ICT & Computing in Education

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In Praise of Silliness

I am all in favour of the experiment by an ATM company in London which sees instructions in rhyming slang on some of its cash machines.

People tend to be too serious, and sometimes you can achieve quite a lot in terms of making people think, or even improving learning, through the interjection of a bit of mild humour.

I’m not suggesting that these ATMs will educate people, but that a similar principle might be introduced into the school environment. When I was running an ICT department in a school, I sometimes used to put up silly notices along the lines of:

Is you is or is you ain't printing? If so…

(From the song Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?)

OK, so it didn’t produce guffaws, but then it wasn’t meant to. Just about every ICT suite has notices saying what you can’t do, what is forbidden. The overall effect is to put people on edge, in my opinion. You can grab people’s attention with an unusual and slightly humorous headline, and then state a few rules. I believe that the light-hearted opening puts them in the right, ie receptive, frame of mind.

Humour is fine to use in other places too, especially when the work can get pretty intense. I tweaked a spreadsheet once so that at the top, in the title bar, it read:

Mr Freedman says: Get on with your work!

I also had a button which said

Click here in case of an emergency.

Inevitably, clicking on it caused a message to pop up stating:

This is not an emergency! Stop messing about!

My coup de grace, however, was recording myself saying "Stop that and get back to your work", and assigning the sound file to one of the windows events on a stand-alone computer. It was quite humorous to see the reaction of a pupil experiencing it for the first time!

Of course, it goes without saying that such frivolity will not work if you have not already established classroom discipline and have really interesting work for the students to do. My aim was to try to replicate a workplace environment, in the sense that in a normal, healthy work environment people work, have a bit of a break, exchange some banter, and get on with their work. Why should school be any different?

Related article: Fings ain’t wot they used to be.

This article was first published on 26th August 2009.

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(c) Terry Freedman