If an Instructional Design graduate program produces graduates who work as instructional designers, what does a program in Critical and Creative Thinking produce? A possible answer depends on first noting that the Program is really about changing practice so might be better called Critical, Creative, and Reflective Practice. The answer then could be “SloMoCoCo,” standing for SLOw MOde COach or CO-COach. The graduate has the ability to coach others in the following as well as walking the talk, that is, having established a studio to support their own work:

[I]n order to make best use of the one’s skills, experience, and aspirations, it is valuable to give oneself ample time for connecting, probing, reflecting, and creating (CPRC). In this spirit, students [in the Program are introduced] to many and varied CPRC tools and processes, principles and themes, which… students build into their own toolboxes and “studios” for lifelong learning and mindful practice (from previous post).

The next question might be: What does the process of being introduced to “tools and processes, principles and themes” and “build[ing them] into their own toolboxes and ‘studios'” look like? Can it be laid out as directly as one might lay out the skills needed for instructional design and teaching others instructional design? Graduates of the CCT Program — and anyone else interested — are welcome to provide their roadmaps for moving from applying to the Program to completing a capstone “synthesis of theory and practice.” One addition to what has happened so far in the Program is the new idea of:

a “virtual studio”… with every member taking responsibility for supporting each person’s studio-building initiatives, including those of the faculty member and alum that will join with the 4-6 students in each studio. Each studio creates the guidelines they use about how often to meet…, what processes to use during the meetings, how to bring in newcomers, how to take stock and revise the studio’s processes, and how to share… what they are learning about ways to build and run supportive studio spaces (from previous post).

Slow and Move mode in a graduate program for personal and professional development II

[T]he distinction between fast and slow technology is… a metaphorical distinction that has to do with time presence. When we use a thing as an efficient tool, time disappears, i.e., we get things done. Accepting an invitation for reflection inherent in the design means on the other hand that time will appear, i.e. we open up for time presence… Hallnäs and Redström (2001) Slow Technology – Designing for Reflection. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 5, 201-212.

Read more of this post

Slow and Move mode in a graduate program for personal and professional development

An attempt to clarify what I think we do in the graduate program in Critical & Creative Thinking at UMass Boston.  I think we can claim to prepare students for the roles just above the edge of the red oval, but not for the two MOVE roles across the top. Moreover, I don’t think the Program can or should compete with organizations and people who focus on the MOVE mode in government, corporations, consulting, and education.


Read more of this post

Caveat lector (written as I orient myself to the audience for the next book I want to write)

The conceptual themes advanced in this book emerged from puzzling over the positions and propositions of others that did not, for me, fit together. I hope readers appreciate the coherence of the picture I paint, but, even more, that they become engaged in fresh directions of puzzle posing and probing. After all, to move beyond the gaps I identify in the study of variation and heredity requires a wide range of inquiries from people in many different areas… Nature-Nurture? No, 2014

…the book as a whole becomes an opening-up theme. The book does not provide a theory to explain unruly complexity in any specific field or situation, but opens up issues about addressing complexity in ways that point to further work that needs to be undertaken to deal with particular cases.  Unruly Complexity, 2005

A few years ago an experienced facilitator admonished me not to think too much about how to support the translation into everyday work and life of tools and processes [for collaboration and reflective practice] introduced in a workshop setting.  The advice was to the effect that tools and processes are taken up only if they are introduced in actual work settings. 2013

The conceptual themes advanced in this book emerged from puzzling over positions and propositions until they fitted together for me. I hope readers appreciate the coherence of the picture I paint, but, even more, that they become engaged in fresh directions of puzzle posing and probing.  However, I am well aware of the limitations of building from the conceptual side and writing not to a specific audience.  My themes may well open up or point to the complexity to be addressed by others in particular cases that concern them.  Yet the uptake of themes—just as for the collaborative and reflective tools and processes—still depends on the extent to which a person is able to weave them into their heterogeneous construction of knowledge and action from diverse resources and practical considerations that are given by their particular situations and life histories.  This limitation can be seen as an invitation to readers to translate the themes into the terms of their own fields of inquiry and action, and to explore what difference they make.  The invitation may be passed by, especially when I do not demonstrate the payoff and cannot support readers in such efforts.   So I certainly understand if important concrete—local or global—projects of caring, collaboration and change in response to challenges and crises take precedence over the conceptual explorations I want to encourage.  With this caveat lector, I will continue.



