• Class Number 4517
  • Term Code 3350
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery Online
    • Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens
    • Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 10/07/2023
  • Class End Date 17/08/2023
  • Census Date 21/07/2023
  • Last Date to Enrol 10/07/2023
SELT Survey Results

How can humour – and what kind of humour – be used in science communication? What does comic performance offer to understanding the public image and pop cultural narratives of science? What can we learn from comic scientists about science? (e.g. in the Nutty Professor films or comic Frankenstein stories) How can we use the Joker – ‘spreading’ laughter in DC comics and animated films – to teach virology? Or what does Todd Phillips’s 2019 Joker blockbuster teach us about neurology? What can we learn from the interplay between forensic science and comic zombies in splatstick films (from Braindead or Zombieland to iZombie) for the communication of science?

Humour, this course elucidates, it not only one of the most powerful tools in communication, and a great way to bring science to the public, but it also shapes – and has been shaping – cultural ideas of sciences. The course thus investigates both, the ways science has influenced and generated rich and fascinating comic traditions in popular culture, and how humour and comic performance have shaped cultural ideas of sciences and ‘science humour’. It looks at the exchange between popular entertainment and science in various media (e.g. comics, film, fiction) over the last 150 years – the course is a conversation between the past, present and future – and clarifies the power of humour for bringing science and scientists into the general public discussion.

Note: This course is co-taught with undergraduate students but assessed separately.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Examine and evaluate the importance and value of humour and comic performance in the communication of science and the discipline of science communication.
  2. Analyse the social and ethical implications of humour in science-related contexts and for their own lives.
  3. Discover the diversity of pop cultural ideas and fictional narratives around science from the last 150 years in a variety of different media and explain their significance for today’s access to and understanding of science as and in culture.
  4. Select, examine and (creatively) present material explaining the role of humour, comedy and comic performance for the public perceptions of science.
  5. Critically appraise science humour contexts through application of appropriate discovery based learning techniques.
  6. Increase skills to engage with and communicate to a range of stakeholders.

Required Resources

Students taking this course must have a stable internet connection and a laptop with a camera and microphone.

Recommended student system requirements 

ANU courses commonly use a number of online resources and activities including:

  • video material, similar to YouTube, for lectures and other instruction
  • two-way video conferencing for interactive learning
  • email and other messaging tools for communication
  • interactive web apps for formative and collaborative activities
  • print and photo/scan for handwritten work
  • home-based assessment.

To fully participate in ANU learning, students need:

  • A computer or laptop. Mobile devices may work well but in some situations a computer/laptop may be more appropriate.
  • Webcam
  • Speakers and a microphone (e.g. headset)
  • Reliable, stable internet connection. Broadband recommended. If using a mobile network or wi-fi then check performance is adequate.
  • Suitable location with minimal interruptions and adequate privacy for classes and assessments.
  • Printing, and photo/scanning equipment

For more information please see https://www.anu.edu.au/students/systems/recommended-student-system-requirements

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • written comments
  • verbal comments
  • feedback to whole class, groups, individuals, focus group etc

