Comedy and Academic Integrity?

Improv! You have seen it on the television show, Saturday Night Live, and probably at your local comedy club. But can you incorporate it in your classroom?

To find out, I attended the online webcast, “Improvisation and Plagiarism: Fostering a Culture of Creativity” during Turnitin’s Plagiarism Education Week. The webcast, led by Teddi Fishman, the department member at the International Center for Academic Integrity, and adjunct professor at Clemson University clarified that yes, of course you can incorporate into your classroom.  Not only does it work for the classroom as a fun, engaging activity, but it helps students with issues of academic integrity.

So, what is improv?

According to Fishman, it isn’t just doing whatever you want. It’s making up things that occur in a structure. This structure provides the freedom to explore ideas. It’s working collaboratively in a set of known constraints, creating something unique and good. Improv is excellent for students and learners because it is experiential, interactive, creative, social, learner-centered, and of course, fun.

How does it help with issues of academic integrity?

By teachers, and instructors trading in a traditional teaching “script” that is planned ahead (like a lesson plan) for experiential learning. Using improv exercises to allow students to have and experience the “effects” of academic integrity by creating a “genuine learning experience“.

Fishman gave two examples when she was working with a group of students who had some sort of academic integrity issue (i.e. cheating, plagiarizing, etc).

First example, 20-25 students were given an essay assignment (similar to: write an essay on why cheating, and what you did was wrong). Different students were assigned a different “amount” of words they had to write in their essay. During the assignment, it was emphasized that it doesn’t matter how many words written, everyone will get the same credit. The students who were assigned to write more words, and a longer essay felt that it wasn’t fair, and that it was unequal that some had to do more work/write more while everyone would obtain the same credit. When it was mentioned that cheating provides the same unequal/not fair experience to their fellow classmates, the improv assignment created a genuine learning experience, that wasn’t forced, and allowed the students to truly understand.

Another example, a plagiarism improv exercise. During a student discussion, a student was attributed to an answer that was associated to another student. When the wrong student was given praise, and acknowledged for the answer, (i.e. Ben said a great idea; however, in class, the teacher keeps referencing and praising Molly) the students experienced the unfairness. The exercise provided a genuine learning experience of someone taking/getting credit for an answer or idea, aka plagiarism.

These genuine learning experiences that improv activities create allow students to experience a change. The impact of actually experiencing it versus “hearing about” why/how not upholding academic integrity is wrong really impacts, makes a difference.

So can you incorporate improv activities for you online class?

Fishman says yes! While I wasn’t able to obtain improv activities for online classes, doing a little research, I found two excellent improv websites to help with ideas: Improv Encyclopedia and Whose Line Online.

Do you have any improv activities you incorporate in your class (traditional or online)? Do you have other comedy methods for dealing with issues of academic integrity?