A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.

—W. Auden

A teacher’s task is to educate, not entertain. And it’s certainly not an educator’s responsibility to regulate students’ circadian rhythms. Yet, teaching in the virtual classroom demands recognizing how students manage remote presentations.

My son is a college student, and I’ve observed first-hand the limits of virtual instruction.  Covid-19 booted him out of the dorm and into the teen cave for several semesters. He took countless online courses, some synchronous while others were asynchronous.

Regardless of the subject or delivery, my son usually multitasked during remote learning – eating Cocoa Puffs, playing Fortnight, or watching YouTube. Sometimes simultaneously.

It’s understandable why my son wasn’t fully paying attention to the presentations. The typical remote learning lecture is a miniaturized talking head with slides, which is the educational equivalent of taking an Ambien.

Yet, some lectures grabbed my son’s attention. When instructors integrated humor (e.g., whimsical quotes, funny images) into their presentations, my son put down his spoon – and sometimes, his phone.

The planned, systematic integration of humor into a visual lecture gives students a reason to focus on the screen. Also, inserting humor into lecture slides acknowledges that online instructional humor is best delivered via print.

When teaching in person, there is a feedback mechanism that guides humor. Educators get an immediate response from students on whether the timing and type of humor are appropriate.

The humor feedback loop is wholly or significantly severed in a virtual classroom. That means the safest and most effective way to use humor in online classes is to integrate humor into the print aspects of instruction, such as presentations, handouts, announcements, and emails.

Students may view any lecture as an opportunity to catch up on their sleep. Yet, regardless of the classroom setting, in-person or virtual, humor can keep students awake and attentive because it’s a proven instructional Red Bull.


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