Tuesday, 3 April 2018

teaching naked: the flat classroom and global competition

In preparation for Dr Bowen's keynote at our Festival of Teaching and Learning this year, I have been reading his book Teaching Naked. I'll be posting my reading notes to my blog a couple of times a week for the month of April. By the time of his keynote, I should have read and blogged on all eleven chapters.

This is an interesting book. The first chapter explains how online learning threatens to make traditional liberal arts colleges obsolete because information and lectures are freely available online. Of course, this assumes that education is simply information transfer. Dr Bowen argues, however, that education must include interpersonal skills and critical thinking: skills that are not so easily learned online. So he makes the case to use educational technologies to leverage content coverage out of the classroom and online in order to release time inside the classroom to engage with the course material by learning how to apply and communicate it.

Bowen makes the analogy that online learning is revolutionizing education similar to how Japanese car manufacturers revolutionized the car market by producing better quality for a cheaper price. GM lost massive market share because they were unable or unwilling to change their product and how it was produced. Is the same thing going to happen to bricks and mortar colleges? Bowen thinks it will unless we focus on the advantages inherent in face to face learning when content is moved online outside of class time.

My issue with this is that students still want to have content in class rather than online. Many of my courses are taught using Team-Based Learning as the instructional strategy. I regularly receive student comments on my student evaluations of teaching complaining that they had to learn the material themselves and that if they were going to have to learn that way then they might as well take a cheaper online course. So is the problem mine in that I have not taught students what true mastery of a discipline is? Or is it that their learning curve is too great for the first contact I give them in the textbook? More likely many students do not understand that learning ultimately requires that students learn it themselves. Teaching is guiding students to do the learning.

My first-year course went ok last year when I switched to giving students an overview lecture the class before their reading quiz. My second-year course was less successful I think because I did that with less consistency. Also, I wonder if the 2nd-year textbook I choose was at too high a level for students? Effectively flipping the classroom, which is basically what Bowen is arguing for, requires careful consideration of what to expect students will be able to master on their own before discussing and working with the material in class. Expecting too much of student first contact will cause needless frustration. Expecting too little results in students not appropriately appreciating what they need to learn in class. A successful flip really does require the Goldilocks touch.

So, I think Bowen is correct in his assessment of the place of face-to-face teaching and the role that online technologies can play in freeing up time to engage students in deeper learning. I look forward to reading subsequent chapters which may address how to successfully do this given that this is a  counter-cultural approach to learning for most students.


Bowen, J. A. (2012). The flat classroom and global competition. In Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your classroom will improve student learning, Chapter 1. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley. p 3-25.

Smith, C. V, & Cardaciotto, L. (2011). Is active learning like broccoli? Student perceptions of active learning in large lecture classes. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, 11(1), 53–61.

Spence, L. (2004). “The professor made us do it ourselves.” The Teaching Professor, 18(4), 6.

Van Sickle, J. R. (2016). Discrepancies between student perception and achievement of learning outcomes in a flipped classroom. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(2), 29–38.

Weimer, M. (2014, September 10). “She didn’t teach. We had to learn it ourselves.” Faculty Focus - The Teaching Professor Blog.