Guided tour of my teaching ’01-’05: cross-fertilization of science in society interests & work on reflective practice

The eight strands in the previous post continued, but significant developments occurred in some additional areas, most notably the cross-fertilization of my science in society interests and work on reflective practice (which has become a second specialty in my scholarship). My 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago), develops a framework for the integration of research—in science and interpretation of science in its social context—with teaching and service—in the form of critical reflection on concepts and practice by researchers and students. Indeed, the framework is made clear in the last chapter, which builds explicitly from an approach to teaching interdisciplinary students. The opportunity and challenge of fostering the reflective practice of the diverse adults who come through the CCT Program has given me sufficient experience and confidence to push further in putting that framework into practice with diverse researchers. This integration of research, teaching, and service has led, in particular, to my establishing the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC), an umbrella under which to organize innovative, interaction-intensive workshops designed to facilitate discussion, teaching innovation, and longer-term collaboration among faculty and graduate students who teach and write about interactions between scientific developments and social change.

Guiding Research and Writing for Reflective Practice

  • From 2001-5 I was involved with 63 CCT students developing and completing their M.A. syntheses on a very wide range of topics. Four features of my courses on research and writing have come to fruition in meeting this challenge:
    • 1. A framework of ten phases of research and engagement that the students move through, then revisit in light of: a) other people’s responses to what they share with them; and b) what they learn using tools from the other phases. This sequence and iteration allows students to define projects in which they take their personal and professional aspirations seriously, even if that means letting go of preconceptions of what they “ought” to be doing. During the pre-synthesis course, CCT698, the students are introduced to range of tools for each phase, then practice using those tools in class and in assignments. A downloadable library of previous students’ work illustrates the different ways these tools can be taken up.
    • 2. A model of “cycles and epicycles” of action research that integrates evaluation, constituency building, reflection and dialogue, and can be applied to professional and personal change as well as educational and organizational change.
    • 3. Dialogue around written work—written and spoken comments on each installment of a project and successive revision in response —which allows me to accumulate a portfolio for each student in each course that facilitates generative interactions with students even when I am not an expert in their areas. By “generative” I mean students bring to the surface, form, and articulate their ideas.
    • 4. Making space for taking initiative in and through relationships: “in building horizontal peer relationships, in negotiating power/standards, in acknowledging that affect is involved in what you’re doing and not doing (and in how others respond to that), in clearing away distractions from other sources (present and past) so you can be here now… Don’t expect to learn or change—or to teach—without jostling among the five aspects.”
  • These four features form the basis of the “exit self-assessment” CCT instituted in which graduating students reflect on their development through the Program and identify specific areas for further work. The insight shown in most of these self-analyses gives the CCT faculty confidence that the graduates can continue learning without our superintending them.

Creating Problem-Based Learning Units and Other Innovations to Accommodate Students’ Diverse Interests Within Interdisciplinary Courses

  • Following the lead of my colleague, Nina Greenwald, an expert in Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and building on my involvement in BioQuest curriculum development workshops, I have introduced PBL or Action Research units in several courses, including one course at a doctoral level. I position the units at the start of the course, with the aim of allowing students to expose and coordinate a range of angles for investigating an issue, practice tools for rapid research, and gain a shared experience to refer back to during the discussions and activities that make up the rest of the course.
  • On another tack, I was pleased with the students’ response when I integrated the content of my scholarship with CCT-like reflective practice in an advanced graduate seminar that I taught at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The seminar theme was research, policy, and participation in issues of Conservation and Development. As well as critically reviewing literature on selected topics students also learned new approaches for developing their own writing and supporting others to write. I was able to link these two strands under the theme of paying attention to the challenges for individuals participating in collaborative endeavors.

Contributing to New Interdisciplinary, International, and Educational Projects

  • Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and application of science is not well developed or supported institutionally, so I continue to initiate or participate in new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. In this spirit I contributed to four major grant proposals between 2001 &2005 (three UMB; one non-UMB) that link science, education, and professional development and to seven interdisciplinary anthologies, many of which that evolved from conference sessions or workshop series that I helped run. I also co-led the Curriculum development component of the 2003 Education for Sustainability initiative at UMB and the Ford Foudnation site visit that led to the grant for the new England Center for Inclusive Teaching (NECIT). Most importantly, I secured seed funds from NSF to initiate the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change, a workshop that has continued annually since with international participation aimed at linking science, science education, and science and technology studies.
  • The prospectus of NewSSC, which is evolving in response to evaluations and reviews of funding proposals, provides the following overview:
  • The choice of workshop topics and the innovative, interaction-intensive character of the workshops are designed to attract participants who will develop their knowledge, skills, and interest in promoting the social contextualization of science through interdisciplinary education and other activities beyond their current disciplinary and academic boundaries. Participants are sought from the various areas of Science and Technology Studies, the sciences, and science education and-with an eye to training “interdisciplinarians”-include graduate students as well as more experienced scholars.
  • For the 2006-7 workshops, participants were expected to submit new syllabi and curriculum units (primarily for college-level courses) or outreach activities (e.g., hosting a citizen forum on a science-based controversy) related to their workshop’s topic within six months of its completion. These are made available in an expanding compilation of Online Resources for Science-in-Society Education and Outreach.
  • Formative (during the process) and summative (after the fact) evaluations of the workshops provide a basis for developing the workshop experience from one year to the next and for establishing a model of workshops that can be repeated, evolve in response to evaluations, and be adapted by participants [evaluations are linked to the webpages and wikis for each workshop].

About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

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