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.

The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on, you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! [T]he need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal. Guttorm Fløistad, on Slow Philosophy (cited p. 45 in Riddle 2010, Principles of Abundance for the Cosmic Citizen: Enough for Us All, Volume One. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.)

The byline of the graduate program in Critical & Creative Thinking at UMass Boston reads: “Using critical and creative thinking to develop reflective practice as we change our work, learning and lives.” Students come to the program with aspirations to move their work and other life projects in new directions or to a new level, or to clarify what they want their projects of professional and personal development to be. Given the wide range of students’ interests, the Program cannot provide specialized training or faculty modeling and mentoring engagement in each student’s area. Instead, as stated in the CCT overview:

an explicit and sustained focus on learning and applying ideas and tools in critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice allows students involved in a wide array of professions and endeavors to develop clarity and confidence to make deep changes in their learning, teaching, work, activism, research, and artistry. By the time CCT students finish their studies they are prepared to teach or guide others in ways that often depart markedly from their previous schooling and experience. In these processes of transformation and transfer, CCT students have to select and adapt the ideas and tools presented by faculty with diverse disciplinary and interdisciplinary concerns.

The distinctive quality of the CCT education (and its Science in a Changing World [SICW] track) might be captured by an addition to the byline: “Using critical and creative thinking to develop reflective practice as we take the time it takes tochange our work, learning and lives.” In saying this, the Program recognizes that students and graduates make their work and lives in a context in which they increasingly have to be entrepeneurial, take charge of making and taking opportunities, and generate products–including themselves as employable products. Still, in 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, CCT and SICW introduce students to many and varied CPRC tools and processes, principles and themes, which, over the course of 2-5 years in Program, students build into their own toolboxes and “studios” for lifelong learning and mindful practice (see goal 1 and second schema below). Taking the time it takes might be called a “slow” mode, one that complements and moderates a “move” mode emphasized in many professional development workshops and courses as well as, more generally, in the neo-liberal economy (see first schema below and video made by a student during a 2-3 week visit to New York City). To maintain CCT/SICW’s strength in the slow mode, the Program has to push back politely against the idea that the CCT’s mission is–or should be–to deliver well-packaged training (and TEDx talks, books etc.) in Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, or how to train others to deliver such training.

ModesandFocus.jpg

(animated & narrated version of the schema)

Three areas to which the Program has begun to give more attention:

  1. Building supportive studios and other spaces for reflective practice (see schema below)
  2. Slow design
  3. Keeping up with the latest research on self-actualization, flow, and creativity

CCRPEd.jpg

Elaboration
Goal 1. Combine ‘move’ and ‘slow’ modes: Instructors acknowledge that students are making their work and lives in a context in which they increasingly have to be entrepeneurial, take charge of making and taking opportunities, generate products (including themselves as employable products). Instructors coach students in this “move” mode. At the same time, they coach students to establish a complementary “slow” mode in which they pause to take stock (“refract”) before leaving one phase/project and moving to a new one and identify alternative paths so they are not simply driven by the context and its changes. CCT as “education for critical, creative and reflective practice” spread out over a period of 2-5 years ensures that the slow mode is not eclipsed by the move mode as it often is in the rest of life. Indeed, the Program involves contributes more to general tools and processes for the slow mode than it can to the specialized knowledge needed for individually specific projects.

Basic approach:
Students apply to the Program with a broad prospect for moving their work and lives along. More specific proto-projects are brought to the surface at the outset, then get developed, refashioned, refined — in whole or in components — through the program of studies.
The development of projects and prospects happens, in particular, through a collaborative exploration/PBL structure in many courses and through other assignments in which students are expected to stretch the topic so that it connects with and extends their own personal and professional interests.
At the same time, from the outset, students will be led to build “studios” for their work and to make good use of studio and workshop spaces. “Good use” includes
a) drawing on new knowledge provided by courses, for example, about creativity [the loop of arrows on the left of the schema],
b) exploring possibilities for taking their projects out to engage in the wider world, which includes building a constituency around projects and conducting evaluations of their engagements in the wider community in ways from which they can learn to improve [the loop of arrows on the right of the schema], and
c) most importantly, allowing time and space to take stock, shift direction, and possibly return to old projects with new insights.
Studios” range from: i. a space for the practitioner or artist or professional to be focused on one’s own creative or generative work; to ii. a space where the practitioner or artist or professional works with apprentices; to iii. a space where teams work together on a project.

