Connecting with students through humour 

How can we connect with our students when we don’t see them? We decided to try humour.

As passionate and energetic educators, we believe that fostering connections with our students is just as essential to their learning experience as providing honest feedback. Yet building connections with students online is an ongoing challenge as Zoom and other platforms continue to separate us physically.

With a little creativity using the Student Relationship Engagement System (SRES) coupled with humour and a personal touch we showed students that we care, and that they are not alone on Zoom.

We connected with students by reminding them that we are in this together.

A unique context

So think back to 2021 when we were under lockdown, this meant that student industry placements became online – so more zoom for students who were extremely disappointed, telling us they felt in the dark, isolated, overwhelmed and not sure what to expect (McEwen, 2021). The teaching context is unique on the Industry Placement Program (IPP) as we don’t meet with our students weekly but rather 3 times during semester to guide students through the assessment criteria and rubrics.

Our 3H approach – Human, Humour & Help

We wanted students to see us as more than just markers of their assessments but instead as people who care about them and their workplace development. When we used SRES to provide assessment feedback we wanted to make sure it was coming from a caring place and so we used our own “3H approach”: A HUMAN touch, using HUMOUR and offering HELP.

We added photos to our SRES messages to make students feel relaxed before their placement, and as you can see here, we chose this humorous photo to get their attention and connect with them on a HUMAN level by seeing us as people in this very tough time.

The picture we chose to connect with students through SRES.

The HUMOUR continued as we prompted students to reflect on their experience so far with photos (and our humour again) and posed questions such as: How does your host supervisor feel about you? Are they jumping for joy? Or are you putting them to sleep? These questions were both important and informative as students began preparing their reflective assessments. We knew we were making an impact – students were reading their emails numerous times and continued to initiate conversations and connections with us, as we prepared students for their future workplaces.

One the of the emails we sent to check in with students.

Assessment feedback

In SRES, we built upon Meraiah Foley’s great rubric work, by embedding customised and detailed (and blunt) feedback to students on their reflection-based assessments. See also Lynn Gribble’s recent post on this.

Students appreciated the detailed feedback even more because we had fostered a relationship with them before the first assessment task, so they recognised the feedback was to HELP them develop as business professionals and of course feedforward to the next assessment.

Each time we sent out our SRES messages with humour, advice and that ‘blunt’ feedback, students felt less isolated and more inclined to contact us. Our final week of messaging stressed the importance of gratitude and making lasting connections with their placement hosts. This not only gave them sound career advice but showed students that we were there to support them to achieve better engagement, career success and human skills!

This approach is scalable and flexible – we can all use a bit of humour to connect with our students, give it a try!

Want to use humour in your teaching? Welling and Mitchell (2022) also write about using humour to enhance learning to find your unique brand of funny.

This work was presented as a lightening talk at the USBS Learning & Teaching Forum, 2022.

About the author

Janine is a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Accounting, Governance & Regulation at the University of Sydney Business School and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

Dr Angela Hecimovic is a Lecturer in Accounting, at the University of Sydney Business School.

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