By Ernie Kulhanek
Delaware Technical Community College
Welcome back to the online book club discussion of Teaching Naked, by Dr. Jose Bowen. If you missed our review of the Preface, Part I: The Digital Landscape, or the first section of Part II: Designing 21st Century Courses, just follow the links to catch up. Today we’ll be looking at chapters 7 and 8, which make up the second section of Part II: Designing 21st Century Courses.
Please feel welcome to interact with the club by reading and commenting at the bottom of each post.
Last time, we ended by talking about using technology for information delivery (posting readings, lectures, podcasts, or videos online), as well as using technology for student engagement through thoughtful use of e-communication, social media, and web resources. In today’s post we will be talking about using technology for assessment, and then we’ll bring all of those elements together to envision “the naked classroom.”
Chapter 7: Technology for Assessment
The first method of using technology for assessment Bowen discusses in this chapter is using your Learning Management System (in Delaware Tech’s case, Blackboard) to create multiple choice tests to be taken by students prior to class. He says, “While multiple-choice tests appear most useful for assessing foundational knowledge, they are also a reliable starting point for more advanced learning” (p. 155). I think this is a useful idea in many ways and plan on incorporating this into my classes for next semester. It doesn’t hurt that the grading process can be automated; however, my number one motivation for using online quizzes is to ensure that students arrive to class prepared.
Anyone who has ever tried to flip the classroom knows all too well the problems associated with designing class activities predicated on your students completing the reading and videos before class begins. Unless there is a tangible reward for doing so, many students will simply not do the reading, and may not be able to actively participate in the day’s activities. The trick is designing an assessment that is “the perfect combination of high expectations and low stakes,” as was discussed in Chapter 4, and not creating hours and hours of more work for yourself in the process.
I recently had a discussion with two colleagues, Dan Kasper and Dr. Cory Budischak, about how they accomplish this in their courses. Both use Blackboard to assess their students’ understanding of the assigned readings before class begins. Both use self-designed question banks (in multiple choice formats) to quiz their students on the topics covered by the reading. If a student answers the question incorrectly, they can even be given a hint (such as the corresponding page number in the book) to help them find the correct answer. This encourages those who merely skimmed the reading to go back and look at specific sections of the text. Students can even take the quiz as many times as they like prior to the start of class. This is what makes the assessment low stakes. The student knows they are being graded on the material, but can continue to take the assessment over and over until they get the grade they want.
The quizzes are automatically graded and the score is migrated to the online gradebook, saving the instructor a lot of time. If an instructor can set these quizzes up prior to the start of the semester, for every reading, then he or she can focus time and energy on designing meaningful learning activities rather than grading. I cannot stress enough how great of an assessment tool I think this will be for me and my students.
Another strategy Bowen draws attention to is Just-in-time teaching (or JiTT). He shares,
Just-in-time teaching was developed in the physics department at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to prepare students for more active classroom participation. Students respond to online assignments that are due just in time before class so the professor can adjust what happens in the classroom in response to student needs. (p. 161)
This is a perfect example of customized learning made possible by technology. By providing learning opportunities that address real time learning needs, instructors can demonstrate the relevance of regular class attendance.
The next subsection of Chapter 7 is titled “Peer Feedback on Writing” and deals exclusively with providing timely and useful feedback on writing. Rather than summarize the section here, I would like to direct you to a post by Liza Dolan that was published last May called Using Google Drive for Sustained, Timely Feedback on Student Writing. As I read Bowen’s words, I was immediately reminded of Liza’s post and couldn’t think of anything to add that wasn’t already better said by her. Bowen did share a few other resources, such as Calibrated Peer Review and Inkshedding, that are worth exploring if you are particularly interested in having your students provide peer reviews as part of your assessment strategy.
Next, Bowen talks about using games as a method of assessment. I distinctly remember him demonstrating this concept during his presentation at the 2014 Instructional Innovation Conference earlier this year. The example he used was determining which jazz musician you were listening to and dragging the appropriately named “CD” to the answer field to get the question correct. This was interesting, as I could definitely see that if I were a student, I would have played the game far longer than I would have used traditional study methods. I couldn’t think of any “games” I could design to help prepare or assess my students, but I did find one interesting resource that dealt with critical thinking, creative collaboration, and team work. If you have further ideas, please post them in the comments section below.
To end the chapter, Bowen challenges instructors to re-think the way we define cheating, particularly those who feel that using the internet or textbook for help with an assessment is cheating. His argument is two-fold: “we need to work much harder if we are really to change our focus from content to analysis and integration” (p. 179) and “every profession is becoming more like law and medicine: there is now more information than anyone can memorize and more need for analysis” (p. 184). The main point is that by using technology to shift assessments outside of the classroom, we can spend more of our time motivating our students and reinforcing their learning with activities that are aligned with structured, pre-class preparation, which “can also improve both the quantity and quality of the classroom experience” (p. 184).
Chapter 8: The Naked Classroom
Bowen’s starts the chapter by saying “the primary benefit of technology-mediated content delivery, communication, and assessment outside of class is the additional time it creates for more active and engaged learning with prepared students inside the classroom” (p. 185). This type of learning environment, where students come to class prepared to complete activities, rather than listening to someone read them information, is necessary to demonstrate the importance of class attendance and interaction to bored students who otherwise may drop out. This is what Bowen labels The Naked Classroom. In the traditional model, class time is reserved for content delivery, with all critical thinking about the content being done outside of the classroom. The teaching naked model is a paradigm shift that is essentially a mirror image of what has always been done.
