Critical thinking as a journey ( a youtube)

This 44-minute youtube is a practice run of an interactive lecture, designed to explore the implications of defining critical thinking as understanding ideas and practices better by holding them in tension with alternatives and of viewing each student’s development as a journey. Audience members will leave with their own short checklist of tools and processes to put into practice, including ways of assessing their professional development as teachers of critical thinking. (Sources and extensions)


Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement, now published

Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement by Peter Taylor and Jeremy Szteiter is now available.  This is a “field-book of tools and processes to help readers in all fields develop as researchers, writers, and agents of change.”

(For more details and how to purchase: Printing and distribution in Australia and Europe is being arranged.)

This is the first of what I hope will be more books published by the new press, named after a 1980s Somerville-Cambridge discussion group, itself named after an old Pumping Station on the Charles River in Waltham with a gesture to a quote by Henry Moore about one of his sculptures: “it had great drama with its big heart like a great pumping station.”

Comments on the Taking Yourself Seriously approach to developing as a researcher, writer and agent of change

a healthcare professional and story-teller
“I learned is to ‘hold my ideas loosely’, which means accepting my own idea
as a valid one but always leaving space open to take in counterarguments.”

“I learned to give myself permission to be circular and come back to previous steps or thoughts, and I actually became more comfortable doing so.”

“I was able to get engaged in a project that I was able to actually use in work, which was extremely satisfying. The whole process encouraged me, and I felt very empowered as a change agent, which could be an exhilarating feeling.”

a biologist-turned-web designer
“I really had not been used to thinking about my own thinking, so learning
to do that also helped me to slow down and start to look away from the career path that I had been taking for granted.”

“Many of my colleagues… went to school to become web developers but
[this approach] allowed me to believe that traditional classes are not always necessary to learn. [The] teachings, which included networking, self-study, research, meta-cognition, and enjoying the process (in an organized way),
kept me believing that I could learn what was necessary to succeed on my own.”

a teacher
“Doing good research involves not just letting the information of others supersede your own, but thinking about your own understanding as lying at the top of past research, standing beyond it but also being supported by it.”

“I found that my experience in the courses helped me to accept feedback
from other professionals. I am more comfortable with listening to why my own ideas might not work or need further evaluation. This even happens to the point where I find reasons now to seek out this kind of feedback.”

“I have become much more patient with people, recognizing more fully that people have their own timelines and that students need to have some
freedom to say when they have had enough during a learning experience.”

“I now consider reflection and sharing an important part of evolution of a person in their learning. Reflection means not only thinking about our own experiences and retrieving memories or feelings, but also then sharing reflections with others as a way of allowing the self to receive feedback.
Doing this shows a sophistication as a learner.”

an adult educator
“I took away the idea of putting one’s action into a ritual, where the ritual is
a way of helping oneself create some consistency in organizing the process of work and even developing habits of work that have a sacred quality.”

“I had viewed research as a process of collecting information into a sort of database and reviewing it effectively. I have now revised my notions to
include a more broad understanding of interconnectedness between people and ideas. An important part of research is to keep relationships going.”

“I liked the way that [I learned] to play with confusion and to consider this
in my own teaching. I have come to see confusion mostly as an indication that people are uncomfortable with freedom and want to get comfortable by knowing what is expected.”

“[The approach has] had a profound effect on my professional development
as an educator. The “system”… for getting graduate students to “take themselves seriously” cultivates graduate students’ ability to work through big projects of diverse forms. The methods I learned from [this] approach have been a tremendous benefit to me as a writer, educator, presenter, and in organizing my personal projects as well.”

a teacher, currently working in publishing
“One of the most useful idea from the courses was the use of dialogue,
which helps to slow down the procedures used by the company. There’s a tension between management’s need to make quick decisions and desire to have real dialogue around proposed changes—changes to the internal company operational procedures as well as to evaluating the quality of what the company is doing with its publications.”

“[This approach has] instilled in me a sense of responsibility and empowerment to be an agent of change for the betterment of my professional and personal communities.”

a college librarian
“I was asked to pay attention to what I actually could do instead of what I could not. This enabled me to (1) step back and let go of a huge technical problem (that I really had no ability or interest to solve), and (2) identify where my actual interest rested and actual skills intersected with what
needed to be done. I realized that I could unite my passion to advance visual
thinking with my skills in communication and group facilitation.”

Guided tour of my service and institutional development work V

III. Leadership in Regular Service

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

1. Department
Once I began to serve as interim Department Chair in 2006, I solicited overdue administrative matters from department members (such as, honoraria not yet received for guests speakers in classes), but then invited each faculty member to meet for a chat about their work, keeping administrative matters off the agenda. I learned so much about the experience and motivation of colleagues, including part-timers, who met with me and was embarrassed how much I hadn’t known. When I subsequently articulated priorities for department members “when faced with competing demands on our work time” (Table 2), I saw that I had addressed priority #2 when setting out to clear up the administrative backlog and priority #3 when inviting colleagues to talk about their work and lives.

