Monday, 18 June 2018

uncovering assumptions of power

The second chapter from Brookfield's Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher is his own critical reflection on his underlying assumptions of the learner-centred classroom. The assumption that learning occurs best when the classroom is democratized and students are empowered to be self-learners results from when the classroom is arranged in a democratic way (a circle) and the instructor sets up class discussion (whole or in groups) such that the teacher is out of the way of students’ learning. Brookfield thinks this approach or understanding of learner-centred teaching is too simple. It assumes that students trust the instructor to not judge students for making mistakes and providing wrong answers to questions. It also assumes that students accept the instructor as a co-learner when, in fact, they place their own unstated assumptions of power and authority on to the instructor. An instructor is carefully watched by students for any indication of expectations of answer quality or routes to problem-solving.

These are issues that have been boiling to the surface for me as I have been developing my implementation of Team-Based Learning in my classroom. The assumption that students can always figure things out on their own is false. Students do need some direction and facilitation. Instruction requires careful attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues from students about what they need (but not necessarily what they want). Walking around the class during group discussion may be viewed as surveillance rather than making oneself available for consultation. The teacher may be removed from immediate dialogue but must always be prepared to intercede when it becomes apparent that an intervention is necessary. This is where an instructor’s intuition cultivated over years of experience comes into play. Teachers need to listen to their inner voice and integrate it with the lenses of colleagues, students, and theory.

My own intuition, informed by theory, experience (students and mine), and colleagues voices, suggests that active learning produces the best learning outcomes, but that it must be tempered by instructional intervention and pedagogical design. This takes work and close analysis (reflection) on our teaching praxis as experienced class to class, course to course, and term to term. Teaching is not the simple implementation of teaching tricks, tips, and strategies. It is a responsive action that is informed by theory, experience, and context. That context is the particular course, term, student cohort, and instructor.

Circles of learning and getting out of the way of students’ learning does make sense - the theory and evidence indicate this. But it does not mean that we should be slaves to technique. How we implement our teaching praxis must be informed by what the students in front of us need at that moment. In addition, as many have written in the SoTL literature, we are more inviting to students’ learning when we explain to them our reasons for implementing the teaching strategies we use in the classroom. I certainly explain this at the beginning of every term, but many of the problems I experience in my TBL classrooms I suspect result from my failure to regularly remind students why I have designed my classes the way I have. We all suffer from cognitive overload and need to be reminded why we structure teaching and learning the way we do.


Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Uncovering assumptions of power. In Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd ed, p 21-37. San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. pp xvi, 286.

Finelli, B. C. J., Nguyen, K., Demonbrun, M., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Husman, J., … Waters, C. K. (2018). Reducing student resistance to active learning: Strategies for instructors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47(5), 80–91.

Seidel, S. B., & Tanner, K. D. (2013). “What if students revolt?”—Considering student resistance: Origins, options, and opportunities for investigation. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 12(4), 586–595.

Tharayil, S., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Nguyen, K. A., Shekhar, P., Finelli, C. J., & Waters, C. (2018). Strategies to mitigate student resistance to active learning. International Journal of STEM Education, 5(1), 7. 

Weimer, M. (2013). Responding to resistance. In Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice (2nd ed., pp. 199–217). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

Monday, 11 June 2018

what is critically reflective teaching?

Brookfield, S. D. (2017). What is critically reflective teaching? In Becoming a critically reflective teacher, 2nd ed, p 1-19. San Francisco: CA, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand. pp xvi, 286.

I started reading this book a few weeks ago and will be blogging each chapter as I work through it.

From the preface, it appears that his first edition from 30 years ago was wildly successfully speaking to many people. This 2nd edition has been entirely re-written taking into account the impact of social media on teaching. He advocates for using four lenses to critically reflect on our teaching praxis: students’ eyes, colleagues’ eyes, theory, and personal experience. What I am going to find interesting is how critical reflection will apparently reveal whatever assumptions we hold about ourselves and our teaching and also what ideas in our environment/culture hold hegemony over our thinking, actions, and teaching. As a result, he apparently will help the reader avoid cultural suicide by inadvertently threatening colleagues as a result of challenging the culture and hegemony of current teaching practice. This is something I believe has been happening to me this past year as I continually challenge the hegemony of the lecture and passive learning. I have been experiencing this with my colleagues but of course also with my students - the instructional strategies I implement in the classroom challenge the hegemony of the lecture in students’ understanding of what it means to learn and be taught.