Reflecting on reflective practice not, in itself, being a good thing

This post begins with a general question and a personal question: Why do people avoid reflective practice? Why do I avoid deep emotion intensive reevaluation on some issues that recurrently emerge in my reflective practice?

There’s an assumption behind the first question. Namely, reflective practice is a good thing, which everyone should do more of. This assumption is conveyed in the first diagram, my picture of refractive practice. Notice the slight change in terminology. Refractive practice is giving yourself some space, some routine, some interaction that prevents you simply continuing along previous lines. In this picture we see a line going through the refractive material and coming out in a different direction. The direction is not known in advance and thus the ?’s. The refractive material might be taking five minutes at the end of the meeting to make notes; it might be engaging in a dialogue process with a group of people; it might be doing free writing before you begin a meeting or a new project to bring your own ideas to the surface and clarify what’s important for you to put out and what you can just keep to yourself.


I use the phrase “continuing along previous lines.” The assumption that reflective practice, or refractive practice, is good is equivalent to the idea that we are better off if we do not simply continue along previous lines, if we are able to expose and entertain alternative directions. The personal question, the second question at the start, suggests, however, that there are areas in which we are not so open to possible redirections—that we have resistance to not simply continuing along previous lines.

In fact, everyone continues along previous lines for at least some or many aspects of our lives and works. We build upon what we have already built, on our skills, reputation, connections. For example, I lead the program that promotes critical thinking, but my role in that depends on an academic system that gives me a job and, more or less, an audience. But that role of generally promoting critical thinking takes me away from belonging to a particular disciplinary community that might be a basis for creating durable change. So, my role depends on some areas of my work and life being able to continue, and the flipside is that my work is underlain by some level of fear that those resources could be taken away. My response, for example, to horrendous conflicts in the world is to, in part, be thankful that I don’t have to address such things day-to-day. In part, it also depends on me avoiding going into territories quite close to home in which there are conflicts, whether physical or political.

Now, although I say that everyone continues a long previous lines for at least some lines in their lives and works, the world is always changing and we have to respond. Even as we try to hold on to some of the conditions that underlie our work, the conditions are changing, whether those are obvious changes or subtle longer-term changes. Now, there are differences in how different people approach these openings to respond to change and thus how they change, and I’ll get back to those differences later.

The next figure conveys schematically two dimensions of how we face possibilities of change. The vertical dimension says when we think about a different way of knowing, of understanding, or a different way of making something work using technologies, these differences might assume that social arrangements stay just as they are. That’s the bottom of the axis. Or they might require many changes in existing social arrangements. On the horizontal axis we see how large the constituency is being built to support any action, any change in social arrangements, around the change knowledge or technologies. The question is how much effort is put into building the constituency.


In both dimensions how far we push across those gaps depends in part on how much fear and resistance we have about losing the conditions for our continuing along previous lines. Indeed, refractive practice opens up alternative responses, responses that push upwards and to the right. But movement in that direction is limited to the extent that we do not delve deeper into the fears that hold us back, the fears that may be the legacy of past hurts.

Now, even though we have to accept that everyone, including ourself, continues along previous lines for some lines of our work and lives, I think it is possible to put a positive value on refractive practice for clarifying alternative directions to pursue. Especially if supplemented with reevaluation of stuck places so they have less emotional power, refractive practice makes a person more likely to a be fulfilled in some sense that needs to be filled out. And it makes a person less likely to perpetuate injustices to others that are associated with continuing along previous lines. I say a person is more likely to be fulfilled and less likely to perpetuate injustices, but there are no guarantees given that making changed depends on the particular situations a person is in and the diverse resources and practical considerations that they face in making change.

Given this positive value for refractive practice and its limitations, should I be involved in generalized promotion of refractive practice supplemented by reevaluation of fears? My answer would be yes, but acknowledging limits that correspond to promotion of refractive practice and reevaluation not being tied to the particular situations in which people find themselves. I would not proselytize that refractive practice is a virtue in itself. Instead, I would:

  1. Suggest that people can use refraction to expose and explore alternative directions within the diverse practical considerations that are involved in their particular situations.
  2. Organize “connecting, reflective, probing” (CRP) spaces that people can choose to join when ready.
  3. Model in my own work and lives refraction and deeper reevaluation at variable frequencies. (Walking the talk makes it more likely that people get engaged by #1 & 2.)
  4. Make use of the length of studies in the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program that I direct to emphasize “slow” mode even in world that pushes the “move” mode.
  5. Embrace people’s actual paths within their particular situations and don’t have overly large expectations that CRP spaces will result in changes in what they are able to do.
  6. Allow the time it takes to make possible bridges between general promotion of refraction and people’s actual paths.


* * *

Earlier I mentioned that different people have different approaches to responding to the challenge of making their lives and work respond to the changes in the world. This schema tries to capture that, even if it is hard to take in at first.

Gaps23Sep14What is depicted here is first a path of critical thinking, the trajectory on the left. As a critical thinker I find that I am often proposing changes to the way an issue is understood, changes to the knowledge. Moreover, I’m proposing changes that entail alternative social arrangements, whether that is in the peer review process in the in a academic communit, or the wider world of politics and economics and commerce.

At the same time, I am not spending so much time on creating a constituency to support any action around the proposed different ways of knowing. I do however teach courses on Action Research, which is captured in the blue across to the right. Action Research is more attentive to the necessity to build a constituency around any idea, or any proposal for social change, and thus has to allow for other people to help shape that idea, to revise the way the situation is understood and the desired replacement to the current social arrangements. This process of dialogue and refractive practice is represented by the loops in Action Research trajectory.

The other four labels derived from my Mexican colleague, Raúl García Barrios, who suggests that societies depend on four different approaches working together. In his account there are innovators, enthusiastic consumers of innovations, rational capitalists – the people who build and maintain the structures of continuing the production that is consumed – and selective consumers, who live more at the subsistence level and eventually take in what is made available to them by the operations of the other three groups of people. These four groups in Raúl’s classification system link together here in the up and down and across, with a broadening out to capture reversion to the existing social arrangements as people move innovations into wider social acceptance.

This post is about refractive or reflective practice and in this schema each movement—whether it’s the critical thinker, the Action Researchers, or the four interconnected social groups of Raúl’s classification scheme—can be nudged or encouraged to move upwards into the right through more refractive practice. That is, by spending time on refractive practice, exposing alternative directions and making it harder to simply continue along previous lines.

Teaching Critical Thinking in Age of Digital Credulity

Howard Rheingold wants to address how to “impart to young people the always useful but now essential skills of how to question, investigate, analyze and judge that link they just got in email or the factual claim they just found through a search engine.”  In his video interview with me, I emphasize the “challenge of… get[ting] students to take themselves seriously — not to perform according to some standards of mastery of content, but to identify projects that are really important to them to advance in the program and to continue afterward.”

On methods: The need for dialogue and reflective practice

The conventional status hierarchy for methods of research could (should?) be inverted.

It is conventional for social science and education doctoral programs to include courses on quantitative methods (statistics and perhaps survey and experimental design).  Sometimes such courses are supplemented by qualitative methods.  Action Research may be mentioned, but the value given to the products of Action Research is lower to the extent that there are multiple authors, including non-academics, and distributed in non-academic venues (e.g., reports, meetings).  Moreover, tools and processes for dialogue, collaboration, and reflective practice are rarely if ever included in methods courses.  After all, how are they related to evidence-based practice?  Let us consider where this status hierarchy gets us. Read more of this post


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 152 other followers