Direct vs. indirect pathways of learning

My graduate courses use simple but unfamiliar requirements and processes, which leads to a period of getting adjusted and sometimes hesitation or resistance. This post reflects on that. Read more of this post

Making Space for Taking Initiative In and Through Relationships ( a video)

If you want to become a Reflective Practitioner, acquire a Growth Mindset, or become a Lifelong, self-directed Learner, you have to take initiative in relationships, such as those with your teachers, advisors and peers. At the same time, it is through the relationships you develop as you pursue these goals—including your relationship with yourself—that you find support for the risk-taking and change that is involved in taking initiative in relationships.  Read more of this post

What is it that it is (producing)?

To any graduates of theCritical and Creative Thinking (CCT) graduate program, I would be grateful for your contributions to a project of mine this winter/spring, which is to convey well what it is that the CCT program produces. As I mentioned in an earlier post, an Instructional Design program produces instructional designers.  An Applied Sociology program produces applied sociologists – people who can apply the theory and methods of the discipline of sociology to real-world problems. The Critical and Creative Thinking program produces, so we say, people who can “use the tools of critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice to change this schools, workplaces, and lives.” What kind of “people” is that – what is their distinctive identity? In a world in which knowledge and credentials in a specialized field positions the person to take up opportunities and continue developing one’s knowledge and competencies through practice, how can the CCT program and its graduates explain to others – and to themselves – what is distinctive about CCT studies – what identity we develop?

In the earlier post, I coined the term “slow mode co-coach” for what the product of the program is.  Perhaps we’ll come up with a new term.  Anyway, what will help me develop my thinking about and explanation of the idea behind the term is for CCT students and graduates to post phrases from course projects or dialogues to convey your insights about how you changed through the course of your CCT studies. Thank you.

Making time and taking the time

All my friends and colleagues feel pressed for time.  There’s never enough of it—for work, family, friends, activism, staying healthy, eating well, household projects, or having time off.  Yet we also feel that we waste a lot of time—in unproductive meetings, sifting out junk email, clicking on links, and so on.  And we also slip into time wasting when we feel dissatisfied, distressed, disconnected, or even depressed because we haven’t made time for our important work, for hanging out with friends, and so on.

One response to this situation is to implement regime change: “From now on, I only do emails from 3-4 in the afternoon.”  “I will stop working at 5pm and keep evenings and weekends clear for preparing dinner, family visits, household maintenance,…”  Such measures sound good, but, like New Year’s Resolutions, don’t often get followed for long.

Another response is to acknowledge each of the different personas you have and assign time for each every day.  Your roles might include, for example, dog walker and child’s homework supervisor, writer and reflective dreamer, administrator and teacher, household fix-it person and more.  If the waking hours in your day only allow 50 minutes for your writer persona, at least you have kept it from being reduced to 0.  (Why 50 minutes?  Because it is necessary or, at least, healthy to take a 10-minute break every hour to get up and stretch, look out the window, make yourself a drink, change gears.)  Conversely, if you confine your administrative role to 50 minutes, a long to-do list of tasks won’t eat at your relaxation during dog-walking time or at your attention during writing time.  You will have done as much as your time allowed; what’s left will have to wait till the next day.  If the “urgent” tasks don’t get done as soon as other people might have hoped, you are sending them a message not to assume that you are a super-person.  At the same time, you are affirming to yourself that you value your other personas enough to protect time for them.

When you send to others that message about not being a super-person, you are also sending a message to yourself.  The limits of what can be done in the time you can make available may lead you to decline requests to take on some additional task.  You may factor into household budget funds to hire someone else to fix the broken downpipe; you may temper your ambitions about what writing you can complete, and so on.  When this message to yourself sinks in ,you might move from frustration at what you are not getting done to appreciation of the quality of what you are doing when you take the time it takes.

(This post is a draft of a possible addition to Taking Yourself Seriously with a view to an expanded second edition.)

Critical thinking, Creative thinking & Gender

A. Consider this schema that I used to discuss the idea of creativity in context:
It is clearly complex: Many strands, many cross-connections, many things going on in addition to the focal outcome.

Now consider this simpler image, where the light bulb stands for an idea or inspiration that a creative brain comes up with:

Even that additional elements of this logo from the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program present a simple image:

B. The contrast between the first schema and the simpler images speaks to my sense of critical thinking as thinking that depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. We understand things better when we have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives (Taylor 1995, cited in Taylor 2001).

