Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reflections on the book "Teaching Naked" by Jose Bowen

For the 2013 Faculty Orientation at High Point University, which starts tomorrow, we will discuss the book Teaching Naked by Jose Bowen. In this book, Bowen lays out a plan to rescue higher education from the grasp of traditional pedagogy, especially lecturing. Technology and choice has brought higher education to a crisis--change or risk being irrelevant. Parents, politicians, and employers are all asking the question, "Is an investment in higher education worth it?"

Physics Education Research has for many years established that lecturing is the least effective method to teach. If you do anything that involves active engagement in the classroom, it will be at least as effective as lecturing (see the Hake study for example). Because of the crisis in higher education, some naysayers are finally being forced to consider alternatives. Today, the flipped classroom is the idea and term that has caught on. However, the flipped classroom has been in place for years in physics, such as SCALE-UP classrooms. The flipped classroom is nothing more than recognition that the classroom can and should be used for active engagement. Lecturing and other passive means of information transmittance can be outside the classroom.

Bowen makes the case for the flipped classroom with particular emphasis on technology and how technology should be used outside the classroom so that you can use the classroom for interaction. The face-to-face communication is what he calls "naked" teaching. The first few chapters focus on how students learn and include a description of what makes video games so effective at helping students learn strategy, technique, etc. Later chapters give specific advice on how to go about changing how you teach, with some emphasis on how to use technology outside the classroom and how to develop activities for inside the classroom. There's is advice on writing learning outcomes, assessing student learning, motivating students to be prepared for class, etc.

Here are a few things that I learned from the book that I can implement immediately. Other, more substantive, changes will have to come later.

  • all announcements should be given outside the classroom; use a web page or LMS to archive announcements; use email if it's a longer message; use Twitter and point to the URL if you want the message to be read quickly. Class time is too precious to be spent on announcements. I'm definitely guilty of this.
  • Dee Link wrote a 33-page booklet, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning, that is basically a checklist that you can use to design a course. When I have time to rethink my classes entirely, I'll probably use this checklist.
  • writing solid learning outcomes (i.e. standards) are an extremely important first step. In fact, I kept thinking of Modeling and Standards Based Grading while I was reading Bowen's book.
  • information transmittance should be outside the classroom. My biggest problem is "covering all of the material" in 3 50-minute lectures per week for 14 weeks. I should instead "cover the material" outside of class and use the precious class time for interaction that makes face-to-face instruction valuable and worth the investment in higher education.
  • my best chance at succeeding in making substantive changes is my PHY 2030:  Fundamentals of Physics III class (basically Modern Physics).

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