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About Humor in Online Education

written by: Leyla Norman•edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi•updated: 10/28/2010

Humor in online education can easily be misinterpreted. Students can take offense at a joke that seemed harmless to the teacher or student who made it. Use these tips to help you control your online class and help your students know when and how to make jokes as they learn online.

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    80px-Web cam for GIs at Guantanamo Humor in online education can be a touchy subject. Wry comments can be misinterpreted, and students can get upset or get their feelings hurt. When teaching online, it is important to pay attention to how and when you use humor in your class. Humor makes any class more engaging and interesting, but it must be used with caution.

    Use Humor in Videos

    Make videos for your online classes. Students can see your facial expressions and body language in videos that are so important to nonverbal communication. Record your lectures, and post them to your online class.

    If you use an interactive whiteboard during your online lessons, encourage students to periodically use video conferencing. Be aware that this could slow the whiteboard’s responsiveness as video takes up a lot of bandwidth. However, if each student uses it when he talks during an online lesson, it would allow other students to see the speaking student’s face. If the student makes a joke, it is more readily apparent. If only one person can use the video option at a time, it should be you, the teacher, who uses it the most. Use streaming video to help your students not only learn the material, but also know if you are showing your funny side.

    Cultural References

    Online classes can often have students from around the world in them. If you teach international students, be aware that any joke you make could be misinterpreted. It can also be taken literally or be confusing for non-native English speakers. Explain this to your students as well.

    Be Upfront

    Before class ever begins, warn your students to be careful about the types of jokes they make. State that it is an online environment where it is more difficult to tell if someone is joking. Restrict humor to video or voice conversations, or mention that students should put a smiley next to something they type in discussion boards, in an email, or in text chat conversations. Use a smiley or a similar code in your own written materials for the class that your class will recognize as an indication that you are joking.

    Online education does not have to be devoid of all humor. It simply must be made more apparent than in person when someone is joking. Students and teachers alike should be careful about the types of jokes they make, especially jokes that could be misinterpreted easily. Encourage a light-hearted atmosphere in your online classroom, and help your students navigate the online education process by setting forth clear guidelines about how and when to use humor and what types are appropriate for class. Humor in online education is vital to creating a positive and fun learning environment, but be creative about tearing down the barriers to nonverbal communication online education poses.