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?

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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).

One Response to PBL & feminist pedagogy

  1. Pingback: Critical thinking, Creative thinking & gender | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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