However, Bowen is not advocating for the abolition of traditional lecture. Rather, he suggests better uses for the lecture, such as
- Showing students the right “entry point” into the content you want them to understand
- Motivating students by modeling our own intellectual, personal, and moral values
- Making connections to, as well as questioning, identifying, and undermining, assumptions and claims from the reading as well as from other students (p. 189)
In other words, your use of class time should require other people. If you are just reading through a PowerPoint (that is also posted on Blackboard), why should students get in their cars and fight traffic to come to class?
Students are people (Surprise!). People do not learn to drive by reading (or sitting through a PowerPoint) about how to drive. They learn by driving. I am currently teaching my toddler how to pedal his big wheel all by himself. This could never be accomplished by having a conversation about it (he is an articulate toddler – language comprehension would not be an issue). In order for him to learn how to pedal, he needs to practice pedaling. This is called active learning. The single most important requirement for active learning is that the learner be engaged; otherwise, it would be passive learning. If we want our students to be engaged with our material, we need to provide them the opportunity to do so.
“Not all activities are equally effective, of course,” states Bowen. “The best activities foster thinking and develop conceptual understanding” (p. 194). Students learn from each other much more than they learn from us. Bowen cites research that demonstrates cooperative learning activities improve learning in higher education, even in STEM fields. He also shows evidence of just how much students remember what we tell them. (Short version: If you want them to remember at least 70% of what you said, say it in the first 15 minutes of class. After that, all bets are off.)
If students are going to be engaged, understanding how to structure a good discussion is paramount to effective teaching. The instructor must strike a balance between guiding the discussion and allowing students to shape and shift it. This ability takes patience and a willingness to let the class sit silent for long periods of time. Like anything else, instructors should prefer quality of discussion over quantity. Bowen highlights the following techniques to help ensure high quality classroom discussions:
- Be prepared with a variety of diagnostic, hypothetical, implication, and action questions
- Set clear guidelines for appropriate behavior
- Provide an entry point for the reading
- Make sure your preparation assignments are directly relevant to the discussion you wish to have
- Use students’ writing as a springboard for longer discussion
- Model good discussion techniques by providing compliments and defusing tense moments (pp. 197-200)
Keeping the discussion focused and on topic is vitally important. If there is a lull in conversation, be prepared to transition to a new topic, while being careful to show the relationship between topics. Bowen argues that in time you could have students monitor the discussion themselves. In order for this to work, students must understand the purpose of the discussion, as well as possess a willingness to take risks and potentially fail. He says “faculty can also support risk (and civility) by asking students to relate comments to old ones.” I think that this strategy will also help foster a feeling of an ongoing conversation amongst students, rather than a series of unrelated discussions.
Labs and studios are places of discovery, collaboration, and feedback. In order to be successful in these environments, students must come to class prepared, be self-directed and self-motivated, and be ready to highlight their successes and failures on their path of learning. These are the same students who must complete core courses like Math and English in order to be able to complete their degree. Bowen challenges instructors to make their classrooms like the lab and studio spaces to help students unlock the potential they have in all content areas. In order to do this, the interaction between students and faculty must be high impact. Bowen says “studios and labs work partly because they are focused on the practical and partly because they are sites of intense student-faculty interaction” (p. 206).
An interesting note is that many high impact learning activities—such as internships, study abroad trips, research, and capstone projects—don’t require classroom time at all. These activities stimulate broader self-learning, and are conducive to Delaware Tech’s learning atmosphere (as opposed to a traditional, liberal arts style of education). Bowen sums up his argument like this: “When you do not need to see your students face-to-face, send them off campus. When you do see them, ask yourself what situations offer the maximum student benefit” (p. 208). Obviously, as an instructor, I do not have broad powers to abolish class meeting times; but I do think there is room for me to implement high-impact learning experiences that don’t require class time.
Next, Bowen addresses the potential problem of personal technology in the classroom. As great a tool as technology can be, often students will use it to distract themselves rather than engage in a class discussion or activity. However, he offers suggestions to instructors on how to leverage personal technology to good purposes:
- Make your class interesting enough to pay close attention. In other words, respect students’ time.
- Have consistent policies that make some use of technology in class, and be mindful of what those policies say about your own attitudes toward the modern world.
- Make a contract with students to turn off all laptops and cell phones periodically and just think and be present. (pp. 210-211)
In order for this to work, you must convince the students of the benefits of these actions. Students want to be respected and need to feel so in order to show respect. Demonstrate that you are aware of the world we all live in and be consistent. Your class will be better for it.
The Naked Classroom needs to be a place of action. Students need to be stimulated and cannot not be allowed to sit passively. Encourage critical thinking by allowing students to participate and demonstrate the skills and attitudes held by all critical thinkers. Focus on creating significant, high impact learning opportunities for your students. Embrace the new tools and techniques offered to us through continual innovation. Make your classroom a place where students want to be.
Thanks for joining me for part four of this five part series. I look forward to hearing your comments, questions, reactions, and experiences. Join me again in 2 weeks when we’ll look at Part III: Strategies for Universities of the Future. If you’d like to be reminded of future posts, be sure to subscribe by email, Facebook, or Twitter in the sidebar.