by Laura Hutt | August 24, 2008
Alan Alda (or was it Hawkeye Pierce) once said, “When people are laughing, they’re generally not killing each other”. You don’t make it through the dissertation process without a sense of humor and research supports this premise. The article, “The Influence of Graduate Advisor Use of Interpersonal Humor on Graduate Students” published in the Journal of the National Academic Advising Association (Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2008, pp. 34-72) is a quantitative investigation of the influence of advisor use of interpersonal humor and graduate students.
The Journal article cited a study that listed employment of humor in the course room as the third most desired trait of college professors from a learner’s perspective. That same study linked humor to effective interpersonal communication (p. 54). In addition, another study noted by the researchers suggested that humor most relevant to the content of the class elicited the highest learner satisfaction (p. 55). In additional supporting information, researchers found that learners who regarded their advisors positively tended to progress more rapidly through the dissertation process than did learners who regarded their advisors negatively. Moreover, graduate students who had favorable advisors in graduate school produced more post graduate work than did learners without advisors in graduate schools (p. 58). The findings of the investigation reveal a positive relationship between a learner’s perceptions of his or her advisor’s use of humor (jokes, riddles, puns, funny stories, humorous comments) and the learner’s perception of the advisor’s nonverbal immediacy, social support, mentoring, and the relationship satisfaction reported by the learner (p. 55).
Although, the study did not include online advisors and online learners, and the researchers did not distinguish between faculty advisors and non-faculty advisors, I believe that the results still have relevance for online advisors (both faculty and non-faculty) because online learner populations also need to be put at ease, to remain interested and attentive, to understand and remember a point, and everything else that the use of humor does to help learners learn (p. 56).
Of course, nonverbal immediacy is a challenge for online advisors: eye contact, gestures, facial expression are difficult to gauge online. I suspect that the learner’s perceptions of the advisor’s voice (vocal variety, tone, volume); content and context of message; and listening skills become more relevant than nonverbal immediacy when determining the learner’s perception of an online advisor’s sense of humor. However, the perception of social support (supportive-unsupportive, responsive-unresponsive, helpful-unhelpful, etc.), mentoring, and relationship satisfaction remain relevant.
I would like to explore the use of humor in online advising. Do learners positive perceptions of online advisors speed up graduation rates or influence post graduate work? Is a sense of humor a desired trait for an online advisor?