Review: Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning

Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning
Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by Jose A. Bowen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The subtitle of this book actually explains the attention-grabbing title of this book. Bowen contends that the onslaught of technological resources that in the minds of many jeopardize traditional higher education can in fact enhance the basic thing professors and teachers do in the classroom–advance student learning. And the way this occurs is for those who teach to employ all these technologies outside the classroom, including those beloved PowerPoints!

These along with online lectures, podcasts, emails, Facebook posts, tweets and course management systems can be used to promote outside-the-classroom learning so that interactive and action-based learning in the classroom or lab can take the lecture (often described as the transfer of information from the notes of the teacher to the notes of the student without engaging the minds of either!).

All of this is based on the premise that the face to face (naked) interaction between teacher and student is the value added that the brick and mortar institution offers over the virtual classroom. What Bowen tries to do is to maximize the effectiveness of the teacher through sound in class pedagogy through interactive and action-based learning rather than the default lecture. He also argues for teachers as “curators” of technology–guiding students to the best resources and using social media and even gaming outside the classroom to help students with course content, homework and preparation for the in-class experience. He even proposes that courses should be like video games, or even developed AS video games where students only progress to higher levels of knowledge as they master lower levels.

Part 1 of the book explores the new digital landscape. Part 2 gets very practical in the design of courses that are a hybrid of technology and “naked” teaching. Part 3 is perhaps the most thought-provoking as he poses the challenge of what kind of adaptation he thinks needs to take place. He points to the digitization of music and print and how the change in the form and delivery of product radically transformed music and book outlets–for example, the demise of Tower Records and Borders. Yet other brick and mortar outlets like Barnes and Noble have (so far) survived because they shifted to a hybrid model that has both digital and human interaction components–likewise the case with the independent booksellers that have survived. He believes the same will need to happen in higher education in redefining the product, re-thinking the curriculum and how it is delivered and even re-tooling matters of infrastructure and pricing.

The one thing I struggled with in the end is the commoditization of education that I think will inevitably militate against the human values of the naked classroom. While Bowen tries to fuse these, the bottom line at the end of the book seems to be the bottom line. I hope the “hybrid” that Bowen proposes in some form is in fact the direction things take. There is no way to put the genie back in the bottle–it is in fact on every student’s smartphone. Yet I wonder if today’s university has an adequate philosophy of education to resist the siren call of the technology and the pragmatism of the bottom line. Without strong, principled, and savvy leadership, I wouldn’t be surprised if technological and market forces decide these questions in the next decade or two. That’s just how fast things are moving.

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The Digital University

I am reading several books at present on higher education. One of these is Jose’ Antonio Bowen’s Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of your College Classroom Will Improve Student LearningIt is a thought-provoking book about how the digital revolution is shaping the world of higher education

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Much has been made of the new possibilities the digital revolution makes possible in terms of online course work, free university-level education through vehicles like Coursera, and the sheer fact that everything taught in class can probably be found on one’s smartphone, perhaps with higher quality presentation value. Many are looking at the potential cost savings these technologies offer and wondering about the future of brick and mortar colleges and universities.

One of the points that Bowen focuses on, however, focuses around the “analog” nature of teaching. True teaching is not simply about the transfer of information, which may be done more effectively through vehicles like those mentioned above. Rather, it is about the relationship between teacher and student–a face to face interaction, not only in class but at a local coffee shop or in an office or lab. Granted, some of this may be done online and this could actually enhance teacher effectiveness.

Bowen’s point is that in this revolution, professors need to re-think their role and what they do in the classroom. He advocates for using all this technology–but outside the classroom by both curating the online content to direct students to the best content sources, through using podcasts, blogs, and tweets to personalize this to the class, and then using class time for critical interaction about this content and applicative exercises that require doing the outside of class work necessary for good preparation.

This makes good sense to me. Most professors cannot deliver lectures nearly as engaging as what may be found online (and Bowen allows that where one can do this, or this is the best way to present certain forms of material, professors should still do this). What they can do is guide the learning process and provide living models of thoughtful scholarship in their area of training. It seems that this work of re-thinking classroom teaching is essential. If resisted, I could easily see a greater move to digital university providers with the University of Phoenix and their ilk becoming the iTunes and Amazon of higher education.

If you are around the world of higher education, what do you think the landscape of higher education will look like in ten years? How do you think (or do you think) teaching needs to adapt to this “brave new world”?