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). Feedback can also be provided to Course Conveners and teachers via the Student Experience of Learning & Teaching (SELT) feedback program. SELT surveys are confidential and also provide the Colleges and ANU Executive with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Humour is not only one of the most powerful tools in communication, but it also shapes cultural ideas of sciences. This course will offer students new insights into interconnections between science, comedy and comic performance in culture. We will study contemporary and historical examples to clarify how comic cultural narratives about science have affected the public discourse and understanding of science, and thus our science-society relationship.
In this course students will explore how to communicate their academic knowledge and research more effectively through humour – while also gaining more awareness of good practice and responsible, versatile use of nuanced humour in different situations and with different audiences.
This online course comprises an intensive component that is undertaken across the period of a week. The intensive week will take place 10-14 July 2023. There may be some short online tutorials or pre-reading before the intensive week.
This course is designed like a conference – with thematic sessions revolving around short, specially-created videos (also featuring an array of international guest speakers), discussions and exercises. The intensive week (taught online via Zoom) will consist of highly interactive individual and group activities to consolidate learning and teach skills. Practically-oriented, research-led assessment will continue after the intensive week, with students choosing whether to conduct a research project or create and evaluate a humour-based science communication product (these assessments will be completed in the weeks or months after the intensive week).
The course centres on five themes:(Day 1) “Humour, Science & SciCom: Theories and Contexts” – We will explore the current state of research around humour and laughter in science and science communication, and different humour theories and practices (including science comedy, science demonstrations, etc.).(Day 2) “HUMORECTOMY: The Ambivalence and Ambiguities of Humour” Why be careful with humour? – We will investigate the pitfalls and promises of humour in science and science communication, and discuss and evaluate historical and contemporary cultural examples.(Day 3) “Roaring Machines: Sci-Fi and Techno-Funology” We will explore how humorous public discourse and comic cultural narratives about technology and science have affected the public discourse and understanding of science and technology.(Day 4) “Science between Horror and Humour: Clowns and Scientists” – We will clarify how ‘comic violence’ (e.g. in the form of slapstick, zombie scientists and Joker science) has been a versatile frame for interpreting our relationship with science in popular entertainment.(Day 5) “Queering Science through Laughter” – On the last day, we will focus on what good practice is in relation to humour, gender and science, explore the work of queer science show performers and also do some practical exercises in a "Developing your Sense of Humour" session. We will also discuss the report/creative science communication product that students will submit after the intensive week.
At the end of this course students will be able to refer to and draw inspiration from different media, stories and cultural contexts intertwining science and humour.
IMPORTANT NOTE If you take this course, please be aware that h u m o u r i s s u b j e c t i v e (that is, that you may not like or even find offensive some of the [historical] humour examples, comedy clips and jokes investigated in this course). Joke examples and other humour examples do not represent the views and opinions of the convenor. This course discusses images, film sequences, visual fiction and fictional narratives of mad scientists, clowns and zombies in different media and different degrees of explicitness. Thus, some of the themes, scientific discourses, cultural examples and historical contexts studied in this course may be considered distressing (this may include examples of bad jokes, sick and morbid humour, the cultural concept of ‘freaks’, aliens, notions of s/laughter [body horror], depictions of mental illness, representations of mad science [e.g. Frankenstein] etc.). Please get in touch with the convener, Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens, if you have any questions.

Tutorial Registration

This is an online-only course (Zoom/Wattle) with an intensive teaching component from 10 to 14 July 2023, 9am to 5pm. All teaching will take place during this week (there are no additional tutorials as part of this course).

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Learning Outcomes
Science and Humour Knowledge Quiz 15 % * 1,2
3-min video exploring 'science humour' 10 % 11/07/2023 1,2,3,4
Project Proposal 30 % 24/07/2023 1,3,4,5,6
Final Report or Humour-based Science Communication Product 45 % 17/08/2023 1,3,4,5,6

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines , which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Integrity Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the Academic Skills website. In rare cases where online submission using Turnitin software is not technically possible; or where not using Turnitin software has been justified by the Course Convener and approved by the Associate Dean (Education) on the basis of the teaching model being employed; students shall submit assessment online via ‘Wattle’ outside of Turnitin, or failing that in hard copy, or through a combination of submission methods as approved by the Associate Dean (Education). The submission method is detailed below.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.


Participation in this course is not assessed, but reflection upon class activities IS assessed in the quiz assessment item (Assessment Task 1: Science and Humour Knowledge Quiz) and the 3-min video (Assessment Task 2). For that reason, attending and participating actively is critically important. In addition, many class activities are very interactive, so it is not possible to record all classes or to have a catch-up session. It is difficult to complete this course without attending the entire intensive week. Actively participating in their own learning will also enable students to get the most out of this course. It is strongly recommended NOT TO MISS any sessions or parts of this course.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 15 %
Learning Outcomes: 1,2

Science and Humour Knowledge Quiz

The teaching videos we will watch in the course will be accompanied by quizzes designed to help you think reflectively and critically about the use, role and power of humour, particularly in science/science communication contexts, and how humour can be used as a science communication tool. This assessment item will help you retain information in an online learning environment and put into practice what you have learned. It will also test the breadth of your learning and understanding of the topics we cover in class. You will be given a specific set of questions and have to choose one or more appropriate answers. You will then receive immediate feedback on how well you did. The results of the quizzes taken together form the grade for this assessment item.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 11/07/2023
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3,4

3-min video exploring 'science humour'

3-min video exploring 'science humour'

Due: Tuesday of the intensive week, 11.59pm (11 July 2023)

Returned: within 2 weeks after the intensive week

'What's so funny?' - and why or why not? These are the core question of your second assessment task. Based on what you will have learned on Day 1 (humour theories and concepts) and the first part of Day 2 (on the ambiguities of humour and laughter), in the afternoon of the second day of the course you will create a short video explaining why a piece of humour around science - which you can choose - is funny (or not). This can be, for example, a science cartoon, science joke, comic strip about science or scientists, a short comic performance or another comic cultural product exploring a science field, science topic or scientists characters. The videos will be watched and discussed together on Day 3. You will be trained the day before on how to create this video (with Zoom; the technical quality of your video will not be assessed).

