A colleague and I were getting coffee before a pre-semester professional development seminar by Dr. José Bowen, a renowned teaching scholar and speaker, and we were discussing our worries about how much information reaches us and our students. Not like in the Luddite/anti-technology way with our fists in the air (Man seen shaking fists at cloud, like in the Simpson’s). We were affirming what we were beginning to realize – the obsolescence of our teaching profession with the growth of technological mechanisms for learning online. However, not all lost, my colleague remarked that if we were to unleash students to the online world, we would be able to have meaningful discussions in class. It would reward deep learning, risk-taking in teaching, but those conditions could lead to some weird and unanticipated stuff. “In essence, my colleague said in his Southern accent, it’s like Bowen’s ‘teaching ne-kid’.”
Dr. Bowen is the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your Classroom Will Improve Your Teaching. First of all, I thoroughly enjoyed the session, and I am grateful that ATU and our teaching excellence center (CETL: https://www.atu.edu/cetl/) provided this development opportunity. Full disclosure though is that I am a bit of a geek with this pedagogy improvement stuff since grad school. It’s like my new guilty pleasure. So, I am coming from a full positivity bias to anything that signals how to be a great teacher.
Bowen’s argument is that higher-ed needs to be mapping the technological component of learning to the classroom in a way that is not letting technology take the place of instruction, but letting it facilitate the flow of a course with the flow of new information. Turn new generation students loose on something they are good at finding or is relatable to them within the life they have literally built online, and then guide them back to your teaching, your intellectual positions, and your critical thinking. We teachers want students to engage when they are in the class, but the lecture, Powerpoint you to death, Ben Stein (Anybody? Anybody?) approach is not holding water today. It’s “flipping” the classroom, but it’s also getting students to put the language of their experiences in life to the language of the discipline they are taking (many times without them realizing it).
Bowen’s ideas are also backed up by much research, and many ideas he presents are in agreement with neuroscience, cognitive science of learning, and design implementation (these fields are heavily invested in working on effective applications to learning). Bowen’s ideas actually also come from some similar authors, Doyle and Zakrajsek (2013), who give this wonderful, digestible version of years of research on learning to the student in a short reader. The central ideas are that we need to put the responsibility of the learning on the learner; “the one who does the work, does the learning”.
I don’t think any educator with an iota of experience in the classroom will disagree with that elegant statement. There in lies the trick, however, that teaching is deceptively difficult. As soon as that statement leaves your lips, you will find yourself in the midst of all the questions of how to get that statement to come true in your class.
The questions, however, are really where you devote your time as an educator. I tell my students that I am not here to supply answers, but here to supply problems. My profession as a psychologist is built upon questions and hypothesis testing. While I do answer their questions, it’s not the information that keeps the course and my teaching going. It’s a complex, multi-faceted problem that lives and breathes.
I appreciate Bowen’s perspective, yet I must say that one caveat (especially for a young prof like me). I think of the argument like a Pascal’s wager – IF people like Bowen are right, then higher ed is in bad shape to do what it is designed to do. You can quickly realize that structure of higher ed needs to make some tweaks in order to reward problem-solving, flipped, naked, whatever you want to buzzword it, meaningful and risky teaching.
Here are a few teeny problems.
- Relying on student evaluations that change if you give your students cookies (I am not kidding.)
- Making tenure/promotion decisions contingent on those cookie-dependent evaluation scores that always slant negatively toward minority/international/female faculty
- Having dubious questions on said evaluations. Our student evaluations in Arkansas require the question “Is the teacher proficient in English?”, to which the student rates the faculty on a FIVE … POINT … SCALE!!)
- Putting “killer courses” up front and center to weed out students in a major.
- Pigeon-holing faculty with type-cast course offerings (Do you think students salivate at a required course called Research Methods? Honestly!)
- Conscripting grades through textbooks and learning management systems that are many times outdated, wrong, or flat out scam.
- So, when you look at the above 6 reasons, it’s more that the nakedness showing (to flip the metaphor on its head) is on higher-ed, not the teacher in the classroom.
Yet, I and other faculty are co-participants in the process. So, I am going to go to my place where I think about how to implement these ideas. I am going to step away from my endless revising and adding cosmetic changes to my syllabi, and I am going to look at my courses as living and breathing experiences facilitated by the use of today’s technological resources.
In closing, I said to my colleague, “I know this is happening. I am not the carrier of all information. BUT, I am still the judger of competence in my students.”
So, I do need to make my self obsolete for the sake of not being a talking head up in front of my class. I need to be by my students’ side to say, “You’re getting it, you’re learning, and I think you can do great things with what you’ve taken away from this course.”
We’re naked together – oh … oh god, terrible metaphor.