Barks and wags blog
USING HUMOR ON COLLEGE TESTS - DOES IT IMPROVE STUDENTS' PERFORMANCE BY LESSENING TEST ANXIETY? (October 2013)
I give extensive and challenging multiple-choice, true/false exams in most of my courses, designed to encourage reading the assigned texts and to assess reading comprehension skills. I typically add a few silly questions to the pool, sometimes marking the correct response with the hint, "This is the right answer!" just for a laugh. Recently, I also added some stand-up comedy clips about race relations in America to my unit on Reconstruction, to help ease students into a serious discussion comparing discrimination in the post-Civil-War era to the present.
I would like to know what researchers have found about the effects of humor on helping students relax and perform with greater confidence on challenging course requirements. According to a 2000 article from College Teaching, there is no simple, proven correlation between humorous test items and lower student anxiety. However, "the findings of the six-year study reported in this article indicate that undergraduate and graduate students feel humor is effective in reducing their anxiety and making it possible to perform their best on exams."
The article suggests different strategies for using humor and that the instructor collect feedback from students on their reactions to the spoof questions. For those who want to read more, see “Does Humor in Course Tests Reduce Anxiety and Improve Performance?” Berk, Ronald A. College Teaching, 2000, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp. 151 – 58.
BI-PARTISANSHIP IN THE REAGAN YEARS AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM IT (October 2013)
Chris Matthews (host of MSNBC's Hardball) has recently been touting his new book, Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked (Simon and Schuster, 2013).
I have long referenced the example of the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill in my unit on the 1980s as a contrast to today's aggressive brinkmanship in Washington. I am delighted to now have first-hand accounts of a former top aide to the House Speaker to enhance this class discussion.
There are several brief, readable anecdotes to chose from, accessible to undergraduates with no expertise on the period, that provide vivid accounts of mature, visionary senior statesmanship by both men. I look forward to adding this exciting new source to this unit in December.
NEW SEMESTER OFF TO A BUSY START (September 2013)
My fall semester is starting off with a packed schedule of teaching two nearly full classes and one medium-sized course. I am very excited about the high level of discussion we have had so far. My students are engaged and ready to tackle new ideas.
At the same time, I am revising two research articles for academic journals, The Journal of Women's History and Adoption and Culture. I just sent one off my desk and am now turning to the other. This made for a rather laborious Labor Day, but I am always more pleased with my work after several concentrated days of rewriting.
SUMMER COURSE COMES TO A CLOSE (August 2013)
Thanks very much to Ryan, Michael, Thomas, Patrick, and Nathan for working so hard in my American Civilization course this summer. I appreciate your enthusiastic participation that made every class meeting a pleasure. I experimented in this course with teaching the survey in a thematic, non-chronological fashion that allowed me to focus on a specific set of questions linking two periods in each three-hour session. This worked so well that I am going to modify it for the fall semester.
LEICESTER CONFERENCE A SUCCESS! (July 2013)
I was delighted to attend the International Association of Media and History conference in England at the University of Leicester (about two hours north of London). My session was well attended (on a Friday afternoon, no less!) and I received excellent questions and comments on my presentation, "Can a Warrior Wear a Tiara? The Pressures and Possibilities of Disney Princessdom for Mulan and Merida." It was the first time I've given an academic conference talk using PowerPoint rather than reading a paper, and I was relieved that it went so well. I will soon be writing it up for publication - my first article based on my long-time experience of teaching a course on Disney animated film in American history.
WHAT I'M DOING
It is tomato season, and I am busy hunting down recipes to make the most of a bumper crop coming in from our vegetable garden. I've made quiche, ratatouille, and a variety of cold pasta salads. Next on the agenda is this light spaghetti sauce from Rachael Ray's website to use all of the tasty cherry tomatoes that ripened this week: http://www.rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=5550
The fall Coffee House was a success. We raised several hundred dollars, and had a great time performing music. My quartet sang two Peter Paul and Mary numbers and one Beach Boys song. Then Craig and I performed one John Prine piece, a Travis Tritt number, and a classic Greg Brown song. We also had the pleasure of watching excellent performances by others, from music to dance to poetry and prose. Thanks to my friends who came out, and to all of the folks in the congregation who took part. Every time we do this, it's a great experience.
After my USTA tennis team battled for a third-place finish at the New Jersey sectionals, I have returned with new resolve to improve my forehand and my speed on the court. It was great fun playing at a more intense level and getting to know the women of my team even better. We hope to take first place next year!
WHAT I'M READING
Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry,
Penguin Books, 2012. An intellectual history of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, and the evolution of his ideas about religious freedom. Explores in depth his personal relationships with bold thinkers of his day and his contentious experiences in the Puritan settlements of early America.
Walt Longmire Mystery Series
by Craig Johnson. I'm listening to the book-on-CD versions, read by famous narrator George Guidall, who also read the entire Tony Hillerman series. These books by Johnson are similar, except that they focus on an old-fashioned non-Indian sheriff in Wyoming who navigates a surprisingly crime-ridden, remote landscape that includes a nearby Indian reservation. Got interested in this after seeing the new Longmire series on A&E. I just finished The Cold Dish and am now listening to Death Without Company.
WHAT I'M WATCHING
2013. Funniest movie of the summer with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as an unlikely crime-fighting team that takes down a drug kingpin in Boston. A little over-the-top at times, but true to its high ratings for McCarthy's memorable performance.
The National Parks: America's Best Idea
Documentary by Ken Burns, 2006. Typical sweeping, emotional Burns exploration of the political, intellectual, and social history of the radical notion that wild land should be set aside for public enjoyment now and in the future. Excellent segment on John Muir's spirituality that I might use when I develop a course on the history of religion in the U.S.
2012 American television series streaming on Netflix starring Jason Isaacs (of Harry Potter fame). A detective leads a bizarre double life after a tragic car accident. In one life, his son survives but wife is killed, and vice versa in the other. As he floats from one world to the other and back, he gleans clues from both worlds to solve his cases, and discusses with two therapists which life is real and which might be just a dream.
2010 FX series now streaming on Netflix. It's about two scruffy private detectives in California is smart, extremely well-acted, and often humorous. Its is one of the few crime series that does not amp up the virtuous or evil natures of its characters to extreme levels just for shock value. It is a rare commodity, and I hope someone picks it up and makes more episodes in the future.
I am an Assistant Professor of History at Penn State York. Please browse my blog below and the links to the left for more information on my teaching, research, and other interests. Feel free to contact me any time. I welcome your questions and comments! Thanks for visiting, and come back soon. I update my content every week or so.