Marking criteria

You must upload the video to Wattle or otherwise make available to the course on Day 3.

What your assignment should demonstrate:

  • Nuanced and intelligent interpretation of a comic cultural artefact revolving around science (define that science, if possible)
  • Critical reflection on the particular humour expressed in or embodied by this artefact (referring to the theories and concepts discussed on Day 1) rather than mere description
  • A well-articulated answer to or discussion of the question: In what light does the specific humour in your example put the science at stake - and what can we learn from it (e.g. about the 'cultural imaginary' of that science)?
  • Ideally, your video is engaging, creative and entertaining

Assessment Task 3

Value: 30 %
Due Date: 24/07/2023
Learning Outcomes: 1,3,4,5,6

Project Proposal

Before you start working on your own projects exploring a 'Science and Humour' topic/question, your convener must approve your proposal (500 Words, ±10%, excluding your reference list/bibliography).

Due: Monday, 24 July 2023, 11.59pm

Returned: within the week of submission

To set the right course for your projects to be as successful as possible, your convenor must approve your project ideas.

Marking criteria and expectations

The proposal needs to include the following elements:

  • critical engagement with relevant scholarly literature as the basis for the project
  • a content overview of your chosen material (fictional or non-fictional text(s), films, visual fiction etc. - this is particularly relevant if your study is designed with one or more specific fiction texts in mind) or, if you choose to create a humour-based science communication product, an overview of what you intend to do exactly
  • a research question that derives from the above (What problem are you trying to solve here? Why does that problem matter to science communicators (or whoever is relevant) or science communication? etc.)
  • an outline of your proposed methods.

Ideally, your proposal is engaging to read and flows well, is neatly formatted, written in clear and concise language, has excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence/paragraph structure.

Your proposal should comprise an introduction with your research question and focus, a short review of the relevant literature and a methods section.

Ideas and topics for possible projects will be discussed during the intensive week.

You will submit your text of 500 words (±10%), which may include some in-text references, followed by a list of references/a short bibliography (this means your reference list is not part of the 500 words (±10%)).

Assessment Task 4

Value: 45 %
Due Date: 17/08/2023
Learning Outcomes: 1,3,4,5,6

Final Report or Humour-based Science Communication Product

Final Report (1500 words, ±10%, excluding reference list/bibliography) or Humour-based Science Communication Product (creative project plus 850 words report, ±10%, excluding reference list/bibliography)

Due: Thursday 17 August 2023, 11.59pm

Returned: within 3 weeks of submission

Marking criteria and expectations

Option 1 - Final Report

Your final report should follow the structure of an academic paper as much as possible (an introduction, results/discussion section and a conclusion are expected). Its up to you to determine the exact structure of your report, as it will depend on the material you want to discuss and what you want to write about. Have a look at the scholarly papers discussed in the course and provided on Wattle as additional material, and follow their examples, especially those that you think are high quality studies.

In the introduction of your report, you need to introduce your research question and explain in clear terms why it is important to investigate it - a nuanced, intelligent reflection on/response to the 'so what?' question is expected in your report.

Discuss your results in light of relevant scholarship - both the literature you already consulted for your Project Proposal assignment, and any new literature that you need to bring into the discussion to make sense of your results, e.g. if you found something unexpected and want to focus on that. Make sure you put considerable effort into your 'so what?' section and results/discussion section and conclusion. Your mark will be based on them to a large extent because the other sections of the report will already have been marked in the Project Proposal stage.

Ideally, your report is engaging to read and flows well, is neatly formatted, written in clear and concise language, has excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence/paragraph structure.

You will submit your text of 1500 words (±10%), which may include some in-text references, followed by a list of references/a short bibliography (your reference list is not part of the 1500 words (±10%)).

