Book By: Ronald Berk
Review By: Stephen G. Pajewski
Associate Director, Information Systems Program
Carnegie Mellon University
The use of humor in academia is not often explored, though in recent years humor in advising has received some attention at both regional and national NACADA conferences. In this book, Ron Berk, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, offers advice and examples for applying humor to interactions with undergraduates. Berk finds humor to be an effective and creative way to overcome the communication barriers that can exist between instructors and students. Those barriers, such as age, expertise, and status, can be broken down when humor is used as a teaching strategy.
Berk provides a fairly comprehensive approach to humor, exploring its sources and the reasons for using it. Humor is not just for finding laughs, he writes, but for having fun and adding stimulation to teaching and learning. The book is light-hearted and offers many examples of wholesome, low-risk jokes, anecdotes, cartoons, “top-ten lists,” and generous amounts of silliness. The material may be especially helpful to those whom the author describes as being “humor challenged” or “jocularly arthritic.”
One gets the impression that Berk injects humor in just about all he does—from using one-liners and skits in the classroom to inserting jokes in his professional presentations and publications—as he teaches in his field of statistics. He is not trying to get us to be as funny as he is, (since one’s personality may have something to do with the successful use of humor); rather he offers real encouragement for us to consider using humor in more and creative ways. He offers advice on where to find jokes, how to write your own material, and how to deliver (as well as recovering gracefully from bombing). He describes how humor can be inserted creatively into lectures, professional presentations, handouts, and syllabi.
Berk limits his application of humor to these particular teaching scenarios, which certainly is useful for advisors. It would be interesting to see how he would explore humor in one-on-one interactions, which is an advisor’s main form of relationship-building with students. It is in these office settings, when talking with students, where our sense of humor can be more subtle and expressive of ourselves. We can use humor to put students at ease and make ourselves more approachable, interesting, and human. While the use of humor in conversation may be effective, one needs to be mindful of the risk of using it inappropriately. Nonetheless, this book is brimming with ideas for putting a smile on the faces of our students.
Gardner, J. (2004, March). Humor in advising. Paper presented at the NACADA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference. Princeton, NJ.
Professors are from Mars, Students are from Snickers: How to Write and Deliver Humor in the Classroom and in Professional Presentations
. (2003). Book by Berk, Ronald. Review by Stephen G. Pajewski. Herndon, VA: Stylus Publishing. 185 pp. Price $24.95. ISBN 1 57922 070 3