Curriculum mapping from an interdisciplinary program in 1987

I did not think I knew what curriculum mapping was till I had been in my current position, which is in a College of Education, for several years.  However, last week I received the schema below from a colleague of my wife who gave a talk at Eugene Lang College (at the New School for Social Research) not long ago.  The new dean of Lang showed her this diagram, mentioning that they did not even know who Peter Taylor was.   C’ est moi.  I taught at Lang College in 1986-7.  At that  time—and this seems to be still the case—all courses were taught in small seminars.  The schema attempts to depict the relationships among the seminars, although, unlike serious curriculum mapping, it does not convey anything about the sequence a student needs to take courses in.   (This schema did not include any of my “Science, Technology and Power” courses, so I must have done it near the end of the year when I knew I was moving.)  I wonder if a three-dimensional version could overcome the fudge of the circled letters that are used to position a course that is included somewhere else in the schema.  Lost in time is what my method was for deciding how to name and position the overlapping bubbles.


Supporting interdisciplinary faculty members (Day 5 of Learning Road Trip)

The issue of how to support interdisciplinary faculty members arose during a lunchtime chat with Tom Gieryn, a sociologist of science who is currently Assistant Provost for faculty and academic affairs at Indiana University.  Interdisciplinary faculty may be doing wonderful work, but it does not necessarily get understood or appreciated by the traditional departments in which formally they are members.  This led me to propose a variant on the scheme I developed many years ago for diversity hiring and spousal hiring.

The basic idea is to create a pool an institution-wide pool of “interdisciplinary innovation” (II) lines.  The II line stays with the department only as long as the appointee does. The appointee goes through normal tenure and promotion decisions, free from the ill-feeling that comes from occupying a line that some people in the department thought might have gone to a candidate closer to the department’s traditional disciplinary profile.

Stay tuned to see if I.U. initates a system anything like this.

(Start of road trip; Day 5 afternoon)

The impact of problem-based learning in interdisciplinary graduate studies: Some thought-provoking appreciations II

The potential impact of problem-based learning (PBL) in interdisciplinary graduate studies is indicated by these statements written as part of the student evaluations of the 2011 offering of a PBL course on “Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology” [GRST].  The statements are included here not primarily to boast about the course but rather to stimulate thinking about what might aim to be doing when we teach graduate students. (See also 2009 statements.)

• The GRST course provides an entry into the complexities of science and technology as they interact with society (in the context of gender, race, class, etc.) while immersing and introducing students in the PBL pedagogical framework. The course provides a supportive environment in which to identify personal strengths and weaknesses and develop personally and professionally. It also stimulates interest, development of projects, and multidisciplinary exploration and collaboration, taking all participants as equals with something valuable to contribute. Build-in feedback mechanisms and dialogue processes provide a means for tremendous support and opening intellectual avenues while allowing all voices to be heard.
• For someone who wants a break from lectures and wants real collaborative feedback, this course is great. It wasn’t always clear how “structured” or “free-style” the professors envisioned students’ projects or comments to be, but overall this was a great course where I leaned a lot about the process of research and what it means to research the barriers surrounding scientific knowledge based on race, gender, class, expertise, etc. It‘s also a great opportunity to think critically about the intersections between scholarship and activism.
• The opportunity to engage: 1. With students from a variety of disciplines; 2. With material outside of my own discipline; 3. In ways not explicitly encouraged by my discipline. All this allowed me to broaden my horizons, but in regards to my relationship with my own discipline and in regards to my perspectives about race and gender.
• This course is about learning how to learn. It allowed me to take my personal interests and connections to each individual case and develop my own line of inquiry. If I got stuck, someone was there to help me. Particularly for someone who has novice knowledge of STS, this course provided a safe space for me to ask questions and develop my won thoughts about how I interact with STS.
• This course is a gift – the chance to be open – open-ended in design, open to process, open to other perspectives, open to changing your ideas, and open to sharing. Of course this means it’s risky too – you won’t always know when you’re coming from or where you are going – you might think you aren’t sufficiently grounded by the course. But you have the freedom to change that – and being on the other side of it now, I see it works out beautifully. The attention to process provides you the tools to grow and by the end you’re riding the wave of your earlier work – just choose an area of science and/or feminist/anti-racist criticism and run with it.
• I learned so much from this course. It allowed me to build projects and presentations based on my own interests, which eventually led to a topic I will likely write my Master’s Thesis on. One of the strong points of this class is that it really helps you articulate what you’re interested in, if you don’t already know. I also liked the group dynamic. All the students respected and supported each other, and had so much to offer to one another. I’m a fairly shy person, but I usually felt comfortable in this class. And, Peter and Sally are wonderful, helpful people. One thing I think should be stated more clearly to students before they take this class is that it is a PBL class and that it will be very different from their other courses. It requires A LOT of work, not a whole lot of structure, and many presentations. They should be comfortable with these aspects before committing to take this course.
• This course has provided me with the opportunity to become a critical thinker, which is a life skill. I believe strongly that this course has not only made me a better academic investigator, but a stronger contributor to classroom discussions. In addition, I have gained the opportunity about how to use other disciplines in my research.
• This course is NOT a traditional course and students who are looking for book learning should approach with caution. With that said, everyone should take this course. I would like to hear more about the teacher’s experience and perhaps research ideas.
• This course was very enlightening in its approach. It encourages the students to take the initiative in their own development, but offers a supportive environment where the student is guided by the professors.