Marking criteria and expectations

Option 2 - Humour-based Science Communication Product

If you want to develop a humour-based science communication product that further explores facets of the specific content of our course (for example in the form of an outline of a science comedy show or comic science demonstration, or a video of you staging a humorous science piece that you created using material from the course (a videoed performance), a series of science cartoons created by yourself, the programme of a humour workshop for scientists, or any other unconventional project) you will have to hand in your creative project and a report of 850 words (±10%, excluding reference list/bibliography). In this report - in light of relevant scholarship - you will answer the question: 'How would you use your product as a science communication tool and why?'

Ideally, your report is engaging to read and flows well, is neatly formatted, written in clear and concise language, has excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence/paragraph structure.

Please discuss your idea with your convenor before submitting your project proposal for a humour-based science communication product. (This is expected to ensure that your project is on the right track.)

This is what your humour-based science communication product should demonstrate:

A) The creative project should

  • be original (copying Gary Larson cartoons is not original) and engaging (e.g. if it is a video)
  • show a serious effort to produce a high-quality product (e.g. if you want to submit a video, make sure it has at least standard Zoom video quality [if you have more experience with videos, produce 1080HD quality]) of a reasonable size or length (e.g. a 10-12min video)
  • be coherent and internally consistent (e.g. if you want to design a humour workshop for scientists, your project must consist of more than just a joke - in accordance with what is commonly understood by a workshop)
  • demonstrate that it is a science communication product with a certain intellectual and academic ambition (filming yourself laughing while knitting is not a science communication product)
  • be as clear as possible about which science(s) or dimensions of science(s) you are focusing on (the science(s) in your project should not be replaceable by any other topic or term(s); if you focus on 'imaginaries' of science(s) try to define them in your project)
  • clearly emerge from our intensive course on 'Science and Humour' (by exploring or referring to material, themes and examples we studied during the intensive week)
  • make it clear which audience(s) it is intended to address

B) The project's report should

  • be a nuanced, intelligent and critical discussion about how your creative project could be used as a science communication tool and why you think it should be used as such (convince the reader that your idea is novel, creative and worthwhile)
  • demonstrate that you really know the scholarship relevant to your project (this may include humour theories or the state of research on your area of interest or the use of humour in and for science communication - you should show evidence of background research)
  • be engaging to read and flow well, is neatly formatted, written in clear and concise language, has excellent spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence/paragraph structure.

Your report will have 850 words (±10%), which may include some in-text references, followed by a list of references/a short bibliography (your reference list is not part of the 850 words (±10%)). Make sure you put considerable effort into your 'why?' section and the project's link to science communication. Your project's report will be marked based on them to a large extent.

If you are interested in publishing your (creative) project - this would be very welcome - please get in touch with your convener.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of the ANU culture as a community of scholars. The University’s students are an integral part of that community. The academic integrity principle commits all students to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support, academic integrity, and to uphold this commitment by behaving honestly, responsibly and ethically, and with respect and fairness, in scholarly practice.

The University expects all staff and students to be familiar with the academic integrity principle, the Academic Integrity Rule 2021, the Policy: Student Academic Integrity and Procedure: Student Academic Integrity, and to uphold high standards of academic integrity to ensure the quality and value of our qualifications.

The Academic Integrity Rule 2021 is a legal document that the University uses to promote academic integrity, and manage breaches of the academic integrity principle. The Policy and Procedure support the Rule by outlining overarching principles, responsibilities and processes. The Academic Integrity Rule 2021 commences on 1 December 2021 and applies to courses commencing on or after that date, as well as to research conduct occurring on or after that date. Prior to this, the Academic Misconduct Rule 2015 applies.


The University commits to assisting all students to understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. All coursework students must complete the online Academic Integrity Module (Epigeum), and Higher Degree Research (HDR) students are required to complete research integrity training. The Academic Integrity website provides information about services available to assist students with their assignments, examinations and other learning activities, as well as understanding and upholding academic integrity.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item.

Referencing Requirements

The Academic Skills website has information to assist you with your writing and assessments. The website includes information about Academic Integrity including referencing requirements for different disciplines. There is also information on Plagiarism and different ways to use source material.

Returning Assignments

Feedback on all assignments will be returned via email.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. Extensions may be granted for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Resubmission of Assignments

Resubmission is not permitted.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens

Research Interests

Science in culture; science and popular entertainment/performance; history of science; humour and science communication

Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens

By Appointment
Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens

Research Interests

Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens

By Appointment

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions