PBL & feminist pedagogy

(A post I made 3/3/13 on a blog for a course Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology )
A. For the purposes of this activity, let me define feminism in relation to science and technology (following the theory linked to the syllabus) as a conversation between the following four angles on gender in relation to science and technology. (Equivalent angles can be articulated for differences that refer to race, ethnicity, or European descent vs. other othernesses.)

1) Under-representation of women in science and in technological design; Obstacles to and underrecognition of their contributions; Possibilities for women’s standpoint to address aspects of the world underrecognized by men.

2) Biases in knowledge and technologies that claim to represent progress, efficiency, or other universal interests, but in practice promote the unequal social status of men over women.

3) The pervasiveness of gender-like dualisms in which one category is subordinate to the other and complex spectra are purified into dichotomies; The suppression of ways these conceptual schemes are troubled by multiplicities and hybrids.

4) The contribution of gendered resources among the heterogeneous resources that knowledge-makers link together over time as they construct and reconstruct established knowledge and reliable technologies. A very significant source of resources has been the existence of a feminist movement(s) based on a broader set of social and personal concerns, which continues to bring attention to issues about science and technology from the previous three angles (e.g., Keller 2001).

B.  The PBL course process is intended to exemplify such a theoretical “quadrangulation” as students address the tension between, on one hand, disciplined knowledge/analysis/inquiry and action that often invokes a limited set of themes to orient us as we move forward and, on the other hand, the more open (transdisciplinary, gender-bending?) engagements with the unruly contexts in which knowing and acting are always already embedded.

C.  To support such quadrangulation, “scaffolding” is needed.  From http://wp.me/pPWGi-wJ,

Scaffolding has a set of associations, thereby inviting an aspiration of development from the first in the set towards the last.

1. Someone starts with a final structure in mind and provide the workers (or students) a safe scaffolding they use to complete the structure (or students come to understand the ideas and be proficient in the practices)…

[The familiar educators’ use of the term fits in here.  In that vein, students would be helped to move from the first to the fourth angles on feminism and science-tech in A.  This might take the form of a historical survey of the development of feminism, especially in relation to science-tech.]

2. Someone starts with a structure already in place and provides a secure scaffolding (base) for the workers (students, mentee, “coach-ee”) to renovate (innovate, re-narrate) so as to modify that structure (in education: “private universes“, Taking Yourself Seriously).

3. Someone (or someones) has (have) a synergistic cooperative or collaborative situation in mind—drawn from past experience and current understanding—and provides scaffolding to more than one group of workers (potential cooperators) to lead them towards a place where, if and when the groups meet, their interaction creates more than the sum of the parts. That is, like two sides of a bridge joining in a stable arch, the resulting situation is something no group could provide for itself (see strategic participatory planning)

4. Like in tissue engineering, someone provides a matrix or scaffold and seeds it with “cells” that then grow in interaction with the matrix— perhaps dissolving the matrix—and eventually in interaction with other groups of cells to form a situation—the “tissue”—that is a dynamic structure—not something that can insert itself (or be inserted) into in a larger context or dynamic structure—the “body”—and generate possibilities not present in the matrix, the cells, the groups of cells, or the larger context into which the new structure is inserted.

5. Like the maintenance of our bones, a dynamic structure has components that are constantly replenished with new components in a way that maintains its integrity as a structure, but adapts to changes in its contexts (like new stresses strengthening bones or, as for astronauts, weakening them) and in turn, generating possibilities (innovations/renovations), not seen or experienced before.

D.  Sounds intriguing, even attractive, but the question is how, in practice, does one scaffold the “development from the first in the set [of associations of scaffolding in C] towards the last”?  See a) the 2001 online article on “Challenges for the teacher/facilitator,” but also b) http://wp.me/p1gwfa-sN which raises and begins to address the question: “How can we avoid the trap of developing a theory of everything, in which scaffolding adds nothing special and we reinvent the wheel?”

E.  Another question: What, if anything,  is distinctly feminist about scaffolding?  The answer might be that, in any activity related to scaffolding, any individual’s actions to gain voice against the noise of white patriarchy should be accompanied by action to raise the voice of others.  This recalls the principles that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” and “Freedom is merely privilege extended, unless enjoyed by one and all,” and mutual aid.  But saying that leads to another question:  What, if anything,  is distinctly feminist about mutual aid?

F.  Two parting questions:  a) What cases studies and situations in the material world to engage in in order to complement the abstraction of A-E?  b) How does this all translate into the terms used by feminist teachers now and in previous decades?

Critical thinking and gender stereotypes

Elbow’s paragraph below (source) seems believable until I start to ask how to move beyond it. Then I doubt that the implication that men should strive for more believing activities and women for more doubting activities.
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Critical and creative thinking as training to become a “better chooser”?

The passage below, from a review by moral philosopher Jeremy Waldron of books on “nudging” by policy theorist and sometimes practitioner, Cass Sunstein, made me wonder if critical and creative thinking could be the training Waldron laments missing out on. He wishes that he could be a “better chooser” rather than someone who needs to be nudged by policy-making authorities or goods-selling marketers. Read more of this post


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.

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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.


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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. http://wp.me/p1gwfa-tz 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.




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