Vertical-unity and the 4Rs (respect, risk, revelation-> reengagement)

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


5 June 2011
A vertical unity is not evident in the initial prospectus. I will work on reformulating the proposal and drafting the bio that matches.

5 June 2011
The Collaborative sounds as if its central impulse is access to the production of scientific knowledge and technology. My credentials and knowledge in science makes sense of such an entry point. Yet, the impulse of 3-week PBL activities extends beyond science and science-in-society (as my students have shown me). Would it work to say that the unity within CESPOC is the 4R’s? Or, given the recursivity and reflection in PBL, perhaps the larger set of Rs of the CCT experience as a whole?

Consider the 4Rs in relation to PBL. PBL begins from Respect that the students are agents not recipients of learning and that they have “private universes” (which I construe broadly as a network of commitments—practical as well as intellectual—that they bring into any learning situation). PBL allows students to depart from meeting the predefined objectives of an assignment (i.e., Risk). Students end up seeing their work in new ways and understanding texts in ways that are their own (i.e., Revelation). They certainly become re-engaged with themselves as learner (see course evaluations); in Makiguchi’s sense, PBL learning is about happiness in the now.

OK, but how does this translate to access? Try this: One could critique the production of science and technology for their exclusions, their closings off. A stronger position, however, to work from would be an embodied, enacted accessing-for-oneself that stimulates others to do likewise. This is central to what I call flexible engagement [see 1 June above].

OK, but how does that jive with my own role—how would I write the bio that Ben asks for? Here’s a start: I want not only to be a facilitator of PBL/4Rs experiences, but also a learner myself. That sounds simple—I’d do each PBL case along with the students and participants. From experience, however, my resolve for that gets undermined. (In Ben’s terms, it seems like a method imposed on the situation.) Instead, let me try to tease out the elements and generate a unity from which my own learning in CESPOC PBLs would flow and not have to to be willed into being (with the likelihood that that wouldn’t happen).

Actually, let me approach this backwards, by looking at the dynamics that squeeze such a space for a learning role in PBLs: 1) If I have any spare time, I should use it for my real research and writing; 2) I get gratification from being a resource and allow students to see me as a resource person, not as another learner who, like them, needs support; and 3) The logistics of coaching students are time consuming.

Ways to respond to these dynamics: a) Make clear which hat I am wearing at any given time—resource person, logistical coach, learner—and make the potential for ambiguity explicit; b) Push back against the tendency of students/participants to become dependent on the facilitator by planting the expectation that students move towards a facilitator’s role themselves. For example, they can start practicing by running the check-in and serving as an assistant who helps me as the facilitator get space to be a learner; and c) Arrange a “producer” to help with logistics (e.g., as in b), remind everyone of the ambiguity of my roles, and work towards making me a resource like the other more distant, off-stage resources.

OK, but can the ambiguity be resolved in a clearer unity about what CESPOC is? One way to explore this is to do the Strategic participatory planning process beyond the first, practical vision stage. Another way is to list various angles or themes and see what emerges.


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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