What an interesting 1st chapter. I started to become elated and uncomfortable at the same time. Elated, because I began to recognize issues of hegemonic thinking in my own employment as a university professor - I recognized what Brookfield was analysing. But also began to become uncomfortable at the same because, well, for the same reasons I became elated at being able to recognize in myself the issues he was describing: the hegemonic power of seeing teaching as vocation and how that creates a sense that as instructors we have to say yes to our students, say yes to service requests, yes to publishing another chapter, article or book, yes to another conference presentation. This hegemonic assumption of teaching as vocation takes over our lives and we begin to think that unless we are exhausted at the end of each and every day, then we have not attended to our teaching vocation as much as we could have and thus have let down ourselves, our students and our institutions.

Of course, Brookfield is advocating that we critically reflect on this hegemonic assumption. Is the assumption of teaching as vocation good for our students? Good for ourselves? Good for our institution? In his experience, being slaves to the hegemony of teaching as vocation leads to burn out and collapse or becoming dulled to the needs of our students, ourselves, our friends and family.

I wonder if this is specific to Western culture, in particular, North American culture or if there would be a different understanding of teaching in Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. My suspicion having spoken to colleagues teaching in other cultures is that teh USA and Canada are different and this may arise from what Brookfield identifies as the dominant ideologies of the US: positivism, democracy, militarism, capitalism, white supremacy & patriarchy. I am unclear how these would lead to teaching as a vocation, but it feels right to me. I have to think about this some more.

So that is what jumped out for me in this chapter: the hegemony of teaching as a vocation and how that co-opts our best intentions for students that ends up being what is best for the institution and not for ourselves and thus not for our students. If we don't take care of ourselves how can we care for our students?

This examination of the hegemony of teaching as vocation models how Brookfield wants his readers to understand critical reflection. Critical reflection examines the nature of power and hegemony and that is done best by considering our actions and thinking through four different lenses: our personal experience, students' voices, colleagues' voices, and theory. These different points of view or perspectives help to triangulate the issue being examined to reveal the underlying issue that is producing a particular behaviour or way of thinking.

The other thing that Brookfield considered while discussing the ideology of positivism in American culture is that it manifests itself in our teaching when we apply rubrics during our marking and grading of student work. Some things in student learning are not measurable in this way and are why I have so much trouble using rubrics. It is difficult to produce a rubric that really captures everything that you are looking for students to achieve and accomplish in the assignments we design to facilitate students' learning. Part of it I think is that students are able to surprise us with learning something valuable and insightful that we didn't plan or anticipate. This is what makes teaching and learning such an interesting and exhilarating process - there is always the possibility of students surprising us and teaching us, the teachers. Such fun!

Sometimes when students ask me for the guidelines for what they need to accomplish on an assignment or exam, what I really want to say rather than giving them the rules is - surprise me! I want students to cultivate their own curiosity and creativity. How does a teacher do that? I am hoping that developing my ability to be a critically reflective teacher will help me develop that instructional ability in myself.

One last thing to consider from this chapter. Critical reflection enables us to tease apart and examine the assumptions that we carry into our classrooms and I appreciate how Brookfield catalogues three different types of assumptions: paradigmatic, prescriptive, and causal. Paradigmatic assumptions are those that essentially form our worldview. I think these will be influenced by hegemonic ideas of our prevailing culture. These are foundational assumptions. Prescriptive assumptions are all of those that include "should" in the statement. These are the assumptions we think we should have and enact but do not necessarily arise from our worldview but rather may be externally imposed (e.g. professional conduct). Finally, causal assumptions are those ideas of how things are achieved: if I do this, this will happen. If I teach this way, students will respond in this way. I think this will help me to better identify what my own unstated assumptions are coming to bear on my own teaching.

Monday, 14 May 2018

does learning style theory promote a fixed mindset among students?