Guided tour of my service and institutional development work III

I. Building a Basis for Interdisciplinary Science, Health, and Environmental Education and Research

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

B. At UMass Boston

1. Science, Technology & Values Program. Since becoming STV director in January 2004, I articulated and pursued many concrete steps grouped under four overall goals:
• build the students numbers in the Program;
• maintain a regular and rich set of courses to fulfill STV requirements;
• build a community of faculty and students around the program; and
• build external recognition for the program.
Community-building is the goal I have made most progress towards. I helped initiate monthly discussion meetings of interested faculty while assistant STV director, then built on this in organizing a semester-long thematic Inter-college faculty Seminar in Science and Humanities, which started in spring 2004 and has continued most semesters since. ISHS is a “forum for discussion and interaction among faculty at UMass-Boston. Faculty from different disciplines and colleges come together to focus on topics of common interest, exchange ideas, renew their intellectual energy, and advance their work in a spirit of adventure and collaboration.” As well as building community around the STV program, ISHS was designed to bridge the Humanities/Sciences gap after the separation of the College of Arts and Sciences into two colleges. As an early and regular participant noted: “This is the only game in town.” (This statement is no longer strictly true, as the Center for Urban Cultural History, the Center for Science and Math In Context, and the Community Engagement Research Cluster have begun the sponsor cross-college seminars and discussions.)

2. Curriculum development for Education for Sustainability. In fall 2002, Chancellor Gora and Dean Kibel reactivated Education for Sustainability initiatives at UMB and appointed me chair of the committee to Infuse Sustainability into the Curriculum, assisted by Steve Rudnick of Environmental Studies. The committee developed a vision of sustainability that integrated an environmentally sustainable (“green”) economy, with just and equitable governance, and an engaged populace. The corresponding teaching mission was that curricula should seek to develop students’ ability to:
• appreciate and monitor the state of the environment, social structure, human health —to become “environmentally literate”;
• understand and analyze the complexities of phenomena that link economics, politics, culture, history, biology, geology, and physical processes;
• be involved in dynamic, vigorous exchange across the traditional disciplinary boundaries within and between natural and social/human sciences; and
• work within specific communities to facilitate self-conscious, reflective engagement with linked socio-environmental processes.
The plans of this committee progressed as far as hosting a pair of faculty curriculum development workshops, from which some new curriculum units or courses arose. Since these workshops, however, we were not able to sustain our efforts; my judgement was that we needed to pause until the reorganization of the Environmental Science and Studies units was completed and until what became called the Center for Environmental Health, Science, and Technology had taken shape. While this was happening, the administrators who had sponsored the Education for Sustainability initiative left the University. When I was made director of STV, Steve Rudnick took over primary responsibility for further work of this committee.

3. Health in Society Research Discussion Group. While I was developing a doctoral course on epidemiological thinking for the Public Policy and Nursing programs, I came to see that there was a critical mass of UMB faculty and doctoral students who had (or were developing) an epidemiological focus (broadly construed) to their research and teaching. Given our diverse institutional locations (and distracting administrative demands), it seemed we might benefit from regular exchange with each other. This discussion group took the form of a monthly meeting of 1.5-2 hours from November 2007 through Spring 2009, where we took it in turns to share a manuscript or grant proposal, lead a discussion on a published paper, or discuss a syllabus. Distracting administrative demands for several members, unfortunately, led to HisReDG going into hibernation.

