Tag Archives: academic_life

Guided tour of my teaching ’98-’01: Teaching portfolio, critical thinking journey, etc.


In the statement for the tenure review in 2001, I discussed my teaching under the headings:

  • A. Wide Scope of My Teaching and its Active, Ongoing Development
  • B. The Philosophy of Teaching Critical Thinking I Brought to UMB
  • C. Teaching Critical Thinking about Science in its Social Context
  • D. Leading Students from Critical Thinking to Taking Initiative
  • E. Learning from Difficult Courses in a Thoughtful, Respectful, and Professional Manner
  • F. Learning from Educators beyond CCT
  • G. Promoting Collegial Interaction Around Innovation in Teaching

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Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking: Preamble to a periodic review

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 thirty 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.  Such engagements build on, but have often extended some distance from, their original disciplines of education, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, and the life sciences. To convey the flavor of CCT as an evolving entity, we start with historical background for the Program as a whole and set the scene for the current periodic (AQUAD) review.  [The reviewers’ site visit takes place today [postponed because of snowstorm to 29 Mar 11].  The historical background to follow might be interesting to others who work to keep interdisciplinary programs afloat.]

The Program’s journey

When the Master of Arts degree in Critical and Creative Thinking at UMass Boston was established in 1979-80, three interrelated objectives were stated:

  • to improve the critical and creative thinking skills of the program participants;
  • to help the participants achieve an understanding of the phenomena of critical and creative thought, and to think through the problems and issues concerning these phenomena… explored in the intellectual community; and
  • to translate this understanding into significant classroom or other educational practice in various subject areas.[1]

The founding faculty—Bob Swartz, Steve Schwartz, and Delores Gallo[2]—came from philosophy, psychology, and education, respectively.  When the program began, there was only one specialty area, Moral education and moral issues, and participants were teachers and administrators from local schools.

By 1986, two additional specialty areas—Literature and Arts, and Mathematics and Science—had been added and faculty members Arthur Millman and Carol Smith had been hired in Philosophy and Psychology, respectively, with a 50% commitment to CCT.  Theses and capstone syntheses completed since then have shown students pursuing their personal and professional development in the creative arts, government and social services, and the corporate sphere, as well as in education, broadly construed.  A gradual evolution has continued.  By the time of the scheduled review in 1994-95, dialogue had emerged as an exciting new theme, which led to the addition of the fourth specialty area, which came to be called Workplace and Organizational Change.  The original emphasis on critical and creative thinking in mostly philosophical and psychological terms has been enriched by the faculty and students paying more attention to the social influences on critical and creative thinking and to the supports needed to foster such thinking—or, more accurately, to foster critical, creative, and reflective practice.

A number of strands have contributed to the evolution of the Program towards social concerns and organizational change, including: Larry Blum’s contributions since the early 1990s to antiracist education; Peter Taylor’s emphasis on the life and environmental sciences in their social context since his appointment as the second fulltime CCT faculty member in 1998; and Nina Greenwald’s work on problem-based learning, especially in the biomedical sciences. Student interests in facilitating organizational change have grown substantially over the last decade, but a wide range of students’ interest persists.  Significant numbers of CCT students still work in areas such as writing and the creative arts and general classroom teaching—sometimes in combination with organizational change!

The Program Review in 1994-95 under the leadership of Pat Davidson was very favorable.  However, during a University budget crunch the following year it was decided to reduce the resources for the Program. The Program’s home was moved from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) to the Graduate College of Education (GCE; now College of Education and Human Development), with a concomitant increase in teaching load and decrease in the number of faculty members assigned full-time to the Program (from three to two).  Other details of the move were not formalized, but it was expected that CCT would continue to offer courses that had been taken by many students in education programs.  The 50% faculty teaching load contributions from the Philosophy and Psychology departments continued, as did Philosophy’s contribution of Larry Blum’s teaching of one section every third or fourth semester.  Resources within the GCE turned out to be less stable.  There was a delay in replacing a retiring full-time CCT faculty member during the 1990s; an extended medical leave of Delores Gallo then her early retirement in 2002 (with no replacement search authorized); prioritizing of GCE resources towards teacher preparation and national accreditation; and a GCE policy from January 2001 making Departmental Chairs the nominal Graduate Program Directors (GPDs), thus eliminating the course load reductions and stipends for the faculty who continued to fulfill all the responsibilities of GPD.  All these circumstances notwithstanding, CCT admissions returned to high levels before the last AQUAD review in 2002-3.

