Seminar in Critical Thinking: Science in Society
CCT611 Spring 1999

Prof. Peter Taylor, Critical & Creative Thinking Program


Overview of course themes
This seminar explores how to engage students and citizens in science by socially contextualizing it, that is, by examining specifically how scientists as practicing social and intellectual agents build diverse aspects of their "sociality" into the particular ways they know the world and practice their science. It is also a course in critical thinking in the following sense: Theories and practices that have been accepted or taken for granted can be better understood by placing them in tension with what else could be, or could have been, e.g., contrasting models of inborn intelligence with models of multiple intelligences developed over time through a variety of social interactions. Two contrasting, yet complementary frameworks are used for illuminating "society in science in society":
1. Heterogeneous construction & intersecting processes: "Construction" here connotes:
i) many elements are linked together over time ->
ii) things have multiple contributing causes ->
iii) there are multiple points of engagement or intervention (points at which the courses of construction could be changed).
Heterogeneous construction emphasizes the diversity of kinds of elements, so we examine the diverse resources scientists harness--from funding opportunities to metaphors, from status hierarchies in their field to available sources of data. A corresponding range of practical interventions, not just conceptual shifts, are (or would have been) needed to modify the development of the episode of science under consideration. Another way of expressing heterogeneous construction is that processes of different kinds and scales, involving heterogeneous elements, intersect in the production of any outcome and in their own on-going transformation.
2. Angles of illumination & critical heuristics: Simpler, general interpretive themes are easier to convey and receive more notice than more faithful but complicated accounts of causes. Recognizing this, each week introduces one or more themes for interpretation, which I call angles of illumination or critical heuristics. Heuristics are propositions that stimulate, orient, or guide our inquiries, yet break down when applied too widely, and critical heuristics are ones that place established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives.
The course's different case studies and activities--accessible to non-specialists--will be drawn primarily from the life sciences. They will allow us to examine scientists' historical location, economic and political interests, use of language, and ideas about causality and responsibility and tease out the diverse linguistic, intellectual, and practical resources harnessed in scientific work. This approach to critical thinking about the diverse influences shaping biological sciences and thought more generally illustrates and promotes dialog among the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. You will address the course material simultaneously on a number of levels: as an opportunity to learn the subject yourselves; as providing models for your own future teaching; and as a basis for discussions about educational practice and philosophy, construed broadly as a project of stimulating greater citizen involvement in scientific debates.
The course also explores two other, complementary features of teaching science in its social context:
* Reciprocal animation: Close examination of conceptual developments within the sciences can lead to questions about the social influences shaping scientists' work or its application, which, in turn, can lead to new questions and awareness of alternative approaches in those sciences. For example, although agricultural researchers traditionally claim to work for the benefit of society and humanity, what happens when this rhetoric is eclipsed by the necessity of a profit incentive?
* On-going pedagogical development: There are few models for teaching critical thinking about science. In any case, teachers of critical thinking cannot learn by following instructions. Teachers, like their students, have to experiment, take risks, and through experience have built up a set of tools that work for them. Moreover, teachers have to adapt these teaching tools to cope with the different ways that students in each class respond when invited to address alternatives, uncertainty, and taking more responsibility for learning. An emphasis on critical thinking tends to imply, even in large classes, an individualized model of teacher-student interaction. Students' corresponding raised expectations are difficult to fulfill, and their responses are sometimes emotionally intense, especially in the case of science students. This makes sense when we recall that their success in science has depended on learning what others already have discovered and systematized. For all these reasons, pedagogical development must be on-going.

Learning through dialogue around written work

"Revise and resubmit" is a characteristic feature of the teaching/learning interactions I seek with my students. The process should not, however, be seen as making changes to please the teacher or to meet some standard. It should be seen as using the eye of others to develop your own thinking and make it work better on readers. I continue to request revision when I judge that the interaction can still yield significant learning; it does not mean your submission was "bad." Even when the first submissions of written assignments are excellent, angles for learning through dialogue are always opened up.

