Let me entertain you!

In his song ‘Let me entertain you’, the singer Robbie Williams suggests that his audience is ‘tired of teachers’ and that ‘school’s a drag’; his remedy is to invite them to be entertained. And of course, entertainment is the idiom of the age, the platform from which a good deal of communication (of even quite serious matters) is disseminated. Entertainment is no longer just diversion from the serious business of life, it is the mainstream.

So it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that an analysis of the qualities that English students seek in their lecturers has revealed that ‘edutainment’ comes high on the list: higher than care for students, and assessment and feedback (though not as high as ‘great teaching’). This goes alongside the trend by which students increasingly use social networking site Facebook as their preferred medium of communication in academic matters.

And in fact, the idea that good teaching should also entertain is not new to me. Letcurers are performers, and one of their tasks is the find methods of communication that get the message across and stimulate the audience into active participation. A good lecture should have something of the music hall about it. But while this comes naturally to some academics, it is quite alien to others. And in any case, entertainment is a skill that needs to be taught and learned.

So I suspect that the academy needs to become serious about entertainment, and to make it part of the methodology of learning. In particular, we need to resist the temptation to see entertainment as cheap and boredom as noble.

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3 Comments on “Let me entertain you!”

  1. iainmacl Says:

    nice post in which you light the touchpaper and stand back waiting for the response! Why don’t I try the same?

    Academia is riddled with ironic situations. Many staff are totally absorbed by their subject discipline, get great personal joy and satisfaction out of researching into the most obscure points, take delight out of playing with ideas and contradictions, see the pleasure in debating and critiquing with others. And when stepping into the lecture theatre or dealing with courses – a veil of sobriety descends and almost an obligation to make the subject as dry and obscure as possible to make it look like a ‘serious’ issue and hide any hint or suggestion that it is possible to get a thrill out of learning, embarrassed by the thought that someone will notice them smiling and chuckling as they finally get that lab experiment to work.

    What’s wrong with fun? Sure there are difficult concepts to convey, tediously dull stuff that needs to be in the curriculum before you can get to the cutting edge and lots of jargon, but the only way people will wade through all of that successfully is if they are sufficiently motivated and those who haven’t yet been bitten by the bug need some encouragement along the way.

    Fortunately there are many lecturers who do a great job, against the odds often, in trying to inspire each generation of students or at least attempt to enliven presentations, raise provocative points, challenge misconceptions and set challenging conundra for students to resolve – all of this could be labelled as entertainment, as fun, as play (or as some writers have called it ‘serious fun’, ‘hard fun’).

    But there are others who feel that they won’t be taken seriously unless they stand at the lectern reading from notes with students scribbling down every word, no hint of humour, no spark, just recitation. Of course, in many cases it is nervousness, fear, lack of training – a whole range of possible reasons, and not everyone can be comfortable and confident, not everyone can ‘work a crowd’ of shuffling, tired and distracted students. Nor should they have to. We need to view courses as a broad range of learning experiences and opportunities and the lecture (or is it better to think of it as a large-group meeting, a plenary session?) in only one component. Readings, coursework, practicals, tutorials, all combine and any comprehensive course design will link these strands and within some parts surely there is room for acknowledging joy, wit, pleasure and challenge?

  2. Al Says:

    A student has a duty to try and learn in any environment. If they are bored then it may reflect on their attention span and and ability to concentrate.
    Or is it attention spam?
    Lecturers can be dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t.

  3. Stephen Says:

    For entertainment at third level, have a look at Michael Sandel’s Justice module in Harvard. Justice is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history. The 12 week course is full available to watch online, and is very entertaining even for non-law students and for people in general.
    http://www.justiceharvard.org


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