It is interesting to read in Carol Dweck's Mindset how some people think with a growth or fixed mindset as if people have one or the other in some innate fashion.  In this book, Carol Dweck is arguing against fixed abilities or personal traits. She makes it very clear that growth mindsets can be developed and that individuals can have both at the same time for different skills. This is certainly true for me I find. I have a growth mindset about some things but not others. I know that it takes hard work and effort, for example, to be able to learn how to do something. A great example is learning biochemistry: I am confident that what I do not know or understand now, I will come to understand later with some time and effort. I am also beginning to view my writing in this light: even if I cannot write something now, I will eventually be able if I continue to write a little each day. And this is the message that Dweck is trying to convey - that development of a skill or attribute is a process that takes time and effort. It does not happen overnight and it does not happen without focus and effort on practice and learning. One example in my life where I have a fixed mindset is about learning a second language. But, I am working to develop a growth mindset around languages. This is something that Dweck has also found in her research: having a growth or fixed mindset is itself not innate and fixed. It is possible to cultivate a growth mindset.

So, I am complicated. The growth and fixed mindsets exist inside of me at the same time. I wonder if MCQ tests encourage a fixed mindset because there is no meaningful feedback that accompanies it - it is either correct or incorrect. Perhaps this is where electronic quizzing can be used to develop a growth mindset because there can be feedback tailored to each of the responses that encourage students to think about why they choose a particular distractor in contrast to choosing the correct answer. This is one reason why I prefer to go over each test in my classroom so that I can unpack the question and think through the possible answers and explain why one particular answer is better than the others.

Similar to a fixed mindset, labelling students with a particular learning style implies that students have a fixed mode of learning and that the other modes cannot be developed. This was certainly the mindset that some of my first-year students presented to me this past year. The resistance to the flipped classroom style of teaching with TBL seemed to be from their assumption or desire that there was no need to read before class. There was a seeming expectation from students that they would be able to be successful in university without needing to read very much or very deeply. There was a sense from students that teaching would cater to their preferred mode of learning. But they did not view it as their preferred mode of learning but rather as their innate or fixed learning style. Learning styles had produced in the students a fixed mindset about how they learn. Granted, not all students felt this way. I had a healthy handful of students who were successful and it seemed to me that this was because they embraced the work of reading rather than trying to avoid it.

So the equation I am trying to make with these learning styles and mindset is that inventorying students for their learning style in secondary school develops in some students a fixed mindset about their reading ability. And as such inculcates in them a sense that the ability to read is an innate skill that they do not need to develop because they do not learn that way. Rather, they learn by listening to instructors and seeing videos. Not that there is anything wrong with that: listening to a teacher and watching a video of a process can certainly facilitate learning. But the written word is still where the majority of our knowledge is found and avoiding reading is avoiding a rich information source. In addition, the evidence to date does not support the theory that teaching with students' preferred learning mode enhances their learning. Rather, the learning mode needs to mirror the type of skill or ability being mastered (see the many resources below).

How should instructors respond to this fixed mindset and instead design an environment which nurtures a growth mindset around reading ability? Reading is a skill to be developed. But that requires showing students that reading ability is required for success and that reading can be learned/developed. Of course, they know this - they learned how to read in primary school! But the ability to read fiction vs non-fiction or non-fiction vs academic articles are very different skills. And I think this needs to be explained to students: that there are different ways of reading and reading rewires their brains to facilitate learning. Reading for pleasure vs reading for information vs reading for learning. Each of these reading modes requires a different approach to the text that many students have not learned and continued reading practice allows the brain to reconstruct itself.

What are those different reading approaches? Reading for pleasure simply requires understanding the context of the written word and the descriptions/explanations of plot, character, and setting to wash over you. In contrast, reading for information requires carefully noting the facts and figures and ensuring that no piece is missed. This requires focused attention and effort but not necessarily for understanding. In contrast, again, reading for learning requires understanding of what is being conveyed by the text - the meaning of the text or process being described. This often includes attending to the information, but also attending to how the information relates to itself and what has been read before, especially if it is reading to understand a process (e.g. metabolic regulation) or an argument (e.g. philosophy). Reading for meaning vs information vs pleasure requires very different levels of engaged effort and not all students have been made aware of those differences. Not all students have learned the strategies that can be used in different contexts: transmission vs transactional reading.

