Crystal Ramsay and I are collaborating with Assistant Professor Michael Tews in the School of Hospitality Management. Michael, an energetic and enthusiastic professor, is questioning the impact of fun on students' learning. While at first glance, this may seem like a trivial topic or perhaps one that is best left to the gaming enthusiasts, I'm finding it a perplexing issue. We have begun by looking deeper at how fun is defined in higher education and we are exploring how to measure it.
As a preliminary step, the three of us each asked a group of students to think about a professor they've had in college and to describe three things that he/she did to make the class fun. The class of aerospace students I queried provided a range of responses with hands-on learning, humor, and relating topics to everyday life topping their lists. They also shared some that got me thinking. For example, several mentioned that they found it fun when a professor starts class with a fact trivia or an airplane of the day. Doing something like that gains their attention as suggested by Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction. One student noted, "The professor was a likeable person who wants to teach" and that made me wonder why we have professors in our classrooms who don't want to teach. Several of the students listed they found it fun to be able to set their own learning goals with one student stating it this way, "Classes where the teacher lets you learn the way you want to learn." One professor has one a day a week for "gripe day" so that students can voice their agitations with the class or life in general. Doing so leads to a release of anxiety and with the professor's coaxing; students get to figure out possible solutions as well as sometimes see the silliness of their dilemmas.
I find it very telling to listen to students and I'm looking forward to hearing more as we make progress with this study. In the meantime, I am going to get back to the fun of thinking about teaching and learning.