The Teaching Naked Cycle: Technology Is a Tool, but Psychology Is the New Pedagogy

By Bowen, José Antonio | Liberal Education, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Teaching Naked Cycle: Technology Is a Tool, but Psychology Is the New Pedagogy


Bowen, José Antonio, Liberal Education


EDITOR'S NOTE: At the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the 2014 Frederic W. Ness Book Award was presented to José Antonio Bowen for his book Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology I Out of Your College I Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2012). The following article is based on the presentation made there by the author.

Technology is bringing new tools and new competition to higher education, but it is also changing basic rules about how we operate as human beings: the meaning of "friends" has changed forever. Technology is only a tool, however; it is not an educational strategy. While the use of technology in higher education will surely increase, educators must remain focused on student learning.

Internet technologies have changed our relationship with knowledge. While most of us remember a not-so-distant past of knowledge scarcity-our simple arrival on a campus once increased our access to knowledge-current students have no concept of this. The world is now knowledge-rich, and students today can use their phones to access more information than is contained in any college library. College is like an app for the mind; filtering, analyzing, and synthesizing content is increasing in value. The Internet is overloaded with data on every flight every day to every place, but the app on my phone limits that information to what is relevant and useful today-is my flight on time, and how long will it take me to get to the airport given current traffic conditions?

As faculty, if we are primarily concerned with transmitting content, then our value will only decrease. The Internet contains a much broader selection of lectures, demonstrations, animations, and examples on more subjects, in more languages, and with a greater variety of approaches, methods, and pedagogies than any professor, department, or even entire university can provide. If, however, we are more concerned with faculty-student interaction; the design and sequence of learning experiences; the application, analysis, and synthesis of information; the motivation of students; and, especially, the increasing complexity of students' mental models, then the value of what we do will increase.

Although the importance of critical thinking is recognized in all colleges, higher education is largely structured around the delivery of content. Current disciplinary knowledge is prioritized by the ways we furnish our classrooms, structure our curricula, train our future professors, organize our syllabi, and assess student learning. All of these are holdovers from a time when opportunities for learning were scarce. But in the future, there will be even more to learn and more ways to do it. Access to content and courses will be cheap and plentiful. As we know already from the early MOOCs, knowing how to learn new contentand, more importantly, how to integrate new ideas-is a necessary prerequisite for success in a MOOC. The point of college is increasingly to prepare the mind for the unknown.

Knowledge is required for thought, but content itself is a means rather than an end. Our real goal is to improve how students integrate new information. We want to change them. While what we have to teach our students may get them a first job, it will not on its own get them a second job-especially one that may not yet even exist. We want our students to be able to learn new things, analyze new knowledge, integrate it into their thinking, and change their minds when necessary. Employers say they want employees who can solve complex problems with people who are in various ways different from them.1 This seems entirely in harmony with what our colleges say we do. And yet, while we hope to accomplish these two things simultaneously, we spend more time on content than on critical thinking.

We in higher education tend to accuse employers of not really meaning what they say and overvaluing certain majors or graduates from elite schools. …

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