In my comments I try to capture where the writer was taking me and make suggestions for how to clarify and extend the impact on readers of what was written. After letting my comments sink in you may conclude that I have missed the point. In this case, my misreading should stimulate you to revise so as to help readers avoid mistaking the intended point. If you do not understand the directions I saw in your work or those I suggest for the revision, a face-to-face or phone conversation is the obvious next step--written comments have definite limitations when writers and readers to appreciate and learn from what each other is saying and thinking.

A minimum of two in-office or phone conferences on your assignments and projects are required. I want want to reduce the chance that you avoid dialogue around comments on written work, dialogue through which profound issues are sometimes opened up about one's relationship to audience and influencing others.

Read chapters 3 and 13 of Peter Elbow's Writing With Power for a wealth of insight about the processes of sharing written work and revising with feedback.

In addition to dialogue around comments, I think of some of the assignments, such as the annotated bibliography, and tasks, such as note-making in preparation for class, as your having an active dialogue with others--weighted towards your interests--even when they are not physically present. Such dialogue will help you to think deeply about how the information you are reading, listening to, or writing about connects with and perhaps alters your course project and your work more generally.

The course website has links to some Notes on writing and revising, including Freewriting suggestions

I encourage you to make use of class meetings and the list of others students' phone numbers to arrange pair peer sharing and commenting according to whatever terms you pre-arrange. This will enable you to expand the kinds of readers to whom you are responding and to avoid the trap of writing as if the reader is the professor who knows enough about the topic and your thinking to fill in what hasn't been said explicitly or clearly.

I keep carbon copies of my comments, but when you submit revisions, please resubmit the previous version(s) with my marginal notes.

Please revise and resubmit promptly. The yield for your learning is lower if you are no longer thinking about what you were at the time you wrote.

I sometimes request revise and resubmit on project reports. If not enough time is left for revisions, I submit an incomplete grade or, if you specifically ask me to do this, calculate and submit a final grade without an OK/RNR for the report.

Before, during, and after class--Critical thinking about course readings and discussions

CCT aims to help its students become reflective practitioners (or "practicing reflectors"). The most important goal of this course, therefore, is that you actively ask questions about sciecne in its social context--not just during class time, but all the time. In this spirit, the class meetings are designed assuming that you will have already done quite a bit of thinking, formulated questions, and connected the week's topics to previous week's topics and to your own interests and projects. Furthermore, after class you are expected to reflect on the class and integrate new perspectives into your notes, preparation for subsequent classes, and your developing projects. Various components of the course are intended to contribute to this reflection/critical thinking:

1. Weekly Questions. This course packet and the weekly handouts contain background notes and questions to guide your reading and preparation for class. Sometimes, in addition, questions are included for reflection after the class.

2. A Journal with weekly responses and notes on readings, class discussions, clippings, websites, and weekly questions. Through writing in your journal, you will be better able to weave the course material into your own thinking, and to bring your own thinking into class activities. In preparation for class, you might write in your journal a commentary on readings, or, after class, review the readings and the class activities. In either case explore, when appropriate, the relationship between your project/ interests and the readings/activities.
Journal excerpts to be submitted 5 times during the semester, and then revised and resubmitted in response to my comments on these extracts. Journals will be collected for perusal twice during the semester. Bind together pages with post-its or otherwise indicate which bits you do not want me to look at. I want to get an overall impression of your developing process of critical thinking about course readings and discussions.

3. Clippings packet. To keep up with current developments, compile a packet of clippings and xeroxes of articles from newspapers, magazines, journals, and websites. Write the full citation on each article, unless it is already included. Use post-its to add your own reflections on specific points in the articles you choose. Submit the packets twice at the same time as the journal is reviewed.

4. End-of-semester Portfolio. These should contain 4-6 examples of the process of development of your project and other thinking this semester about using computers to aid our thinking, learning, communication and action. Journal entries, free writing, drafts, etc. may be included. The point is to demonstrate the development of your work and thinking, not just the best products. Explain your choices in a cover note and through annotations (post-its are a good way to do this). Ask me if you want to see examples of portfolios done in other courses.

