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What’s So Funny About STEM: Examining the Implementation of Humor in the Classroom

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Student Division Innovative Research Methods Technical Session

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Paper Authors


Carrie E Sekeres Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ., Daytona Beach

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Carrie Sekeres graduated with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, with a concentration in Astronautics, from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where she also works as a research assistant in the Engineering Fundamentals Department. Ms. Sekeres interned in the Integration Engineering branch of the Launch Services Program Directorate, working to develop and implement a working online collaboration space for several of the branches at Kennedy Space Center. Ms. Sekeres will be starting her M.S. in Systems Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall.

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James J. Pembridge Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ., Daytona Beach

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Humor has long held a place in the repertoire of classroom instructors. Research has been conducted on the role of humor in the classroom for over four decades; although, this research has only recently expanded to include the effects of humor on engineering education at the collegiate level. Research at the collegiate level has concentrated almost entirely on student perception (i.e. how the student’s view the instructor’s use of humor). Student perception of humor is an indicator of humor’s place in the classroom. However, student perceptions of humor give relatively no indication to the intent of the humor and effect of it on the classroom.

The purpose of this study is to characterize how humor is used by STEM faculty and what is its relationship to student engagement. This study examines faculty implementation of humor by engineering, mathematics, and physical sciences faculty at a predominately engineering and science focused institution. Research questions for this study include: 1) When do faculty implement humor in the class session and what is the focus of that humor? 2) What is the difference between student engagement is classes that employ humor and those that do not? 3) What correlations exist between the use of humor and other teaching techniques?

48 STEM classroom sessions were video recorded once throughout an academic term. Videos were coded in one minute increments for the dimensions of instruction, dialogue, pedagogical techniques, and cognitive engagement specified by the Teaching Dimensions Observation Protocol (TDOP). Quantitative observation data was analyzed using descriptive statistics, statistical comparison of means, and correlations. Qualitative classifications of the types of humor used were also compared to the time it was implemented in the class session.

Findings indicated moderate correlations between the use of humor in the classroom and student questions, lecturing, and the instructor making connections between the class material and the students’ experiences were found. Findings also indicated that the number of student questions during each class were shown to increase if humor was present during the class. Results can support faculty use of humor as a tool for maintaining student attention and rapport but developing intentional suggestions for implementation.

Sekeres, C. E., & Pembridge, J. J. (2017, June), What’s So Funny About STEM: Examining the Implementation of Humor in the Classroom Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29120

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