A project-based learning experiment in feminist pedagogy

This post documents a conference presentation on project-based learning (PBL) as implemented in a course on gender, race, and science, co-taught four times for the Boston-area Graduate Consortium on Women’s Studies. Evaluations of the course document a tension between initial discomfort and subsequent appreciation: “you might think you aren’t sufficiently grounded by the course [but] being on the other side of it now, I see it works out beautifully.” (read more…)


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. Read more of this post

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.) Read more of this post

Sara Ruddick—a feminist philosopher concerned with care-giving and family relationships in context, and more

Sara (“Sally”) Ruddick, who died on Sunday, was a colleague in my first teaching job (at the New School for Social Research in the mid 1980s).  I still remember a discussion among faculty in the undergraduate college (Lang College) of the under-representation of minorities in the student body.  The discussion theme, which I was contributing to, was exploring relevance—were the kinds of classes we offered relevant to minorities?  Sally interrupted us with words to the effect: Do not assume that philosophy is not for minorities—and here she was talking about classical philosophy or philosophy in general, not simply some critical or activists’ strands of the field—Do not restrict their intellectual options or draw their intellectual horizons for them.  She might also been wanting us to question the stereotyping that goes on in discussions of under-represented groups, but she said enough for me reject knee-jerk ideas about relevance.

I didn’t stay at Lang long enough to see what curricular and recruiting strategies the College worked on to bring in and retain what we would now call “a more diverse student body,” but Sally’s words are with me every time I’ve been in equivalent discussions since.  I have not stopped being interested in relevance in teaching, but relevance has become something co-constructed with students so as to explore diverse strands in each person’s background and open up diverse points of engagement with materials the teachers help make available.

As the NY Times obituary indicates, Sally’s work has provided many points of engagement for feminists, philosophers, parents, caregivers, and other thinkers about families in their social context.  (I will link any other less NYTImes-ish memoriam when it comes my way.)   Equally important for those who knew her, even if only for a short while (as was the case for me), is something conveyed well by a friend who knew and worked with her for nearly forty years:

she was… an intellectual mentor… when I was young…, and yet she never treated me as anything less than a complete colleague and equal—in fact, I think it was beyond the realm of possibility that she could treat anyone in any way other than with total respect and regard.

Discussions in which participants take turns to connect the reading to their own work and questions

This post provides an enriching variant of the discussion format used in James Scott’s Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University.  (I have heard that the format was borrowed from a feminist discussion group, but I have not tracked down the source.)  For the Agrarian Studies Program’s weekly seminars a paper has been precirculated and a primary discussant leads off with a prepared 10 minute response.  Participants other than the author then take turns to comment on the paper or follow up on comments others make.  Only after the first hour has passed is the author permitted to speak.  At that point it’s scarcely possible for the author to respond by addressing each comment from the previous hour.  Instead, typically, the author makes a semi-organized, extended contribution to the discussion, which then continues for a second hour with them as a participant.

Some years ago, at the annual New England Workshop on Science and Social Change, we initiated a variation on the Scott-feminist response format.  Again a paper has been precirculated and the author has to listen before having a chance to speak.  At NewSSC, however, there is no primary respondent.  Everyone is given an equal amount of time—10 minutes—to describe how the paper connects with their own work and how it stimulates their own thinking and questioning.  The author often does not receive direct comments on their exposition and argument, but is nonetheless enriched by the experience of listening to everyone’s personally centered responses, as is evident in the comments the authors have made when they got their chance to speak.  Equally important, the participants are put in a space where they can listen well, for this format eliminates the common pattern of our holding on tight until we get our chance to make an incisive point on, say, the middle paragraph of page 5.  Also, by listening to how the other participants connect to one text, everyone gets to know each other in deeper ways, thus enriching the basis for subsequent interactions during the workshop.

At NewSSC, this activity starts the second of four days, where the first day consists mostly of extended autobiographical introductions, but the same format can be used in a 90-minute faculty seminar or a classroom discussion of a reading (where, usually of course, the author is not present to respond at all).

The discussion facilitator’s role is to ask for a volunteer to take first turn responding, make sure everyone takes a turn before a general discussion is opened up, and keeps everyone to the 10 minutes—Quite interesting insights emerge whenever someone who claims after, say, 6 minutes, to have said all they need to say is given the space to be quiet and then continue when ready.

I hope the unidentified feminists who Scott borrowed from would be pleased with this evolutionary descendant of their approach.

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