But students' expectancy values do make them wonder if it is worth their effort to develop this familiarity with the course material. This is what students are thinking when they view the reading requirements of my assigned pre-class coursework. Is it worth their time and effort to read the assignment? This is something that Ambrose et al and Cooper et al consider. How to develop students valuing of the effort required to learn? So in my context, how do I develop students' valuing of reading effort?

Anecdotally I know students begin to value reading when they begin to see their reading efforts producing learning in themselves. When their reading efforts result in better understanding of the material which translates into better exam scores, which, unfortunately, is the currency that students & institutions value most.

So, how do we develop students' valuing of reading? How is students' expectancy value of reading for learing developed for coursework?

I honestly do not know. What I do, is set up the course structure using team-based learning so that students are held individually responsible for the pre-class learning by administering a reading quiz. In addition, by having them repeat the quiz as a team via two-stage testing, students are able to see for themselves the learning that results in their peers who do put in the effort to read. But that simply shows them that students who read carefully and with effort and attention earn the benefits of increased learning. But they may not necessarily know how to go about reading effortfully. So it does require training/teaching on my part as an instructor to show/teach students how to read for learning.

How do I do that now? I do explain that there are different reading modes: pleasure and learning. And then I suggest strategies for reading for learning. Read with a pencil in hand to write thoughts/notes in the page margins. Avoid excessive highlighting (better yet, avoid a highlighter altogether). Take time to look up new words in a dictionary (online is fine). If you want to keep the book in pristine condition (e.g. a library book or a rented book or a book you wish to resell) then read with a pencil and blank piece of paper at hand. The important point is to have a conversation with yourself while reading. Ask questions about what is being read. What does this mean? How does that connect with what I just read before? Why did the author take the time to write this? What are they trying to tell me? To convince me of? Why does Haave think this is important to read? How is it connected to the course? How is it connected to my life? Why should I care? Why do the author and my instructor think I should care about what I am reading? How can I use what I am reading to improve my understanding of the course, of the world, of my life? How will I be able to use what I am reading in the career I aspire to? In the person I am trying to become?


learning styles theory
An, D., & Carr, M. (2017). Learning styles theory fails to explain learning and achievement: Recommendations for alternative approaches. Personality and Individual Differences, 116, 410–416. 

Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Get beyond learning styles. In Make it stick: The science of successful learning (pp. 131–161). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Franklin, S. (2006). VAKing out learning styles—why the notion of ‘learning styles’ is unhelpful to teachersEducation 3-13, 34(1), 81–87. 

Husmann, P. R., & O’Loughlin, V. D. (2018). Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning stylesAnatomical Sciences Education, March 13. 

Khazan, O. (2017, April 11). The myth of learning stylesThe Atlantic.

Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles mythComputers & Education, 106, 166–171. 

Newton, P. M. (2015). The learning styles myth is thriving in higher educationFrontiers in Psychology, 6

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidencePsychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119. 

Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The myth of learning stylesChange: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 42(5), 32–35. 

Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2015). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehensionJournal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 64–78. 

Willingham, D. T., Hughes, E. M., & Dobolyi, D. G. (2015). The scientific status of learning styles theories. Teaching of Psychology, 42(3), 266–271. 

But, J. C., Brown, P., & Smyth, D. S. (2017). Reading effectively across the disciplines (READ): A strategy to improve student success. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 12, 30–50.  

Chevalier, T. M., Parrila, R., Ritchie, K. C., & Deacon, S. H. (2017). The role of metacognitive reading strategies, metacognitive study and learning strategies, and behavioral study and learning strategies in predicting academic success in students with and without a history of reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(1), 34–48. 

Dai, D. Y., & Wang, X. (2007). The role of need for cognition and reader beliefs in text comprehension and interest development. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(3), 332–347. 

Haave, N. (2018, February 1). Reading to learnFaculty Focus Premium

Haave, N. (2018, January 30). Second thought: Read to succeed. Camrose Booster, p. 26.

Hermida, J. (2009). The importance of teaching academic reading skills in first-year university courses. The International Journal of Research and Review, 3(September), 20–30.

Horbec, D. (2012). The link between reading and academic success. English in Australia, 47(2), 58–67.