5. End of semester Evaluations. I devote the whole of the last class to "taking stock":
a) to feed into your future learning (and other work), you take stock of your process(es) over the semester;
b) to feed into my future teaching (and future learning about how students learn), I take stock of how you, the students, have learned.
Standard evaluation forms are not very conducive to taking stock, so I have designed another evaluation form for you to complete.

Communication before, during, and after class

The limited class meeting time means that we have to a) use the time efficiently, and b) keep lines of communication open out of class. The following practices should help:

Email or call me during the week if you see a problem in the readings (e.g., missing pages), the instructions need clarification, etc., especially when others might share your concern.

Arrange to have time on campus when you can read reserve readings, do library research for your projects, or consult with me during office hours. For people who have arranged a back-to-back class schedule, this will probably mean visiting campus on another day as well as the day of classes.

We'll start class on time. Late-comers should quietly but firmly join us--don't take a seat at the back or off to the side.

Build relations with your classmates--a lot of learning and opportunities for clarification can happen when you talk and share work with peers. This will also allow you to find out what happened and to get the handouts given out if you miss a class, and so you'll be able to prepare and participate actively in subsequent classes. The break mid-class, for which we take turns providing light refreshments (see sign-up sheet), is a good opportunity for connecting with others.

Remember to drop off and collect written work on your own from my in/out trays before you leave class. This gives me more time to set up the class and talk with you before and after class.

If you are not ready to submit an assignment or revision on the due date, submit a note about when you plan to do so. I am flexible about extensions, but I need to know that you are keeping track of your work, not simply falling and feeling behind.

Give yourself a chance to digest comments on your assignments, and don't try to squeeze in a discussion on them when we're in a rush or otherwise distracted. Instead, use office hours, phone calls, and email.

Later in the semester, when you're concentrating on your own projects, you might establish a daily check-in with a live or phone buddy to ensure that you're doing what is essential and not simply doing what has accumulated on your list of things to do. And to help you balance the divergent and convergent aspects of the research and writing process.

Office hours and phone conferences
Office hours for in-person (W 2.143.09) or phone conferences (617-287-7636): M 2.30-3.30, Tu 4.15-6.15
Priority is given to those who have signed up for an appointment.
If these times don't fit, please feel free to call me at home (781-648-8027): W, F 1-2pm & 8-9pm
I'll arrange another time if it's not convenient to talk when you call.

Email: I respond daily to email. If you have a problem that other students may share or a general comment send the message to me with "for CCT685" in the subject line and it will be forwarded, uncensored, to everyone in the course. I can handle email attachments, but prefer to comment on printed copies of assignments.
To setup a UMass email account, get your student ID and go to UL in Healey. If you want to use UMass as your link into the internet (a.k.a. Internet Service Provider), go to the Help Desk in Computer Services in the Science building and ask to set up a PPP account. You'll need to know the operating system of your home computer, the speed of your modem, and your UMass email account (user name) and password. Make sure you get the PPP software and persist in asking for help until you have the PPP software working. (Note: a PPP link is needed to use many of the library's databases, so you need to get a UMass account even if you don't use it for email.)
Email protocols: Confirm receipt of emails so I know they've got through.
Download and read emails carefully--don't respond quickly while you're logged in and paying for each minute.
Don't send a message with emotional impact until you've slept on it.
Don't send a message when it's a way to avoid talking or if it would be better to talk.
"For CCT611" emails: -be nice to each other--no flaming, no sharking, lots of praise and constructive suggestions;
-stick to business = the course, the life sciences and social influences; and
-never quote anything from email outside the class without permission from the submitter.

Stages in developing individual projects

Each of you define your own topics related to "the influences shaping some aspect of the life sciences, past or current." The final project report may take the form of a research paper, but as an alternative I encourage you to build on one or more tools, activities, or themes from the course, and to design a critical thinking activity for a class, organization, or your own personal development. I also encourage you to develop and revise your projects in relation to the Angles of Illumination, themes, debates, etc. in particular classes.