4. Transdisciplinary Research Workshop Proposal. In the proposal, which I initiated in spring ‘08, a group of faculty and graduate students would have sustained interaction about their research interests over a semester (like ISHS), but with topics shaped to support the University’s research cluster initiative. The motivation was that University’s research cluster initiative should build in support for transdisciplinary interactions that draw in personnel not directly involved in externally- and internally-funded cluster-based research. Depending on the mode of such interactions, they could have all or some of these benefits:
a. Generating novel ideas and initiating collaborations to pursue them and submit funding proposals;
b. Maintaining a pipeline of personnel from outside any cluster into its projects. (Doing this for junior faculty is an important component of mentoring them);
c. Acknowledging the intellectual work of faculty who are not well aligned with the clusters (and preempting any insider-outsider ill-feelings);
d. Facilitating work at the overlap of clusters (e.g., public health and developmental science); and
e. Promoting critical, social contextualization of new research developments (without making the common move of placing such discussion into a separate “Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications” box).
The proposal was well-received by the incoming Provost, but got left on hold until the research clusters were launched. In the meantime, the Provost convened a cross-college working group to initiate a cross-college Science and Society graduate program.

5. Science in a Changing World. The initiative to create a cross-college Science and Society graduate program ended up taking the form of a graduate Certificate and M.A. track within CCT on “Science in a Changing World,” which was approved in spring 2009. Steps are being taken towards certification as a Professional Science Masters, create visibility for the track (through twitter, a blog, a “Changing Science, Changing Society” Expo of Boston-area groups, and international collaboration with Science, Technology and Society Research Group at the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra in Portugal (with seed funding from the OITA at UMass Boston). In the fall of 2010, University College agreed to fund a 50% assistant coordinator position for this track contingent on the Program scheduling more sections of required courses and electives so that the Master’s degree in the new track could be completed by students entirely by taking sections offered through University College.

The impact of problem-based learning in interdisciplinary graduate studies: Some thought-provoking appreciations

The potential impact of problem-based learning (PBL) in interdisciplinary graduate studies is indicated by these statements written as part of the student evaluations of a 2009 offering of a PBL course on “Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology” [GRST].  The statements are included here not primarily to boast about the course but rather to stimulate thinking about what might aim to be doing when we teach graduate students.

• About PBL: I do think that for STS [science and technology studies], creativity is very important. PBL entitles students the right to create their own research without too much limitation. Students may become narrow minded, however how to balance lectures with PBL may be a good question to explore. About the class: I love this class. Presentations and discussion let everyone get the equal opportunity to participate in this class. We have diverse students in our classroom, and this is important to build an inclusive classroom. About the teaching: This course teaches students how to learn the learning and how to change what they know into what they are wondering.

• The course provided a space to think about issues both in an academic way and in an applied way. Critical questions about our social worlds were brought up. Opportunities to do work rather than just absorb information. The strengths of the course are that instructors really created a space for us to develop our own line of inquiry. This is a huge challenge – allowing yourself to follow important questions.

• This course was challenging, inspiring, and fulfilling in many ways. The pedagogy, diversity of students and their strengths and interests and their professors’ expertise and day-to-day support was invaluable.

• I would highly recommend GRST to any student, regardless of STS background. The self-steering nature of the course is an ideal setting for the knowledge seeking graduate student. The diversity of topics, professors, and a refreshing course made a great experience!

• I was given the space to pursue my own interests without being nervous about quality. (This allowed us to take risks!) I was introduced to research, scholars, books, materials, and ideas that I was not aware of. And this allowed me to find connections with my own innate interests. I was challenged to do better work all the time, as we were asked to do revise and resubmits. Having individualized, evolving bibliographies was the best part, and the professors worked with each of us on these throughout the week.

• Breaking apart the typical format and rhythm of most graduate learning environments is hard. Knowledge in core disciplines must be gained and “standards” of an academic profession imparted. But where is the joy and love of learning that made us all want to be students for as long as we can be? This class brings the exploration and inquiry back. It feels messy at times and frustrating and stressful, but what gets produced is amazing and deep and diverse and makes you want to know – “What’s next?” Who committed to higher learning wouldn’t want to participate in a course like this?

• During this course I have been challenged in ways that I thought were impossible, but that I had been craving in my home graduate program. People often talk about grad school being a place where you really begin to produce your own knowledge, but I had yet to do that apart from initial work I had begun (outside of classes and under no supervision) on my thesis. This class opened the door for me to be a producer and a thinker of my own knowledge that I had sought out. It has really changed me as a “student”, and I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity to work with [the instructors] to do it.

Guided tour of my teaching ’05-’09: community-building, wikis & documentation

Although I have taught fewer classes because of course releases under research grants and for administration, the seven strands of the previous two phases [see previous posts] continued, but with additions or extensions in four significant and overlapping directions:
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