WASHINGTON — If your faculty members merely deliver content through lectures, the value to students is not as great as it could be. After all, students can find more facts using their phones than any professor can ever know.
The goal of a liberal education is to prepare students for the unknown, said José Antonio Bowen. That’s because the future they will navigate after they graduate is unknown, he added.
Bowen is dean of the Meadows School of Music and Algur H. Meadows chair and professor of music at Southern Methodist University. He’s also the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning.
The book was awarded the Frederic Ness Book Award at the Association of American Colleges and Universities annual meeting.
In a presentation at the meeting, Bowen said deans and provosts should remember the following key points:
- The value of a residential “face-to-face” education is interaction with the faculty. The faculty are the most expensive part of the campus budget. It’s an administrator’s job to maximize that interaction, Bowen said. For example, having them live in residence halls is one strategy to increase interaction. And effective use of technology outside the classroom can enable more meaningful interactions during class time.
- Technology is a tool, not a strategy. When chalk was a popular tool on campuses, more chalk did not equate with more learning, Bowen said.
- Learning is about change. Research on the brain shows that when we learn, we change, Bowen said.
Most students think that smart people know a lot. But the real definition of smart people is that they are able to change their minds, Bowen said. And he doesn’t just mean that they re-evaluate their viewpoints. Brain science shows that students learn to think differently over time, Bowen said.
Professors need to use their teaching to change students’ minds, he added. They need to understand how students’ brains develop to do that. Young adults progress from learning facts to having opinions to using their judgment, Bowen said.
Technological changes impact teaching, learning
Recent advances in technology and changes in how we use it have profound implications for how and what professors can and should be doing, Bowen said. Students can easily find facts on the Internet, but they need to be able to evaluate whether the information is valuable and put it to use.
The major changes sparked by technology that impact what faculty members do are:
- Relationship to knowledge. Students today have more knowledge available on their phones than they could find in the library. “If you just profess content, you’ve lost value,” Bowen said.
But if you teach critical thinking and analysis, you have become more valuable. Employers want to hire graduates who can solve problems with people who are not like them.
“It’s not an English or history degree. It’s a critical thinking degree,” Bowen said.
That means professors are now motivational coaches, he added.
- Social proximity. The meaning of this has changed dramatically. If students haven’t met you online, then you’re a stranger. “The threshold for coming to see you in your office is monumental,” Bowen said.
The easiest way to improve student success is to spend an hour online before tests, Bowen said. For example, tell students you’ll be on Facebook or email from 10 to 11.
“Students think you care, so they learn more,” Bowen said.
- Customization and gaming. By the time they get to college, students have spent more time playing games than they have spent going to class. Incorporating the following characteristics of games can improve student learning:
- They must be engaging from the start.
- You have to be able to play before you’re good, and the game adjusts to your skill level.
- If it’s too hard or too easy, you quit. “Good games are pleasantly frustrating,” Bowen said.
Encourage faculty to adopt these techniques
Bowen offered the following suggestions to help faculty members increase student learning:
- Focus on goals. Create fewer student learning outcomes and articulate what the emphasis will be.
- Use a common language. For example, if “critical thinking” is an important term, say “This is critical thinking” when it is happening.
- Use rubrics for assessing student work. Figure out what to expect at different levels of development. For example, tolerance for ambiguity and awareness of multiple perspectives develop as the student matures intellectually.
- Teach with uncertainty. Include ideas that need to be introduced with “This could be” rather than “This is.” And ask “How” instead of “Is it possible?” (e.g., “How would we create a nasal contraceptive?” not “Could we create …?”).
- Be transparent. Tell students why you are doing everything you are doing. For example, explain “This is why we read Foucault.”
- Ask students to perform “cognitive wrapping.” They should reflect on their work by answering questions such as: How much research did you do? How much time did you spend writing? What would you do differently? How did you prepare? Where did you lose points?
- Adopt new labels. Instead of your institution having professors or lecturers, they might be called designers, supporters or motivational coaches.
- Perform focused assessment. Course evaluations and student learning assessments are important.
- Eliminate grades. “They get in the way,” Bowen said.
- Consider students’ progression through the stages of cognitive development. Bowen would like to see all departments require student juries along the lines of what is expected of music students. They could help faculty members determine which students’ mental complexity has advanced to the next level.
“We give a degree for a constant amount of time and a variable amount of learning. It should be the opposite,” Bowen said.
“We’re giving the degree to the wrong part of the body,” he added.
Foster better teaching with these strategies
Bowen offered deans and provosts the following advice to encourage better teaching on their campuses:
- Set the tone by promoting the scholarship of teaching and learning.
- Create new faculty models. Courses can be broken into the components of design, delivery and support. It’s not necessary for the same person to be responsible for all three.
- Improve learning outcomes.
- Create campuswide or schoolwide rubrics.
- Model strategies with Naked meetings (learn the steps of the “teaching naked” cycle below).
- Redesign course evaluations.
- Conduct robust teaching reviews.
- Support teaching risks. Start a lending library and a teaching center to provide resources.
- Distribute innovation grants to support departmental curriculum projects.
- Implement a nimble curricular review process.
- Improve the curricular progression.
- Align teaching awards, incentives and assessments.
Adopt the “teaching naked cycle”
To make the best use of technology outside the classroom and personal interaction in the classroom, Bowen recommends that faculty adopt the teaching naked cycle. The steps are:
- Email to prepare for students’ first exposure to content.
- Content for students’ first exposure (e.g., reading, video, an assignment).
- Exam to focus.
- Writing to reflect.
- Class to challenge.
- Electronic communication to reinforce.
- Cognitive wrappers to self-regulate. (See #6 under “Encourage faculty to adopt these techniques” above for an explanation of this term.)
Learn more about José Antonio Bowen and his work at http://teachingnaked.com. To order Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning or other Wiley publications, go to www.wiley.com.