Faculty Innovator: Aimee Adam

1st October 2022

By Audra Kalvar, Special to IU Southeast NOW

Engaging Memes = Engaged Students

Success kid. This is fine dog. Condescending Willy Wonka. Chances are you’ve seen these popular memes and they elicited a chuckle or two.

Aimee Adam, Ph.D. and associate professor of psychology, has tapped into the humor and popularity of memes in an effort to make dry research and statistics material more engaging to students.

“It increases student engagement, and helps them to better understand and apply course content, and think critically about information presented to them,” said Adam.

A prime example of this is use of the “beards make you hotter, this is science. Mustaches make you creepier, this is also science” meme in Adam’s social psychology class. This beardedness example has two testable hypotheses.

Students learn how to use different methodologies using the meme during their introduction to research methods.

“I first have students cover course material on their own, then administer one of the three pictures (from the meme) to each student, with a list of questions that include how attractive and how creepy the student finds the person in the picture,” said Adam. “I then show them this meme and use leading questions that help students apply what they have learned about research methodology to discover that I had, in fact, conducted an experiment, and identify other concepts, like independent and dependent variables. As a class, we then tally the attractiveness and creepiness scores for each of the pictures and see if the hypotheses were supported. We then discuss what we found, methodological limitations, and how to improve the study.”

Adam uses memes differently in each class, but the end goal is to make projects more engaging and dare we say, more fun for everyone involved.

In her introduction to psychology class, students are able to select memes about psychological constructs they are interested in, which sparks more discussion and participation. Each student group worked on a meme presentation to demonstrate an accurate understanding of the psychological concept presented in the meme, used academic sources to define the concept, differentiated between scientific and non-scientific explanations of the concept, and presented information in an interesting, thorough, accurate, and understandable way.

Adam assessed student attitudes and confidence towards critical thinking using the Critical Thinking Toolkit before and after the project. The results indicated significantly more confidence in their critical thinking abilities after the meme project.

“Students all agreed or strongly agreed that the meme project helped them better understand how to critically evaluate sources of information,” said Adam. “In my evaluations, I have had requests for more of this type of activity from my students.”

Students are also given opportunities to create their own content-related memes for extra credit. It is telling that Adam has had 100% participation in these extra credit assignments.

Using memes and humor offers a shared classroom experience that introduces students to a world of critical thinking skills.

“My teaching objectives include engaging students in interactive opportunities that allow them to make connections and apply foundational knowledge to their own lives and thoughtfully compare their own experiences to those of other students,” said Adam. “I want students to better understand and appreciate diversity of thought, background, and lived experiences. I incorporate critical thinking activities throughout my courses so that students continually question how they arrive at their own conclusions and are better able to communicate their ideas effectively.”

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