An Online Book Club: Teaching Naked by José Bowen (Part 1 of 5)

Chalkboard By Ernie Kulhanek
English Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Welcome to the first post in a series aimed at discussing Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning, written by Dr. José Bowen, President of Goucher College and keynote speaker at Delaware Tech’s Instructional Innovation Conference in August 2014.

In the wake of Dr. Bowen’s presentation, many instructors shared their enthusiasm for his message. Al Drushler, a Mathematics Instructor at the Wilmington campus, has started a book club which is reading and discussing Teaching Naked this semester. Because not all interested parties could attend these meetings, I will be hosting a digital book club here on Ask CCIT that seeks to accomplish the same goals. If you’re interested in following the discussion, you can subscribe to be notified of future blog posts by email simply by filling out the form in the sidebar.

Every other Friday, I will post about a new section of the book, and I’ll do my best to engage with the text and apply Bowen’s ideas to my own teaching. I have posted a tentative schedule for the readings and discussions below. You do not have to read along at the same pace. Feel free to contribute to the discussion at any time! Please join me in discussing to how we can best improve student learning.

Post 1 – Introduction and Preface (Today, October 17)

Post 2 – Part I: The New Digital Landscape, pp. 3-71 (October 31)

Post 3 – Part II (a): Designing 21st Century Courses, pp. 75-152 (November 14)

Post 4 – Part II (b): Designing 21st Century Courses, pp. 153-216 (November 28)

Post 5 – Part III: Strategies for Universities of the Future, pp. 217-288 (December 12)

PREFACE

There’s the schedule, so let’s get started with the preface of Teaching Naked. I’ll pull out the key points and then answer some questions of my own about them. Feel free to answer the same questions in the comments, or come up with your own.

Key point #1: Bowen’s main argument is this: Instructors and administrators often focus on ways to incorporate technology in the classroom, when in reality effectively using technology outside of the classroom is the best way to illustrate the value of what a traditional college has to offer, which is face-to-face interaction between students and instructors.

Question for discussion: What do you think of his premise?

At first it seems a little counter-intuitive – Technology actually highlights why face-to-face interaction, and sometimes paper and pencil activity, is the most important (valuable) thing about education. When I first started teaching, I was under the impression that in order for students to appreciate being in class, I needed to present material and allow them to complete activities by using as much technology in the classroom as possible. This was not always easy. At times, I thought that because of the seemingly endless budget constraints that stood in the way of a “21st century classroom” my students were not getting the best education possible. However, the longer I taught, the more I came to understand that this was not necessarily the case. While some technologically-enhanced projects went really well (and were undoubtedly better learning experiences than they would have been without technology) I found that most projects would have worked just fine without classroom technology. It seemed that by forcing technology into the routine, I was actually diluting the overall experience. I now rely on students to use technology outside of the classroom to enhance their understanding of material gained by activities I lead them in doing while in class. I feel that Jose Bowen’s argument lines up very nicely with the ideas I have of how best to teach and have others learn.

Key point #2: Bowen opens the preface with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, which states

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. (ix)

Obviously Bowen is saying that traditional approaches to education will not be sufficient in this new, digital age. Even though we as educators know that student-faculty interaction is the key to student success, students do not intuitively understand this. Students only see the convenience of online classes, free certificate programs (also online), and Google telling them “everything” they need to know. Why would they believe that they need to actually come to class and speak to a teacher when they could just send them an email? It is up to us as educators to demonstrate our value (after all, we are the most expensive line item on the institution’s budget report – at least according to Bowen). In order to effectively do this, Bowen argues we must do away with “The Tyranny of Common Sense.” He states, “Abraham Lincoln argued against the tyranny of common sense, the invisible belief system that limits our imagination by mandating obvious and singular ways to do things. It is their ‘commonness’ that makes these assumptions and attitudes transparent and therefore so dangerous.” (x)

Questions for discussion: Do you agree with this idea? Are there examples from classes you have taught, or have taken, that come to mind while reading this through the lens of education?

It seems many people either fear or are resistant to change. I think the natural human impulse is to feel slighted by innovative people or methods. The thinking follows that if a “new” way of doing something is said to be “better”, than those behind the innovation are insulting the “old” way of doing things (and by extension – those who are doing them) by implying that the existing methods (and people) are “worse”. This, of course, is a defense mechanism rooted in emotion rather than logic. Of course not everyone feels this way, just as most people who try to innovate are not purposely insulting traditionalists. I think this is an interesting topic relating to many, many aspects of working in education.

Thank you for reading.  I look forward to your thoughts, comments, questions, and reactions, and I hope you’ll join me again in two weeks to discuss Part I: The New Digital Landscape.

4 thoughts on “An Online Book Club: Teaching Naked by José Bowen (Part 1 of 5)

  1. Ernie, I think the first point is a great one. If all students are getting from their college experience is technological interaction, then colleges are offering nothing students can’t receive hundreds of other places. It is the human interaction that colleges have to offer. I’ve also often thought that technology is a tool to enhance instruction, not a replacement for it.

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  2. I think Bowen’s ideas about reaching out to students through technology, especially social media, outside of the classroom is gold. I don’t know, however, if that necessarily means that taking technology out of the classroom is a good idea. Certainly, the value of a brick-and-mortar college education is student-faculty interaction, as Bowen highlights, but I wouldn’t say that using technology in the classroom necessarily detracts from this interaction. In my Composition class, for example, we use the computers all the time for drafting, brainstorming, collaborating, etc. We use google docs so that students can share their work easily with each other and track comments seamlessly. You want to see interaction? Share one google doc with twenty students and have them work in it at the same time.

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  3. I completely agree that the most valuable experience happens face to face in the classroom, interactions between student and student and student and instructor. Some of our math classes are offered as Hybrid classes, and unless the instructor engages students in conversation somehow, many of the students are just lost. There are many technologies that can be used to engage the students outside of class so that class time can be more engaging face to face. I have used screen-cast-o-matic to create videos, uploaded them to YouTube and asked the students to view them before class. Then, in class students practice the skills they learned in the video.

    I agree that we must “think anew.” In some of our math classes we have put too much emphasis on asking students to work completely on computers in our developmental classes. Here we are using technology too much in the classroom. We are using technology, but we are sacrificing engagement and critical thinking. I believe that some of the “old ways” are beneficial. Conversation, discussion, questioning, critical thinking are not new! We should not eliminate all of the old, but we should think of new ways to bring back the old ways (if that makes any sense). I think we can still use the online math programs, but I think we need to bring back more face to face engagement in the classes. I know that the Wilmington math classes next semester will have more face to face engagement in them. I look forward to future posts.

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  4. Thank you all so far for the discussion. Ish – I think you and Ric are saying the same thing. I would argue that yes, while you are using technology in class, you are using technology as a tool to enhance your instruction, not replacing your instruction with it.

    I teach Composition as well. I have taught the course in computer labs, in traditional classrooms (desks only) and online. Each “version” of the course utilizes technology differently, however I never feel like I “can’t deliver my lesson” in a classroom without computers. Also, something Al said struck me as interesting and maybe ironic. Are we “thinking anew” by reverting to a more traditional in class experience (an experience largely free of modern technology? I think we are.

    What do you all think? Is Bowen advocating for a total absence of classroom technology (albeit supplemented by heavy and innovative usage outside of class time)? Perhaps he would say we should utilize technology and ask ourselves? (Twitter: @josebowen ; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JoseAntonioBowen ; Website: http://josebowen.com/contact/)

    One thing I am interested in learning more about is this: Exactly how engaged with students outside of class (particularly via social media) should I be? I am initially quite leery of this concept.

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