ThinkTank, a day-and-half model

I recently attended a “thinktank” that went from evening of one day to lunchtime a day and a half later. After looking back at what happened (and didn’t), I prepared this blog post to suggest a way that participants’ interests and energies could be engaged over the day and a half of a ThinkTank on topic X. (It is not important for this exercise to identify what the topic was of the ThinkTank I attended.) The instructions are given for arrangements with the additional goal of making it possible to host such ThinkTanks without major funding and without burning out the organizers. Read more of this post


Compilation of links distributed to Thinktank on Science and Social Justice education

“…Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally. Given this, I have contributed actively to the development of society-at-a-small-scale, through new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines and regions…” (from Intersecting Processes: complexity and change in environment, biomedicine and society) Read more of this post

Design for a once-off support meeting for newly bereaved

The goals of this 2-hour meeting are for you:

  • to bring to the surface and give voice to experience, feelings, and thoughts that you had not articulated well or perhaps even acknowledged, and
  • to help you envisage that you are living in a web of connections and concern that you can draw on as you move into the future.

Read more of this post

On methods: The need for dialogue and reflective practice

The conventional status hierarchy for methods of research could (should?) be inverted.

It is conventional for social science and education doctoral programs to include courses on quantitative methods (statistics and perhaps survey and experimental design).  Sometimes such courses are supplemented by qualitative methods.  Action Research may be mentioned, but the value given to the products of Action Research is lower to the extent that there are multiple authors, including non-academics, and distributed in non-academic venues (e.g., reports, meetings).  Moreover, tools and processes for dialogue, collaboration, and reflective practice are rarely if ever included in methods courses.  After all, how are they related to evidence-based practice?  Let us consider where this status hierarchy gets us. Read more of this post

Modes of creative learning in microworlds, messyworlds, and the real world

The items in this table are not intended to be comprehensive or be self-explanatory (thus the sources as entry-points at the bottom).  The schematic contrasts are, however, intended to stimulate discussion about the different kinds of creativity that are experienced in relation to the structure and boundaries of the different spaces of learning and action.

Space Microworld Messy World Real world
Examples Scratch, Turtle Project-based learning (PBL), Collaborative explorations Internships, apprenticeships, work, activist organizations, living in general
Tools Pre-built, available online Cases or scenarios in which problems are not well defined Action Research Cycles & Epicycles framework
Processes The tools’ simple rules allow wide diversity of products (like “generative grammar”) Define questions for inquiry relevant to the participant’s work & lives.Check-in & sharing each session; end with taking stock (e.g, Critical Incident Questionnaires). Action Research traditionally progresses from evaluations of previous actions -> stages of planning and implementing some action -> evaluation of its effects.  Add to this basic cycle: reflection & dialogue; building a constituency to implement the change; inquiring into the background; looking ahead to future stages.
Connections (among participants) Free borrowing from shared material; Timely help from others; Admiration for products of others Through listening well to each other, and to oneself, providing +delta feedback and references/referrals, and pacing/inspiring each other. Constituency-building.Also: Friendships, give or take risks to initiate new friendships or end relationships; Negotiating paths within the politics of unequal access to resources
Contributions to the Topic or field Not required, but anything is made by individuals with acknowledgement. Separate contributions from participants, but linked to the case. Change, based in research & constituency-building, implemented & evaluated.
Experience in relation to Carry over into subsequent learning, work, and living Experience of being creative -> desire to continue playing in the microworld.But the experience is dependent on the insulation of the microworld from messy world or real world complexities. Experience of learning and synthesizing -> further digestion & directions for inquiry.  It is no longer possible to simply continue along previous lines.But the experience happens within a “container” and is not tested by application and constituency-building in real world.When ready, participate again with positive, but circumscribed expectations. “What we come out with is very likely to be larger and more durable than what any one person came in with; the more so, the more voices that are brought out by the process.”Evaluation of the effects of an action or change can lead to new or revised ideas about further changes and about how to build a constituency around them, thus stimulating ongoing cycles & epicycles of Action Research.
Sources (Use tag cloud or category “Group Process” to select relevant posts)

On reviewing: An alternative to the gate-keeping, standards-upholding, highlight-weaknesses model

An alternative to the gate-keeping, standards-upholding, highlight-weaknesses model of reviewing is to set out to help the writer improve.  To this end, reviewers can:

1. begin with a summary of  what the author(s) said, or, filling in between the lines, what they almost said.  (This show the author(s) their voice has been heard and reflects back to them where they were taking the reader.)

2. then make specific suggestions for how to clarify and extend the impact on readers of what was written. (The message to the author(s) is that they can  use the eye of others to develop their own thinking and make it work better on readers.)

3. end, if required, with the judgement of publish, revise, or reject for this outlet.  (Given #1 & #2, a negative decision on publication is not rejection as much as support for further development.)

After letting reviewers’ comments sink in, the author(s) may conclude that the reviewer has missed their point. In that case, the misreading may stimulate the author(s) to revise so as to help readers avoid mistaking the intended point.  However, written comments have definite limitations when writers and readers want to appreciate and learn from what each other is saying and thinking.  If the author(s) do not understand the directions the reviewer saw in their work or those suggested for a revision, a one-on-one conversation is needed.  Yet this is not possible–unless the reviewer signs the review and offers to engage in this way.

This model of reviewing is consistent with an approach to life that says let’s do the best we can to help others do the best work they can in their (usually constrained) circumstances.  (This is a stronger principle than the golden rule.)  I wonder if reviewing according to the gate-keeping, standards-upholding, highlight-weaknesses model makes any reviewer feel good.

Acknowledgement: Keith Hjortshoj of the Writing Program at Cornell University introduced me to #1 and #2 in the context of commenting on student work (see

Postscript:  I knew that Brian Martin in signing his reviews cites research on the negative effects of anonymous reviewing.  After writing this blog post, I located an article by him that not only explains that practice, but also, with more detail and eloquence, proposes the same approach to reviewing as given above, except that Brian omits #3 altogether and leaves the decision to the editor; see

Cycles and Epicycles of Action Research: Elaboration and Useful Tools

Elaboration on the Aspects of Action Research
in the Cycles and Epicycles framework.  Tools useful in the different aspects of Action research are described through the links further down in the post. Read more of this post

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