Go Naked: Dean Jose Bowen Backs Tech-Free Classrooms Jose Bowen of SMU urges profs to strip the technology from their lecture halls and engage in discussions. But he wants teachers to use podcasts and online games to help students learn outside class.
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Teach Naked: Dean Urges Tech-Free Classes

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Teach Naked: Dean Urges Tech-Free Classes

Teach Naked: Dean Urges Tech-Free Classes

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

Well, it's that time of year, college students are all heading back to campus. But by next fall, students at New York University will have several campus locations to choose from - both in Manhattan and one also nearly 7,000 miles away. And in a moment, we'll speak to the president of one of America's largest private schools, NYU. He hopes to redefine what it means to be a global university.

But first, we're joined by another college administrator who's also drawing attention for his innovations in the field of education, specifically: teaching naked. Don't worry, it's not exactly what it sounds like. We're speaking to Jose Bowen. He's dean of the Meadow School of Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. And he joins us from member station KERA. Professor Bowen, welcome.

Professor JOSE BOWEN (Dean, Meadow School of Arts, Southern Methodist University): Hello.

GREENE: So, in addition to being dean, you're also a music history professor and you've been promoting, what I understand, is a style called teaching naked. And that is conjuring some pretty disturbing images when I think of my professors back in college. So let me just let you explain what you're talking about.

Prof. BOWEN: Yeah, well, thank goodness it's radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Exactly. No images to look at.

Prof. BOWEN: But the idea is that technology not enables us to push some of the content acquisition out of the classroom onto the Web. So, while it sounds like it's an anti-technology position, really what I'm doing is using technology like podcasts and online games and things so that students have first contact with the material before they come to class.

GREENE: So, I'm one of your students, I'm getting ready to come to a class, I would have a lot of stuff to do ahead of time. And when I get to class it's just discussion, debate?

Prof. BOWEN: Exactly. And there are lots of things that you can do. In fact, we do lots of debates, we do project, we create outline histories of the period we're talking about. So, we invert the traditional classroom, which is: I go to class unprepared and the professor gives me first contact with the material, then I go away and I learn the material. Then I come back and you test me.

How about inverting that? Why not first contact with the material is about you the student, then you come into the classroom and now we have what's called learning. We work together. We argue. And then you go away and I assess you.

GREENE: And it feels like your message might be to colleges and universities, if you don't start thinking about that, thinking about giving a reason to come to the classroom, that they might be in trouble in coming years.

Prof. BOWEN: Well, I'm quite sure we're going to be in trouble if we don't change. We are medieval institutions. We haven't changed in a very long time. And our basic mode of operation is based upon medieval technology. I mean, the lecture was an efficient way to deliver content 1,000 years ago. It's just not anymore.

And I'm a parent, I'm looking at college choices for my daughter. I look at the variation in price. Is it worth ten times more to take this course in the flesh than it is to take it online?

GREENE: Well, Professor Jose Bowen, you've been encouraging professors to take all the technology and so forth out of the classroom. And I want to look at an example of some of that technology. I went to your Web site and downloaded a game that you made for your students. I'm looking at sort of a mock photo of an empty stage right now, and I get to select musicians to create a swing quartet.

Prof. BOWEN: Right. So, if you go over to the left-hand side, you'll see different instruments.

GREENE: Right.

Prof. BOWEN: So, you know, click on the drum tab and then a bunch of drummers show up.

GREENE: All right. So, I'm clicking on the drum tab - Baby Dodds, Chico Hamilton, Art Blakey - I can just pick one of them and…

Prof. BOWEN: Just pick randomly, and you'll notice he starts to play.

GREENE: All right. We got a little beat going there. Now, I'm going to pick another instrument?

Prof. BOWEN: Now go to bass and add a bass to that.

GREENE: All right.

Prof. BOWEN: Adding a bass.

GREENE: And the bass. I'm adding Ray Brown. There's a little photo of Ray Brown and Ray Brown shows up on stage, his face and playing a bass. That's pretty cool.

Prof. BOWEN: And then add a piano to that.

GREENE: All right. Adding the piano as we speak. Let's do a little Dave Brubeck. And there's Dave Brubeck on the stage. Now, I see these three faces on the stage. Do I keep adding?

Prof. BOWEN: Yeah, add a trumpet player now.

GREENE: I think the pieces I'm adding are coming together pretty well. How about a little Miles Davis? Now, I see a grade at the bottom. Do I go see what my score was?

Prof. BOWEN: Yeah, go click on grade.

GREENE: All right.

Prof. BOWEN: And it should be…

GREENE: The following were incorrect: trumpet, drums, bass, piano.

(Soundbite of laughter) GREENE: So, I got none right?

Prof. BOWEN: Well, that's okay. But, see, part of the point is that when you make it a game, students, they'll play. And so you can actually create a band that never existed. Baby Dodds never played with Miles Davis.

GREENE: I see. So that's where I got wrong. Those matches did not go together.

Prof. BOWEN: But part of what happens is that you immediately started listening to the music, which is the real point.

GREENE: Right.

Prof. BOWEN: It's actually pretty easy to memorize, you know, that Gene Krupa is a swing drummer. But in some ways, part of the fun is just hearing different styles and hearing what happens when you change drummers or you change piano players. And so creating a band that never existed has just as much pedagogical value as getting it right.

GREENE: We've been listening to Jose Bowen. He's dean at Southern Methodist University's Meadow School of the Arts. And he is a big proponent of teaching naked - that's using technology outside of the classroom instead of in it. Thanks so much for joining us.

Prof. BOWEN: Thank you.

GREENE: And you may want to try Jose Bowen's jazz games yourself. You can find the link to download them at the new npr.org.

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