Appropriate and relevant humour in the university classroom: insights from teachers and students


appropriate humour
relevant humour
teaching and learning
higher education

How to Cite

Abu Bakar, F. (2020). Appropriate and relevant humour in the university classroom: insights from teachers and students. The European Journal of Humour Research, 7(4), 137–152.


When used for the purpose of teaching and learning, humour must be relevant and appropriate to the context. However, what constitutes appropriate and relevant humour is unclear. Past studies have focussed mostly on classifying appropriate and relevant types of humour. Additionally, students’ and teachers’ perceptions of what constitutes appropriate and relevant humour are likely to differ, meaning that the effectiveness of teachers’ humour use may vary depending on the context. With this in mind, it is important to consider teachers’ and students’ perceptions of the appropriateness and relevance of humour. For this paper, five award-winning teachers and 10 students were interviewed regarding their perceptions and experiences of the use of humour in university teaching. Four themes were identified that relate to teachers’ and students’ perceptions regarding the appropriateness of humour: Appropriate humour is relevant humour; Appropriate humour happens at a suitable time and in a suitable manner; Appropriate humour enhances teachers’ credibility; and Inappropriate humour is disrespectful humour. Three themes were identified related to the relevance of humour: Relevant humour is related to the learning content; Relevant humour is related to daily experiences in life; and Irrelevant humour is humour that students do not understand. On the basis of this study, this paper offers pedagogical suggestions for teachers who wish to use humour effectively by taking into consideration what humour is considered appropriate/inappropriate and relevant/irrelevant. 

The study presented in this paper was funded by Postgraduate Publishing , University of Otago, New Zealand. I also would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Dr Vivienne Anderson, Assoc Prof Dr Vijay Kumar Mallan, and Prof Tony Harland for their feedback on the author’s PhD thesis from which this paper is derived.


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