Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) at UMass Boston: Major developments since 2010

Critical thinking and creative thinking are defined or construed in many different ways; there is, moreover, no standard definition of what it means to combine the two pursuits. This has allowed the mission of the Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) at UMass Boston to grow and develop over nearly forty years in response to the personal interests and professional needs of the students in the Program and in response to the changing make-up and ongoing personal and professional engagements of the faculty. Historical background for the Program as a whole that conveys the flavor of CCT as an evolving entity is given in the Appendices. What follows are the major developments since the last AQUAD [7-year] review to set the scene for the current review.

In 2012, the Program’s formal home moved to University College, which has since been renamed College of Advancing and Professional Studies (CAPS; see MOU in Appendix B). The hope was that with CCT in CAPS a second faculty position dedicated the Program could be restored and the program directorship could alternate between the two people. As had been the case in the years preceding the move, the Program could point to its net return to the College in justifying funding any new position. However, in 2013 the University administration took control of all funds derived from CAPS courses; decisions about new faculty positions could no longer be a simple matter of the Program showing to CAPS a sufficient net return.

When one of the two CLA faculty who had half-time teaching responsibilities to the Program since 1980 retired in 2014, CAPS was authorized to search for a half-time lecturer position with a focus on teaching the psychology–related courses in the Program. The person hired turned out not to be a good fit and is no longer with the Program. Positions dedicated to the Program are now the director and a full-time professional staff position with lecturer–like teaching responsibilities. Some teaching continues to come from the remaining CCT faculty member in CLA; the other instructors are experienced part-timers.

One significant development in the Program has been a shift from students taking courses face-to-face to students taking courses from a distance. Most courses are now offered in a “hybrid” format so that both in-classroom and at-a-distance students can participate in the same regularly scheduled weekly sessions. Teaching dynamics for the hybrid classroom have been fashioned to ensure equal access to discussion by the in-class and at-a-distance students and to create an active classroom community. Collaborative Explorations (described below) have also been experimented with in several courses.

Another significant development in the Program has been a decline in enrollment from the LTET non-licensure M.Ed. program whose students had often used CCT courses, especially the online sections, to fulfill their electives and requirements. (In 2014 LTET students with a concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis could no longer take CCT courses after their ABA licensure requirements changed and in 2015 LTET stopped admitting new students.) To ensure that CCT courses would have sufficient enrollment to run and to hold the average registration per course steady, most online-only sections were phased out in favor of the hybrid sections. Most courses have been shifted onto a two-year cycle with a view to increasing average registration per course given the pressures at UMB to increase net revenue. Course plans are made with students to ensure that they take the required and desired courses when they are offered. (Exceptions to the two-year cycle are the required Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, and final three research and engagement courses.)

An exciting initiative was the development in 2013-14 of a self-funding doctoral proposal in Creative and Transformative Education (later renamed as Research and Leadership in Art, Design and Engagement) through a partnership with MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) (Appendix C). Although this proposal has stalled, the process of developing it stimulated review of materials and innovation in several courses.

A potentially significant development was the approval of combined BA/MA programs for the regular CCT track and the Science in a Changing World (SICW) track in 2014, but family health concerns for the director meant that recruitment to these programs has not yet taken off. However, in a surprising development, the number of admissions in calendar year 2017 exceeded any year since at least 2000 and there is now a cohort of SICW students.

Outreach for recruitment to the Program has continued to be through word-of-mouth and monthly open house events that bring in alums as well as current and prospective students, and allow for online as well as face-to-face participation. Initiatives in social media and online interaction have also been undertaken. While an active social media presence proved hard to sustain, the Program has hosted at least thirty “Collaborative Explorations” (CEs) since 2013. CEs, a variant of Project-Based Learning, involve a group of people meeting online for an hour a week for a month around a given topic, with each participant working between meetings to inquire into the topic and share what they are learning and thinking about in a private online space. The Program cannot point to a yield in applications coming from the CEs, but they have served other valuable functions, such as mentoring of alums and bringing up-to-date materials into the curriculum. Intellectual exchange and enrichment for UMB faculty has also occurred through the SICW track continuing to host the Intercollege Seminar in Humanities and Sciences most semesters.

Readers will also find in the pages of the self-study—and even more so in associated links to websites and wikis—evidence of a graduate program that pays continuous attention to evaluations and other performance data, serves its students very economically, has offered courses serving more students outside the program than any other program at UMass Boston, contributes to the University and wider communities, provides models of ways to adapt and develop in response to new challenges and opportunities, and produces graduates who are constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts.

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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 bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhet)

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