teaching naked

Good morning, and welcome back to technology180. As we begin counting down to the first day of classes (and a few classes begin this morning), I’d like to share some thoughts about “teaching naked,” which references a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (The video is well worth the viewing, as well.)  So, José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, encourages us to think about stripping down the classroom – take out the computers, don’t use PowerPoint, and reduce the ability to multitask during class. Instead, engage students directly in discussion that supports the learning.

The argument is powerful. Bowen makes a very good point about PowerPoint (and other slideshow type programs) that can be applied to several technologies: it can be used as a crutch. And certainly the multitasking that some students do in class is distracting for them and annoying for their instructors.

Notice that Bowen does not suggest that technology should be removed from the teaching and learning process. In fact, he encourages its use for “what it’s good for,” including delivering lectures outside class, freeing class time for intellectual exploration.  By the way, that means that Teaching Naked doesn’t mean Lecturing Naked – or at least not completely relying on lecture. It also means that there is room for technology; but it’s time to think about how to use that technology in a way that truly supports student learning.

I couldn’t agree more … but I would add another dimension. Purposeful use of technology does not require completely removing it from the classroom; rather, it requires understanding the usefulness and limitations of applicable technology, and setting parameters for its use. PowerPoint was never meant as a speaker’s crutch, although that surely is what it is used for much of the time. Think old-fashioned slideshows. Think graphic representation. If you use a slideshow program, use it to enhance rather than repeat your words. Then students will have to listen to what you say. If it helps to completely remove it from the classroom for a while, that might be a good idea. Then you can re-assess what it means to your course.

Laptops are certainly an issue for many instructors. But here’s a problem: some of us can’t keep up with our notes any other way. For me, this is not a function of having been at the keyboard since birth; home computers did not debut until I was ready to graduate from high school. Instead, I learned to think and type (on a typewriter) at the same time during my college journalism classes. The advent of the laptop meant that as an adult attending business meetings and graduate classes, I could take notes at the same pace I was hearing and “processing” information. I can completely understand why students would want to take notes in this way. Clearly, laptops provide other opportunities besides notetaking. Guess what? Instructors do the same thing during my workshops. 🙂 And so there are times when I say, “this is ‘closed-laptop’ time” and we engage in other activities (like discussion). Or I provide them with an activity that requires using the laptop in a specific way, showing evidence of progress through group reports or individual mini-presentations. Students (of any kind and age) can “check out” whether they are multitasking or looking out of the window (or just staring without hearing). Requiring students to show evidence of active minds during class time is something that the K-12 world calls “keeping kids on task.” It’s not a bad model.

I could go on. I won’t. Teaching Naked is probably a very good exercise for purging one’s self of dependence on technology (and straight lecture). It may work well in an ongoing manner for some instructors. But if you are going to use technology in the classroom or even outside the classroom, its use boils down to this: Technology is a tool to be skillfully employed, not a monster to be slain or an elephant to be ignored. If technology use is out of control for any of a number of reasons, then the instructor may not have considered and/or articulated how it would be best used in the course. By the way … we have people who can help you assess that.

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