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Professor turns himself into a potato on Zoom to keep his class engaged

Prepare yourself for lots of potato puns.
This teaching technique worked spud-tacularly well.
This teaching technique worked spud-tacularly well.Amoneyyy / Tiktok
/ Source: TMRW

Accounting classes have never been this fun!

Professor Ryan Ball, 47, has been teaching at The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business for more than nine years. This summer, he was teaching a master's level class and decided to spice things up: He used the potato filter while teaching on Zoom, and his students loved it.

One student in the class, Amelia Charamand-Quelas, 20, was so excited that she shared a TikTok video on Tuesday that went viral.

@amoneyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy0

Professor Tato, Po… btw he proceeded to teach the material this filter##umich ##college ##universityofmichigan ##rossschoolofbusiness

♬ original sound - Amoneyyy

What started as an April Fool's prank on an undergraduate class last year, quickly turned into a staple of Ball's lectures.

"I did it with my undergraduate class on April 1 of 2020, right when we first transitioned to Zoom," Ball said. "I'll do anything to keep their attention. Within, like, 25 minutes I learned how to use the snap filter on a desktop and I actually had to start class 10 minutes late. To me, the best part is I did it the entire time."

Ball said students loved it, but they weren't the only ones cracking up.

"I swear, I've never laughed so freaking hard in my life," he shared.

Ball said the background music featured in his most recent lecture added a lot of "build-up" to his potato reveal to his graduate accounting class.

"If you look at the gallery view of it, it's like 20 students and they're all dancing," he added. "And this is like at 8:00 at night after I talked for like eight and a half hours straight."

When Charamand-Quelas first hopped on the Zoom for her "Accounting 557: Evaluating Financial Performance" class she wasn't expecting anything crazy. She saw her professor dressed as a potato and knew it needed to be filmed.

"I was like, 'This would make an amazing TikTok,' but I wasn't thinking, like, for the world," she said. "I was thinking for my family. I have family in Argentina and the way we like primally communicate, because of the time differences, is just TikTok and WhatsApp."

She said when she went to bed two hours after posting the video, it had one like. But when she woke up, it was a viral video with more than 100,000 likes. The video now has 3.7 million likes and 15.5 million views on TikTok.

A part two to the video, a review session taught by Ball — still as a potato — did even better than the original. The video has 4.6 million likes and more 19.7 million views. In it, Ball makes a joke where he says, "Let me check on my family" and sets a photo of baked potatoes as his background. Ball, still with the potato filter, then screams "Mom, nooo. My baby!"

@amoneyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy0

Reply to @chillyhang Po got back to me with the zoom recording of the full review session 😚🥔 @ryantball ##accountant @##umich ##potato ##college

♬ original sound - Amoneyyy

He then says, "Alright, let's get serious" and changes his background to his office where he is still a potato, but sitting on a desk chair.

The professor "checking on his family" during classAmoneyyy / Tiktok

The comments on the follow-up TikTok (39,000+) echo the enthusiasm from the original.

Several fans said the professor reminds them of Michael Scott. Even the official "The Office" account commented, "Truly such Michael Scott energy."

Someone said "TELL HIM WE LAUGHED AT HIS JOKE RIGHT NOW," while another reiterated his joke by writing, "'let's get serious' (still a potato)."

Ball said his fellow teachers and faculty at the university have also had generally positive reactions. Some colleagues even replaced his nametag outside his office to read "Po Tato" instead of "Ryan Ball."

Ball has a new nametag outside of his office, courtesy of supportive colleagues.Amelia Quelas

Ball says his approach to teaching is to be "as relatable as possible, without sacrificing content."

Zoom school has been difficult for both teachers and students alike and Ball recognizes that.

"In the time of a pandemic, everyone is just searching for some form of positivity," he said. "There's no formula (to teaching). In order to educate, you need to meet (the students) on a common playing field."

Charamand-Quelas said the TikToks make the class seem a lot easier than it is. While Ball's "energy is unparalleled," he also holds his students to a high standard.

"A lot of the students in the class, when I posted the video, they were commenting, like, 'Don't get it twisted, the exam was impossible.' Because so many people were, like, 'This class looks so fun, looks so easy.' Like no, we just had the most insane exam," she said.

While he can be tough, Ball said he really admires his students.

"Best class ever, because they're coming from such varied backgrounds. I just loved living vicariously through them. I teach them a little bit of accounting, but man, I learn so much about stuff. We've got people that are starting businesses. It's amazing," he said.

Ball has been teaching graduate students for 12 years, but 2020 was his first time teaching undergraduate students.

"When we went virtual, I just saw that this is so hard on these students. Seeing people not be able to go to graduation and seeing them move out of the dorms on, like, two days notice, I was like, 'Just cancel class. There's no point, you guys have to move. Like, focus on that.'" he said. "Meanwhile, I'm thinking this will give me enough time to figure out Zoom. It was such an unknown. I think when you're teaching you have to embrace new opportunities or new challenges and this was definitely one."

This is not his first time using fun tactics to keep students engaged. He said he "teaches taxes through alpacas." And there's a video to prove it.

"The story of the alpaca illustrates an important role of tax report: that is encouraging investment in socially desirable outcomes," Ball says in the video created for his MBA students.

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