Knoester, M., & Plikuhn, M. (2016). Inquiry into the independent reading development of first-generation college graduates with advanced degreesJournal of Literacy Research, 48(1), 105–126. 

Linderholm, T. (2006). Reading with purposeJournal of College Reading and Learning, 36(2), 70–80. 

Manarin, K., Carey, M., Rathburn, M., & Ryland, G. (2015). Critical reading for academic purposes. In Critical reading in higher education: Academic goals and social engagement (pp. 47–64). Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press.

Schraw, G., & Bruning, R. (1999). How implicit models of reading affect motivation to read and reading engagementScientific Studies of Reading, 3(3), 281–302. 

Whitten, C., Labby, S., & Sullivan, S. L. (2016). The impact of pleasure reading on academic success. Journal of Multidisciplinary Graduate Research, 2(article 4), 48–64. 

Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the squid: The story and science of the reading brain. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success - how we can learn to fulfill our potential (Updated ed). New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. 

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). What factors motivate students to learn? In How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching (pp. 66–90). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Cooper, K. M., Ashley, M., & Brownell, S. E. (2017). Using expectancy value theory as a framework to reduce student resistance to active learning: A proof of conceptJournal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 18(2). 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

teaching naked: the naked campus

Another thoughtful chapter concludes Bowen’s book. In this 11th chapter, he considers what issues integrate student learning with the on-campus/in-class experience. I like his suggestions about attending to classroom furnishings and layout as opposed to the technology in the classroom. This is an approach that my campus that houses the Augustana Faculty of the University of Alberta has used for some time. Rather than trying to implement the latest and greatest technology in our classrooms, our Technology and Learning Services department has focused on ensuring that each classroom has a computer, projector, document camera, speakers, blu-ray player and whatever connections (wired and wireless) are required to teach using a tablet or laptop. Currently, we are considering implementing Bowen’s suggestion to simply facilitate faculty’s ability to bring their laptop from their office to the classroom and plugin to the system. We have even had success using Apple TVs to link laptops or tablets wirelessly to our computer projector. In addition, as Bowen suggests, whenever we renovate a classroom we consider whether or not it is feasible to install whiteboards on every spare wall of the classroom to facilitate students’ in-class group work. I am quite pleased with the results - none of our classrooms has a Cadillac version of classroom technology, but they are all able to facilitate what is minimally necessary. Interestingly, what I have found in my own teaching is that as I increasingly move to a flipped classroom, I find that I use technology less and less in the classroom because I am responding to students’ questions for clarification and posing to students problems which provide practice in applying what they have learned outside of class in preparation for our face to face class meetings. In order to be able to respond to my students’ immediate learning needs inside the classroom, I find that a canned PowerPoint is too inflexible for me to adequately address students’ questions. And when students resist and request me to lecture more, I find that I end up being more reliant on my prepared PowerPoints and notice student engagement decrease. It is odd that my students resist out of class preparation in order to practice their learning in class which produces obvious student engagement. They insist that they would rather have me lecture, yet they clearly look more bored when I lecture. How do I square this circle? How do I get students to appreciate that their ability to learn will increase if they put in the pre-class effort and practice thinking with the material under my guidance in-class?

Enough about me and my students! Back to this final chapter.

Something I really appreciate in this chapter is Bowen’s assessment that as the middle ground for higher education becomes crowded out by online alternatives, that it will be necessary for universities and colleges to find their own particular niche and do that well. Bowen’s assessment suggests that the vast majority of university and college programs are far too similar but that we survive based on most students choosing what is locally available. Online learning breaks down the barrier of localized learning. Thus higher ed institutions need to articulate a clear mission of what it means to learn and teach and what is being taught and learned and how that mission is unique and well delivered. I do get weary of the rhetoric which emphasizes learning and teaching as a commodity. Suggesting that universities and colleges be evaluated on the basis of whether or not our students learn assumes that all students are actually willing to learn. Is it possible to coerce students to learn if they do not want to? Many students do not understand that learning is actually only the result of what they do themselves. Teachers simply design and deliver the conditions for learning, we cannot actually make students learn - this is something they need to do themselves. This misunderstanding of learning as something that is done to the student (open the skull and pour the knowledge and understanding into the brain) rather than something that is constructed by students themselves is what produces student comments that complain that the teacher didn’t teach, students had to learn it for themselves. Of course, students have to learn it for themselves, no one can do their learning for them.

