On tinkering

The scratch homework for the LCL course (see previous post) certainly roped me into tinkering, but, once I was finished and uploaded my working first scratch piece, I got to thinking about tinkering in other approaches to learning that, like LCL, also emphasizes meaningfulness and social interactions, namely, action research and problem- or project-based learning (PBL). My initial thoughts are that:
1. The physical or programming aspect of marshmallow challenges and scratch hooked me into persisting until I got the things to work. PBL as used in professional education (e.g., vet. school) may have a similar effect because there is an answer to be found (e.g., the correct diagnosis and treatment).
2. But that’s not the case with the kind of PBL that I teach, which begins from a scenario in which the problems are not well defined (http://bit.ly/XVjqBF). Students brainstorm so as to identify a range of problems related to the scenario and choose which of these they want to investigate and report back on. Some tinkering is definitely a feature of these PBLs in that the problem-definitions typically evolve as students investigate and exchange findings with peers.
3. There is a lot of tinkering in Action Research, in the “cycles and epicycles” framework I teach (Taylor and Szteiter 2012). To the familiar basic cycle of Action Research we can “add reflection and dialogue through which you review and revise the ideas you have about what action is needed as well as your ideas about how to build a constituency to implement the change. Your thinking about what the situation is and what needs changing can also be altered by inquiring into the background (e.g., what motivates you to change this situation?) as well as looking ahead to future stages. Just like the basic cycle of Action Research, constituency building happens over time, so we can think of this a second cycle. The other additions above, however, often make us go back and revisit what had seemed clear and settled, so we can call these the epicycles (i.e., cycles on top of cycles) of Action Research. The composite of all these factors is conveyed in” http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/ARcycling2.html. The question is can we elicit in such Action Research persisting until we get the thing to work?

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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