Goal 2: Recognize limits: Students recognize that instructors are also committed to building and maintaining supportive studios for their own research and engagement projects, which means students accept that instructors have to set limits on the time they give to teaching, administering, and program development, that the Program will always therefore be a work-in-progress, and that instructors and students alike are teaching/coaching/supporting the work of others that is beyond their areas of comfort and competency. This contrasts with expectations that instructors
a) are experts with a polished package of up-to-date knowledge to transmit,
b) are models of being in the trenches with students, making work and lives in the “move” mode, or
c) can take the Program to center stage in new “move” developments (whether that be MOOCs, TED talks, best selling books, etc.)

Basic approach:
a) Students will join a “virtual studio” for at least three semesters during their studies 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 (in online google hangouts), 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 (e.g., in a google+ blog, http://bit.ly/CCRPgplus) what they are learning about ways to build and run supportive studio spaces.

b) “Connecting, Probing, Reflecting” Workshop in Woods Hole (5 days)
In the late spring each year, prospective and recently matriculated students may participate along with core instructors, alums, and other allies of the Program, in the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC, which does not require a science background). Participants come together to

  • create spaces, interactions, and support in formulating plans to extend our own projects of inquiry and engagement. Activities will, as they have at NewSSC workshops since 2004, build on what the particular group of participants contribute and employ a range of tools and processes for “connecting, probing, and reflecting” so as to support and learn from each others’ inquiries. The intended outcomes include: a) products that reflect our inquiries and plans, conveyed in work-in-progress presentations or activities and revised in response to feedback so as to be shared outside the workshop, b) experiences that motivate us to take our individual projects beyond their current scope or level of activity, and c) stock-taking towards developing the workshop format. This format, in brief, includes an activity together as a group each morning and again for an hour at the end of the day. In between, time is spent in independent research related to this scenario, in conversations, and in other pursuits that participants find helpful for advancing our projects.

For students, products will also include establishing or updating their Reflective Practitioner’s Portfolio and a plan to connect their individual projects to the opportunities of the next two weeks:
c) Treasure hunt in the Boston area or back in one’s home community (2 weeks)

  • a) visits to co-working spaces, non-profits, museum outreach units, innovative educational units, community colleges, alum workplaces, cooperative galleries, and so on, b) posting visual and textual snapshots on social media (with agreed-on hashtag), c) regular dialogue hours to digest the experiences and their implications for one’s projects; and d) presentations at the end.

Goal 3. Build ‘vertical’ community: by encouraging alums as well as students to participate from time to time in the slow mode activities:
a) The virtual studios,
b) NewSSC workshops at Woods Hole,
c) Collaborative Explorations, which are open to the wider world, and
d) the once-per-semester open house in which alums explain their work and reflect on how this has developed in relation to their CCT experiences (see Our Lives and Other Worlds series). It is hoped that some alums go on to propose CE topics and host some CEs.

Basic approach:
Time and energy of program administrators is focused on
a) teaching/learning/connecting in the collaborative exploration/PBL mode and
b) building and maintaining supportive studios for their own research and engagement projects, including publication (see goal 2, item a.). The connections made in that way, not initiatives in the “move” mode, provide the basis for recruitment outreach.

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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).

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

  1. Teryl Cartwright says:

    Interested to see how the studio/virtual studio cohorts develop, complement CEs and other aspects of CCT experiences and whether they are short or long term in practice.

  2. Pingback: Move mode: Some exemplars | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

  3. Pingback: SloMoCo | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

  4. The original paragraph in the CCT overview (quoted in this post) was penned when the 2002/3 Program review said various decision-makers were not clear on the rationale for a distinct Masters and Certificate program of study in CCT.

    The proposed new and revised sentences below are my current attempt to talk about the means–instructors introducing ideas and tools but also modeling–in a way that gives flavor to what it is that CCT graduates become, namely, guides to others “in taking the time it takes to change their work, learning and lives.” The flavor is that (ideally) the instructors, like our graduates, teach/coach/support the work of others beyond our areas of comfort and competency without neglecting the building of supportive settings for our own cross-disciplinary research and engagement projects.

    “The rationale for a distinct Masters and Certificate program of study in CCT is that an explicit and sustained focus on learning and applying ideas and tools in critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice allows students involved in a wide array of professions and endeavors to develop clarity and confidence to make deep changes in their learning, teaching, work, activism, research, and artistry. CCT instructors not only introduce diverse ideas and tools, but also serve as models to students-teaching/coaching/supporting the work of others beyond their areas of comfort and competency while building supportive settings for their own cross-disciplinary research and engagement projects. In this spirit, CCT students graduate prepared to guide others-students, colleagues, community members-in taking the time it takes to change their work, learning and lives.”

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