What will be interesting as we move forward is the different niches that higher ed institutions develop for themselves. What niche will my Augustana campus carve out for itself over the next couple of years? How will we become a destination institution for some students here in the heart of central rural Alberta? How can we harness the opportunities that present themselves by using educational technology outside of the classroom in order to enhance the sparks that fly when people meet face to face in the same space to discuss the issues that need to be addressed today and in the future? I firmly believe, based on my own experience, that there is nothing like the immediacy of the engaged in-class experience to fire up the curiosity and passion of students. And I think this is what Dr Bowen is advocating for us - find ways to produce an exciting engaging learning environment for our students. The best way to do that is to stop squandering the in-class experience with content delivery and instead provide students with an opportunity to practice applying their skills in a real and immediate way under the guidance of curators and designers of learning experiences. Those curators and designers need to be us: the faculty.


Bowen, J. A. (2012). The naked campus. In Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning, Chapter 11. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley. p 267-288.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

teaching naked: the naked curriculum

I think this 10th chapter is my favourite of the book. It is written with an immediacy that demands our attention: we know how to teach better than we are - so what is stopping us from designing our learning experiences so that they best promote student learning?

It is a frightening prospect for me because I learned and was successful using the old passive lecture model that Bowen decries. Of course, he understands that sometimes lecturing is required to clarify a misunderstanding, but he is ardent in his assertion that all surveys of post-secondary teaching indicate we are lecturing too much relative to what the pedagogical research indicates. So why do we do that? Why do most of us continue to lecture despite the evidence to the contrary of what constitutes the best learning environment for our students?

There are myriad reasons.

One is that to redevelop our teaching approach is too costly. Most faculty evaluation committees (FEC) award merit, tenure, and promotion on the basis of research not teaching. Which is unfortunate because teaching is a scholarly activity. It is certainly not a scholarly activity when all we do is teach how we were taught without keeping abreast of the research evidence for how to improve learning outcomes. Why are we adamant in basing our research programs on published evidence but not require the same of our teaching? Why do many of us assume that we already know how to teach best when we were never actually trained how to teach? Possibly because we were successful being taught under those conditions. However, what many are demanding now is that we design the learning environment so that more students can be successful.

However, our FECs do not award sabbaticals for redesigning courses or programs even though such a redesign would require research. Teaching is often not viewed as a scholarly activity and hence is not rewarded as such.

So that is Bowen's take on transforming our in-class learning experiences by using active learning rather than passive lecturing. This chapter also discusses how to redesign curricula - something in which my campus is currently engaged. Bowen makes some bold suggestions about not confusing the package with the product. Learning is the product, not the course or the degree. Our credit system assumes that time spent equals learning. We all know that is not true. Many students earn course credit without the learning sticking. Bowen suggests that using a cookie-cutter approach to all disciplines and programs may not make sense. Maybe what constitutes a program in the humanities is different from what it is in the sciences or creative arts. Perhaps units of learning are different. Maybe professional programs are best mastered in smaller concentrated units where students take one or two courses over six weeks, whereas others require integration of multiples ideas over time and thus requires 3 or four courses completed simultaneously over 15 weeks. We don't need to assume that the same programs require the same curricular structure.

A point Bowen makes that has particular resonance for me is to scaffold learning over the time that students are learning. Educational programs need to be designed so that students' learning and skill mastery are developed to increasing levels of proficiency as they progress through their education years. This requires a different level of expectation of students' writing and thinking in their first and second years relative to their third and fourth (or fifth) years. How do we scaffold that into our courses? It means that there does need to be some linearity in course sequencing: students cannot take any course at any time in any sequence. Skills are developed sequentially over time. There is a foundational knowledge that students must first master so that they have something to draw upon when they are critically thinking, researching, or communicating.