Other steps I took relate to the “Qualities to Pursue in Service and Institutional Development” (table 1), such as:
• establishing a departmental wiki to make information about committee assignments and established procedures accessible (e.g., College guidelines for personnel reviews) and keep a record of meetings for those who couldn’t attend or who came later [qualities of: documenting, transparency, organization].
• combining information and news in regular email bulletins (backed up on the wiki), eliminating the time-consuming information-transmitting part of meetings and making room for more learning more about each others’ work and lives [organization and community-building]
• instituting the required (but rarely undertaken) annual staff reviews so as to provide a basis for improvement (or, if need be, dismissal) [documenting]
articulating the principles that might govern our departmental work, both at the particular level of equitable committee assignments and the more visionary level (such as Table 2) [probing].
Perhaps most importantly, I created a well-organized CD of relevant documents, spreadsheets, etc. for each of the three subsequent Chairs and made time to support their learning and planning [documenting, organization].

2. College
Similar qualities informed my leadership of the College Curriculum Committee (2000-2, 2005-6) and College Personnel Committee in 2003 and 2008-10 (especially when some contentious issues of process arose), as well as many personnel reviews at the Department and College level.

3. Modeling and mentoring in teaching innovation and administration
Documentation of tools and processes from the Critical & Creative Thinking Graduate Program,, especially the book manuscript, Taking Yourself Seriously.
AQUAD reviews and reports between reviews for CCT and LTET, and (2002-present)
Teaching for Transformation and other C.I.T. sessions (incl. 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)
Academic Life wiki entries (including entries on e-etiquette, consensus decision-making, collegiality),
Teaching as Reflective practice session for pre-tenured faculty,
Probe-Create Change-Reflect blog, (2010-present)

Notes on consensus decision-making
Some practices and principles that help a department be supportive, collegial, and congenial
What comes first — a hierarchy of responsibilities
What principles govern our service in the institution
Etiquette in email-mediated interactions
Administrators’ Responsibilities
Guidelines for educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies
Virtual Office
Use of wikis
Themes, Practices, Resources for Faculty-initiated Mentoring

5. Mid-career student and faculty professional development at UMass Boston
Directing the Graduate Program in Critical & Creative Thinking (1999-2004, 2007-)
Task Force on Educational Technology, MEET Technology fellow, Instructional Technology Center Senior Fellowship (2000-2)
Co-organizing the initial site visit that secured the initial $350K Ford Foundation grant for N.E.C.I.T. (2002)
Co-organizing and co-leading the Curriculum Development workshops for the Education for Sustainability Initiative (2002-3)
Initiating and leading the Intercollege Faculty Seminar in Humanities and Sciences (since 2004)
Teaching across colleges (at various levels) and across campuses (since 2005)
Initiating and leading the Health In Society Research Discussion Group (2007-9)
Preparing a proposal for a Transdisciplinary Research Workshop (2008)
Co-organizing and co-leading the CCT Network (online and monthly events that connect current and former students of CCT) (since 2008)
Organizing and sometimes leading a Writing Support Group for graduate students (2009-11)
Leading a C.I.T. faculty seminar on “Engaging Students in a Changing University” (2010)

More notes on the use of educational technology

This post expands on the objectives presented in the previous post for educators when learning about computers and technology in education.  (The objectives set the scene for general guidelines for the use of educational technology to be presented in the next post).

Consider objectives b to e in turn:

b. Plan to learn through ongoing Professional Development how to use the technologies you decide to adopt or adapt

Administrators have often allocated funds for new software and hardware and promoted new initiatives to promote computers in education without providing teachers the training, support, and opportunities for ongoing professional development they need to use those purchases well and keep up with initiatives (Becker 1994). In order to address this imbalance the first goal of any course should be to engender in teachers a commitment to and capacity for ongoing professional development (PD).

c. Develop Learning Communities in which we help each other to learn about learning and think about change

PD is like a journey in that it takes us into unknown areas or allow us to see familiar areas in a fresh light; involve risk; require support; create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight; and yield personal changes. In this sense, PD is also personal development and it is essential from the outset to work on building learning communities (see Appendix 1 for more on PD learning communities). In a PD Learning Community we can learn a lot from each other and from teaching others what we know (see Appendix 2 on Learning to use new tools). We can also transfer this learning community model into how we help students learn and into how we find technology “mentors” to guide and support our future, self-directed learning.

d. Respond to the Push for Teachers to Use Educational Technology

The push for teachers to use educational technology often means we try to bring computers into teaching without a clear idea of pedagogical advantages and of ways to ensure learning happens and knowledge is gained. We should be able to respond to the push with more discrimination and to influence decision-making if we:

    a) develop guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit;
    b) identify questions that need to be researched (or that we need to locate the up to date research on);
    c) evaluate critically the stated reasons given for the push; and
    d) understand the less-often-discussed reasons (social, historical, commercial, administrative).

(See Appendix 3 for warm-up, critical thinking exercise.)

e. Examine the Wider Social Changes Surrounding Computer Use

To be creative and critical about the use of technological tools we should consider possible future changes in computers and related technology in society at large — many of these will feed into education and into our lives and those of our students. A toolkit for thinking about these visions of the future would include themes to interpret where we have come from (the history of computers in society, Edwards 1996) and alternative possibilities for where we might be going. As Joseph Weizenbaum, author of Computer Power and Human Reason responded, when asked if computers could one day replace teachers, “Yes, computers could to that, but why would you want them to?”


Becker, H. J. (1994). “A truly empowering technology-rich education‹How much will it cost?” Educational IRM Quarterly 3(1): 31-35.
Edwards, P. N. (1996). The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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