts to ensure that students ‘get’ the joke.
  5. Mild, professional-level self-deprecation and opening jokes help students feel comfortable and increase both subject interest and willingness to participate.

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