So Bowen throws out some suggestions to see what might stick as colleges and universities try to determine how to recreate how learning occurs on our campuses in the midst of the myriad of online learning resources. As he has argued before in the book, faculty need to view themselves as curators of content and coaches of skill development. We do not need to tell students what to learn. We simply need to point them where the resources are located and then hold them accountable in our classrooms where we can then coach our students as they actively learn how to apply their learning. Of course, this will require the occasional mini-lecture in order to clarify student misconceptions. But most of our time should be spent in class engaging the students in the application of their learning in order to provide them with the opportunity to develop their thinking, researching, and communicating skills. And of course, the balance between telling students what to learn vs students applying what they are learning will depend on the level of student learning ability, on the level of the particular course, or the demands of a particular discipline.

I very much appreciate Bowen's suggestion that FECs and dept chairs provide space for failure as faculty try to implement new teaching strategies and curricular structures. We always tell our students that the best teacher is failure. Why do we not do the same for instructors as they develop their ability to teach? Why do we not do the same for programs as they field test different program structures? Bowen suggests that perhaps we need to approach changing our learning environments in terms of smaller incremental changes rather than large punctuations. That way if something does not work it is easier to backpedal and try something different. This is certainly what I have read in the SoTL literature - don't change everything in our teaching and learning all at the same time. Make the change in a manageable way that permits reassessment. The suggestions in Teaching Naked amount to a culture change in teaching and learning. And changing any culture takes time - if it happens too quickly there will be resistance and burnout.


Bligh, D. A. (1998). Evidence of what lectures achieve. In What’s the use of lectures? (5th ed., pp. 10–23). Exeter: Intellect.

Bowen, J. A. (2012). The naked curriculum. In Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning, Chapter 10. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley. p 243-266.

Ellis, C. (2010, November 16). Tweckling, iconoclasm and lecturing as a normative discourse: Reflections on two ALT-C keynotes. cathellis13.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23), 8410–5.

Haave, N. (2017). Assessing teaching to empower learning. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, 10, iii–ix.

Moran, L. (2015, January 11). Why can’t we teach properly?

Stains, M., Harshman, J., Barker, M. K., Chasteen, S. V., Cole, R., DeChenne-Peters, S. E., … Young, A. M. (2018). Anatomy of STEM teaching in North American universities. Science, 359(6383), 1468–1470.

Weimer, M. (2013). Taking a developmental approach. In Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice (2nd ed., pp. 218–238). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

Monday, 30 April 2018

teaching naked: the educational product in the internet age

I became somewhat sad when I first read this 8th chapter. Sad because I feel a sense of loss for how higher education is changing as Bowen describes it. On the other hand, the possibilities he envisions for how teaching and learning can be an active, engaged process is incredibly invigorating.

There is nothing new in this chapter that he has not been alluding to in the previous chapters. But he clearly articulates why he expects higher ed to change in response to the online educational resources becoming freely available. He uses the example of the music and book industry to illustrate his point. It was recording & print technology that transformed these two professions/industries. In both cases performing music and providing books was a local, social, live experience. In the 19th C, you could only hear music if you played it yourself or went to hear a live performance. As a result, local performers and composers had a niche livelihood. This changed first with the ability to print sheet music - international compositions could now be played and heard - and then recording which increased listeners’ expectations for a flawless performance. Online availability of music and books again changed the industry and professions by enabling a few star performers to monopolize what was read and listened, but it also changed the nature of performer vs composer. With recording, the performance became more important than the composition. Online consumption of music and books changed from being social and local to individualized/private and global.

Bowen thinks the same thing will happen with higher ed with a few gatekeepers producing standardized introductory courses (History 101, Chemistry 101, Biology 101, etc) available online but perhaps, as has happened with online sales of books, produce sufficient numbers to warrant more niche courses locally produced. Bowen’s advice is to embrace the coming change and remake traditional courses into hybrids which use freely available online lectures delivered by excellent lecturers but still meet face to face with students and instructors. Course instructors then become curators of online content and in-class guides for how to think with that content. This coalesces well with the movement to change higher ed teaching from sage on the stage to guide on the side. Hybrid courses (blended learning) could facilitate this revisioning of what it means to teach. Rather than teaching being the delivery of content, teaching becomes coaching to think with that content. And Bowen argues that this has already been available and possible with textbooks. Textbooks can play the same role as online content - something I have always also argued. Use the textbook for delivering the rote learning outside of class and use the in-class experience to practice thinking and applying that content.