Ongoing adjustment to changing circumstances was reflected in the goals and objectives spelled out in the Program’s June 2000 AQUAD planning document, which were assessed in great detail in the 2002-3 self-study.  By reconfiguring CCT’s operations and achieving greater efficiencies the Program sought to:

  • maintain its strength as an interdisciplinary program with a strong focus on individualized learning, growth, and mid-career professional development;
  • develop a clear and constructive role in GCE, coordinating with other GCE graduate programs and outreach initiatives; and
  • address the 1994-95 review committee’s recommendations, in particular, that of presenting a higher profile, within the university and in the wider community, for what is distinctive about CCT’s work.

The 2002-3 self-study report and supporting material documented an impressive level of planning, innovation and accomplishment, especially given the reduced resources available to the Program. The Review Committee “found that the CCT Program is providing high quality and innovative education to non-traditional students who are unlikely to find substitute degree programs at UMB” and recommended “that a relatively small amount of resources be invested in this program to ensure that UMB [could] continue to provide the leadership in innovative multi- and inter-disciplinary pedagogy represented by this Program.”   The interim GCE Dean and the Graduate Dean formally recognized the strengths that the Committee had found. However, the GCE Dean saw the Program as outside the College mission and discontinued a 50% lecturer position that had been funded (first by the Provost, then by the College) for the previous three years to compensate for Delores Gallo’s absence.  Deciding that only one faculty member dedicated full-time to the Program was insufficient, the Graduate Dean halted admissions to the M.A. Program. The Program initiated a partnership with the Division of Corporate, Continuing, and Distance Education (CCDE, now University College) to promote the 15-credit CCT Graduate Certificate and develop sufficient online sections so that the Certificate could be earned fully online.  Initially the electives offered through CCDE allowed students to pursue a focus on “Creative Thinking at Work,” but a second focus on “Science in a Changing World” was planned.

Admissions to the M.A. Program were re-opened in 2004 after the new GCE Dean appointed Nina Greenwald as a sabbatical replacement for Peter Taylor in 2004-5, giving her special responsibilities for rebuilding student numbers and program promotion.  Her position was renewed by subsequent GCE deans until this academic year (albeit at a less than full-time level from 2007). In 2004 Peter Taylor became director of the University’s undergraduate Science, Technology and Values program.  Nina Greenwald’s teaching load in CCT created opportunities for him to teach across colleges and campuses in the area of science in its social context and, in 2009, with the encouragement of the current Provost, Winston Langley, to initiate a cross-college Science and Society graduate program.  This initiative has ended up taking the form of a graduate Certificate and M.A. track within CCT on “Science in a Changing World” and is beginning to attract students.  In the fall of 2010, University College agreed to fund a 50% assistant coordinator position for this track and to increase to 100% the CCT assistant coordinator position that CCDE had begun to fund in fall of 2009.  This latest support was contingent on the Program scheduling sections of required courses and electives so that the M.A. in both the regular track and the new track can be completed by students over a 2.5 year period entirely by taking sections offered through the College.[3]

The 2010 self-study documents ongoing adjustments to changing circumstances and resource limitations.  At the same time, readers will also find in tits pages—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, offers courses that serve 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.

(Extracted from the Self-study, available at http://www.cct.umb.edu/aquad10appendices.html.)

[1] Cited in the 1994 self-study.

[2] Bob Swartz left the Program in the late 1980s.  He and Delores Gallo retired from the University in 2002. Steve Schwartz retired in 2005.

[3] As of December ’10, permission for CCT M.A. students being able to take more than 50% of courses online is subject to final approval at the level of Graduates Studies and above.

Truth and reconciliation in academic units? (A response to shortcomings in evidence-based development of practice and commitment to social justice)

The core values of my college begin with 1. evidence-based development of practice and 2.  commitment to social justice.  In many academic units, not only my college, equivalent values are spoken about, if not stated explicitly.  What follows logically, if not in actual practice, from these values or principles?