C. Now consider the following three levels of analysis of gender in relation to knowledge-making (based on previous post [originally made 3/3/13 on a blog for a course Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology ])

    #1. Under-representation of women in research areas and in technological design.
    Obstacles to and under-recognition of their contributions.
    Possibilities for women’s standpoint to address aspects of the world under-recognized by men.

    #2. Biases in knowledge and technologies [and language] 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 overlapping ranges, multiplicities and hybrids that trouble these conceptual schemes.

D. These three levels provide a set of tensions on which to build critical thinking. For example, if we observe under-recognition of contributions of women, we might look for places where women’s contributions are recognized and compare the two situations. Moreover, the set of tensions as a whole exists in tension with a fourth level, namely:

    #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.

What is a “resource” and what makes one “gendered”? A: “[R]esearchers establish knowledge and develop their practices through diverse and often modest practical choices, which is the same as saying they are involved in contingent and on-going mobilizing of materials, tools, people, [themes] and other resources into webs of interconnected resources” (Taylor 2005, 225). A gendered resource is, therefore, some material, tool, group of people, theme, and so on that is associated with one gender more than another (as in #1) or biases against women hidden underneath what is supposedly universal (as in #2) or viewing the world in dualisms that resonate with the preceding (as in #3). Lest this sound too negative, a very significant source of resources has been the existence of a feminist movement(s) that provides solidarity and support around efforts to contest the inequalities.

A further tension (for critical thinking) is that people talk about angles #1-3 as if they have weight on their own, not as part of the complexity of #4. Yet another tension is seeing such talk as a resource, among others, in the heterogeneous construction.

E. Look back at the initial schema. The *’s denote multiple points of engagement. Using the critical thinking tensions above can be a way to insert gender into the intersection of strands (or heterogeneous construction). No engagement on its own suffices to change the focal outcome; they need to be linked together and even then there is no guarantee that the outcome will shift the way intended. Linking engagements together means collaborating with others given that each person’s position, skills, and resources prepares them only for a subset of possible engagements.

F. The idea of collaboration in linking multiple, partial engagements within intersecting strands that do not guarantee an outcome recalls a metaphor from my paper, “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge“: “One’s development as a critical thinker is like a personal journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas. Both involve risk, open up questions, create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, require support, yields personal change, and so on.”

This picture is different from the view of critical thinking as scrutinizing the reasoning, assumptions, and evidence behind claims. And from critical as judgement and finding fault according to some standards. Journeying draws attention to the inter- and intra-personal dimensions of people developing their thinking.

G. This picture of critical thinking parallels the picture of creative thinking as a process in context that led me to adapt a schema for the heterogeneous construction of knowledge into the original schema in this post:

Each of us navigates the distributed complexity in part by trying to impart order according to our sense of our self—our identity, aspirations or goals, and will to choose among goals and move towards them.
We achieve some goals and then have greater capacity, knowledge, skills, plans, and direction to keep moving and developing.
We also have setbacks and revise our goals.  Indeed, our self-directedness can be buffeted or even threatened by the order-imparting efforts of other people navigating their distributed complexities.
Yet relationships with others are a source of resources and support (material, emotional, etc.) from outside ourselves, which help shape how far and in what directions our movement and development happens.
Relationships are also a source of unplanned conjunctions or intersections that we draw from.
Such connections can help us to not simply continue along previous lines and, at the same time, to clarify our sense of directedness as individuals.

H. In one sense this picture is about the complexity of angle #4 on gender in relation to knowledge-making. In another sense — a sense in tension with that — the picture reminds us of a simple theme often associated with feminist analyses: interdependency and interrelatedness is the foundation for our existence — from the single celled zygote to the newborn and onwards.

I.  Two parting questions, repeated from the previous post:  a) What case studies and situations in the material world to engage in in order to complement the abstraction of A-H?  b) How does this all translate into the terms used by feminist teachers now and in previous decades?

Taylor, Peter J. (2001) “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking,”
—- (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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,

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) 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?

Critical thinking and gender stereotypes

Elbow’s paragraph below (source) seems believable until I start to ask how to move beyond it. Then I doubt that the implication that men should strive for more believing activities and women for more doubting activities.
Read more of this post


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