This is basically what Bowen is arguing for with Teaching Naked: stop being the sage and become the guide. Instructors should curate the course content not deliver the course content. Of course, he is more nuanced than this. It is not a cookie cutter approach. Each course and locality will require particular approaches for the local students because teaching in higher ed will continue to primarily cater to the local populace. But the principle is still sound: move content acquisition out of the classroom and move engaged thinking with the content (I like the idea of playing with the content) inside the classroom.

This is something that I have been trying to do with my implementation of Team-Based Learning in my classes which has been met with some resistance from students. And student resistance to this sort of active learning that results from flipping the classroom has been documented many times in the literature by different educators. Reading Tanner’s reflection on teaching a large introductory biology course and also rereading Weimer’s Learner-Centered Teaching reminds me that it is possible to transition a class from passive didactic lecture to engaged active learning if the time is taken to acculturate students to a new way of viewing what teaching and learning are. This requires a myriad of things to keep in mind when becoming a naked teacher. It requires being transparent with students about the pedagogical reasons for doing so but also being mindful of students’ cognitive load and time for the effort at being independent learners outside of class. Higher education aspires to produce self-regulating independent learners, but it does not happen on the first day of students' first year of university. So, I think it is even more nuanced than Bowen asserts about curating content in large introductory courses. Of course, this could change if students are given the experience of flipped learning in their primary and secondary education. But until students are experienced learners with naked teaching, it will require instructors to be careful with its implementation nurturing their students’ understanding from passive recipients of knowledge to active seekers and creators of knowledge.


Bowen, J. A. (2012). The educational product in the internet age. In Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning, Chapter 9. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley. p 217-242.

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30–35.

Prince, M., & Weimer, M. (2017, November 2). Understanding student resistance to active learning. Faculty Focus Premium.

Seidel, S. B., & Tanner, K. D. (2013). “What if students revolt?”—Considering student resistance: Origins, options, and opportunities for investigation. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 12(4), 586–595.

Tanner, K. D. (2011). Moving theory into practice: A reflection on teaching a large, introductory biology course for majors. CBE-Life Science Education, 10(2), 113–122.

Weimer, M. (2013). Taking a developmental approach. In Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice (2nd ed., pp. 218–238). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

Friday, 27 April 2018

teaching naked: the naked classroom

This 8th chapter continues the argument inside the classroom. Now that Bowen has explained the advantages of using technology to move content mastery outside of the classroom, he offers suggestions for how to use the time freed up in class to produce a more engaging learning environment inside the classroom. Many of these ideas I have heard before and some I have implemented. But it is worth thinking about the difficulty in designing these in-class activities. And I appreciate his supportive stance that developing the active learning classroom takes time. Just because it does not work as smoothly as your well-polished lectures does not mean that the attempt should be abandoned. It takes time to become an excellent teacher. And he makes a distinction between students complaining about the pedagogy when really what they are noticing is the quality of its implementation. This is something that I have experienced in my implementation of team-based learning. Many students complain about my use of TBL thinking that it is a poor pedagogy when the real issue is that I need to improve how I implement its use. Knowing when students need a guiding lecture vs when they need an activity to either wake them up or solidify conceptual understanding is a skill that I am still attempting to master. In addition, the skilful implementation of active learning requires that the instructor appropriately pitches the difficulty of the material because we are expecting students to engage the material first before coming to class. It is critical that that first contact not be too beyond their abilities. Most textbooks are not necessarily written with the understanding that this will be students' first contact with the material. Just as in the Star Trek universe where the Federation has established guidelines for first contact with an alien species, instructors (and textbooks) need to consider what is at stake and how to best manage first contact between students and the course material. This is the challenge I have with implementing active learning - knowing how to pitch the initial reading assignment (which pages? which figures? Are there sections that should be skipped?) and to what level should students be held accountable for their pre-reading? What I expect them to be able to do on a reading quiz is different from what I expect them to do on a MT or final exam. This will likely be different for every discipline, every cohort of students, and year level of course and student. Which means that a master teacher can never completely rely on what was prepared for the previous iteration of the course: a new instance of the course will require careful consideration of the course context in students’ real time. This is a difficult task.


Bowen, J. A. (2012). The naked classroom. In Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning, Chapter 8. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley. p 185-214.