Teaching Naked: Students as our Customers


Jose Bowen (2012) believes that “we are slow to embrace change and value our stability over the centuries, but we can no longer afford the luxury of being stuck in the past” (p. 217). Through the last part of the book, he explores the technology fueling this rapid change, how instructors can use this technology to improve learning and the time spent with students, and how teaching naked will serve as a vital strategy in the confrontation higher education will face. Most importantly, and the main subject of this reflection, he states “we like to think of students as our product rather than our customers,” (p. 217) and that we need to become more focused on designing learning experiences and interacting with our students (p. 246).


One thing that stood out while reading for this assignment was one explanation given for why traditional academics might be resistant to changes to the educational product, “We like to think of students as our product rather than our customers,” (Bowen, 2012, p. 217). This quote impacted me for a number of reasons. The school I work at has invested a lot in becoming a designated Service Excellence Organization by the Ontario Tourism and Education Corporation (OTEC). All staff and teachers were given service excellence training in an effort to make our workplace culture truly customer-centric both internally and externally. This has changed perspectives towards the services (language education, support services, homestay, social events,) we offer, but the shift has been a slow one as many people in the organization are stuck in their ways; especially when it comes to integrating technology.

As Bowen states, “we know that learning matters, we have a mountain of research on how to improve it. It’s time we had the courage to start putting it at the center of our mission.” (p. 245). Asking instructors to change how they deliver material is most important in improving the student experience, but from my experience as a program coordinator it can be quite challenging. If institutions help teachers use some of the points mentioned by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) below, like showing teachers how they can make a difference, making them feel important, and bring out their best selves, they will find the strength they need to make change. Teachers can hold themselves to a standard and impose rules on themselves that they would never force on their students. Namely, that risks should never be taken. As the saying goes, if there is no risk, there is no reward.


The implications of the student appeal rate cannot be ignored by private institutions because without students, there can be no institution. I believe the same can be applied to publically funded schools as well. Ontario students , in the results of a 2010 survey conducted by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), have indicated that the availability and helpfulness of faculty was highly linked to students’ ideas about teaching quality. The study stated that “interesting and well-planned lectures, an engaging presence in the classroom, and the ability to deliver material in multiple ways” were characteristics of quality teaching and students have clearly expressed that “pedagogy is the most important determinant for teaching quality.” Only 6.9% of the students surveyed said that technology in the classroom was less important to students, particularly those students who were less satisfied with the teaching quality at their institution.

Since 2010, there have been many advances in technology. Speaking from my experience, immersive language education has been catching up to the rapid evolution. Many of the social events hosted by the school I work at incorporate technology (hashtag competitions and draws for prizes, cellphone scavenger hunts, student blog entries, regular social media updates, evaluations hosted by survey monkey, staff videos, and more). A number of creative teachers have started their own hashtags so new students can find examples of past projects and outings with their classes. In many ways, teachers and institutions alike will need to ‘brand’ themselves according to the educational values they possess in order to pass the scrutiny test of the next generation of potential learners.

The ASCD (2008) asked students to describe a time when they felt they were engaged and motivated when learning. They identified the following as ways teachers can help build a worthwhile learning experience:
  • Take me seriously 
  • Challenge me to think 
  • Nurture my self-respect 
  • Show me I can make a difference 
  • Let me do it my way 
  • Point me toward my goals 
  • Make me feel important 
  • Build on my interests 
  • Tap my creativity 
  • Bring out my best self


The shift towards a blended educational product has already informed the design of language programs and curriculum, which will continue to evolve to meet the demands of learners worldwide. In my workplace this translates into regularly adopting new editions of textbooks with up to date content, e-workbooks and links to additional resources and videos (see ETS’s ‘TOEFL TV’ on YouTube as an example). Administrators and instructors in the private sector should pay close attention to the emerging trends in blended learning in order to offer their customers the best service and experience possible.

Recommendations made by the OUSA (2010) include: institutions establishing and adequately maintaining instructional support programs, in order to encourage innovation in teaching and provide professional development for instructors, and appointing a teaching and learning leader in each department to work with their colleagues in improving the department’s teaching, learning and assessment strategies and to assist in reviewing and designing curriculum. At the institution I currently work at, I am part of this initiative and intend to expand our professional development seminars to include more technology and innovation. My role is also to update, adapt and review all materials used in the classroom. Moving forward, I would like to provide more teacher training on these updates to help them design and deliver a more engaging student experience based on what students really want.

Key changes must take place in order for teachers to change to learner-centered teaching, as proposed by Wiemer and Blumberg in Elizabeth Barkley’s book entitled Student Engagement Techniques. Their model serves as a guide for teachers and consists of a 7 step process where teachers analyze the balance of power, function of content, role of the teacher, responsibility for learning, and the purpose and process of evaluation (p. 88). In the professional development series I intend to offer in the fall, this analysis will be the first session. Change is inevitable when learning takes place. Once teachers see their classrooms from this perspective, I believe they will feel more confident in making change. I could then offer this series at other schools and promote the idea of designing student experiences for our customers.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagemnet Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bowen, J.A. (2012). Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

What Students Want from Teachers (November 2008). Education Leadership. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Volume 66 (3), pp. 48-51. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/What- Students-Want-from-Teachers.aspx

What Students Want: Results of the Ontario Student Survey (August 2010). Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. Retrieved from http://www.ousa.ca/dev/wp- content/uploads/2010/08/What-Students-Want-Ontario-Student-Survey.pdf


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