Joke Time – Preserving Sanity and Boosting Grades

It was a leap of faith that brought Randy Skinner to BYU in 2003. Though well established as a senior level partner at a geotechnical consulting firm, he decided to leave behind his career and pursue a temporary one-year teaching position in the Department of Geological Sciences.

“So [BYU] brought me in, and I taught here for a year with the expectation that when that year was over, my job would be done,” he said. “Everyone told me I was crazy.”

Though he had no formal teaching experience, Skinner was a natural in the classroom, and BYU noticed. Once his year was up, he switched to a new office and a full-time position as a geology professor. Now eight years later, he is thriving in this academic environment, teaching such classes as Introduction to Geology and Geology for Engineers.

One essential skill Skinner employs in the classroom is a certain level of comedy. He feels entertainment not only brings enjoyment to the students, but in fact improves their comprehension and grades.

“I figure if the students come to class, they have a chance to learn something,” he explained. “They’re more likely to come to class if it’s entertaining. And so . . . if I need to get up on the desk and dance around for a little bit or bring in some dogs and ponies, I’ll do that.”

Students of “Master Skinner” — a title they have affectionately bestowed on him — respond well to these relief tactics. Getting involved in such traditions as joke time, which occurs in the middle of every class period, “allows everybody to kind of disengage from lecture mode for a couple of minutes and reset everything,” Skinner said.

“I like how interactive [Professor Skinner] is,” said student Sidney Guthrie, a clinical laboratory science major from Florida. “When the class is involved, you know it’s a good teacher.”

Besides teaching and making his students laugh, Skinner will say that his favorite part about geology is, “Dinosaurs, of course!”

“I maintain that every good lecture given at BYU should contain at least one picture of a dinosaur,” he said with a twinkle. “Because how can you not love dinosaurs?”

By Natalie Rice Posted on