#1 & 2 => no decisions are based on expediency, for example, “It’s too hard to assemble the evidence or get it paid attention to by those with decision-making power.”  Expediency not only contradicts #1, but, by allowing those with power (or special access to those with power) to circumvent established procedures and transparency of process, undermines social justice in the present and confidence in social justice in the future.  Everything is politicized in the sense of jockeying and special access.

If decisions have been made on the basis of expediency—without evaluation and attention to evidence—and if people in the unit now lack confidence in established procedures providing checks and balances as well as access to all, the question arises: How to recover?  A: Truth and reconciliation.  Together the terms connote a commitment to future social justice even though past hurts cannot be undone.  Reconciliation requires truth, in other words, attention to evidence and transparency about that.  Reconciliation assumes there are hurts and antagonisms resulting from that, and requires that these not be brushed aside in the name of expediency.  (Another way of saying this is that people often make an issue a matter of personalities when the root problem is that established procedures have been forgotten or otherwise circumvented.   Noting this does not neutralize the personal hurts and feelings, but points to a path ahead, away from emotionally charged blocks.)

Expediency is practiced not only by people with decision-making power.  Others judge that the effort to uphold the principles of evidence-based practice and social justice is too great.  It is said: “Let’s look forward, not revisit the past” and “You won’t get people’s [especially, decision-makers] co-operation by attacking them.”  This second line personalizes the issues, suggesting that those who would uphold the principles are the problem—they lack tact, civility, personableness, or political savvy.  Both lines can be responded to with a question: Where is the evidence that practices not evaluated get left behind by people accustomed to those practices?  If they don’t get left behind, the practices will continue to shape the future. Truth and reconciliation is then a means of looking forward.  I suspect that it’s a prerequisite for the core values to be really expressed in the practices of an academic unit.

Setting limits in academic life

Short of having a heart attack while working at one’s desk, how do faculty members convey to higher administrators (chairs, deans, etc.) when we are at (or beyond) the limits of what we can take on?  This is an especially pertinent issue as the ratio of regular faculty members to contingent faculty decreases, as the paperwork of so-called accountability increases, as funds for public higher education shrink, and as events outside the academy also call for our time and involvement.

What follows comes from a wikipage which was (and still is) open to all to contribute to. The idea in creating the wikipage was that colleagues would add ideas or respond underneath an idea already posted. (They could identify themselves or not.)  The hope was that this could be a clarifying contribution to being careful and strategic about what we take on and what we ask others to take on.[1]

Clear Priorities

For each priority below in turn, take stock with colleagues[2] in our units of whether we are fulfilling this well and plan what we need to improve.[3] One way to convey our limits is to communicate that we are not ready to move on to the next priority whenever we are not yet able to give ourselves a green light on the priorities that come before it:

* (1st priority) supporting students’ intellectual & professional development

* (2nd) supporting others as colleagues in doing #1

* (3rd) the research, writing, teaching, and organizational development activities that excite us (i.e., that led us to be academics)

* (4th) the operating, planning, and ongoing development of the graduate & undergraduate programs/tracks we’re affiliated with

* (5th) dealing with administrative & other mandates/opportunities (e.g., accreditation reviews, licensure, becoming a Research 1 university…) in ways that don’t detract from #1-4.

Well-designed meetings

Do not attend any meeting without a clear agenda and pre-circulated materials to prepare for efficient use of the face2face time together. (In this spirit, do not convene a meeting unless you have time to define a clear agenda and pre-circulate materials so participants can prepare for efficient use of the time together.)

[1] Nothing much has happened on the wiki yet because it has not been publicized.  To make sure a certain administrator did not construe this as a behind-the-scenes campaign against them, I emailed inviting her comment.  No response came, and, until I had time to follow up, I held off publicizing it to my university colleagues.

[2] If we can find time to do this!

[3] And whether we can do this within a balanced profile of 1/3 research-1/3 teaching-1/3 service (and 1/3 the rest of our lives!) and whether the staff and other resources are there to help.