Initial steps:
- Sign-up for office hours or a phone conference to discuss your ideas.
- Read chapters 1 and 2 from Elbow in the course packet regarding the interplay of the creative and the critical in thinking and writing.
- Try out freewriting for 10 minutes. Suggested initial topic: "I would like my work on X to influence Y to make changes in Z..." See other freewriting topics on the course web-site.
- Compose an initial statement about your project (one or two paragraphs that may, several revisions later, find their way into the introduction of your report). The point is not to have your project defined straight away, but to begin and then to continue the process of defining and refining it. In preparation for writing this statement, I suggest making notes for yourself describing:
your area of interest;
the specific case(s) you plan to consider;
the more general statement of the problem or issue beyond the specific case;
how you became concerned about this case/area;
what you want to know about this case/area by the end of the semester;
what action you think someone (specify who) should be taking on this issue;
what help you foresee needing in order to do the research; and
who the audience for your research report might be.
- Define an initial "thesis question," one question that captures your focus, orientation (where you're going and taking your audience), and purpose (including the audience/situation to be influenced). Keeping the thesis question in mind will help guide you through the complexity of possible considerations so that you more easily decide priorities about what to read, who to speak to, and, in general, what to do in your project.
- Begin background library, WWW, and phone research to find out who's done what before/ who's doing what (through writing & action) that informs your evolving project.
- Create a system for organizing your journal/workbook, research materials, and class handouts.

Annotated bibliography (of reading completed or planned). The primary goal in asking for annotations is for you to check the significance of the reading against your current project definition and priorities. Annotations, therefore, should indicate the relevance of the article to your topic. An annotated bibliography also allows you to a) compose sentences that may find its way into your writing, and b) have your citations already typed in (use the format/citation style you intend to use for your final report).
Focus is more important than quantity. Don't pack or pad this with zillions of references you've found in your searches, but instead use the assignment as a stimulus to your clarifying whether and in what ways an article is relevant to your project. Do not include readings that no longer relate to the current direction of your project.
Because your topic might have changed or should be more concise now, take stock of that and begin the bibliography with a revised statement of the current topic and a thesis question that conveys the focus, orientation, and purpose of your project. Writing a tighter statement will also help to expose changes, gaps, and ambiguities. I hope my comments on your initial statements also help. Do not bother responding, of course, to those of my comments that are rendered irrelevant by changes in your direction.

Project presentation: When students prepare for their presentations, especially when they design visual aids, and when they hear themselves speak their presentations, it usually leads to self-clarification of the overall argument underlying their research and the eventual written reports. This, in turn, influences prioritizing of research for the remaining time. These presentations will necessarily be on work-in-progress, so you'll have to indicate where additional research is needed and where you think it might lead you.
There won't be time for extensive discussion, so, to allow for more feedback, the rest of us will use notecards to make suggestions.
I recommend using visual aids, of which the simplest to use are overhead transparencies. Tips: include only key words or prompts to what you're going to say; 15-20 words only on any sheet; text should be 1/2 inch high or more. Get some transparencies and borrow pens from me, or bring material to copy center to be xeroxed onto overhead transparencies. Return spare pens and overhead sheets in the envelope outside my office door.

Narrative outline: An outline or plan of your report with explanatory sentences inserted at key places:
i) to explain in a declarative style the point of each section;
ii) to explain how each section links to the previous one and/or to the larger section or the whole report it's part of. The object of doing a narrative outline is to move you beyond the preliminary thinking that goes into a standard outline, which looks like a table of contents. Insertion of explanatory sentences helps you check that your ideas and material really will fit your outline. Examples in the course packet illustrate how previous students have interpreted this assignment.
(Preparing visual aids for presentations can help order your thoughts for an outline, and vice versa.)

Draft: A key thing I look for is whether you Grab readers' attention, Orient them, and move through Steps so that they appreciate the Position you, the writer, has led them to.
I recommend reading Elbow chapters. 4 & 5 on Direct Writing & Quick Revising, then doing this for 90 minutes with the goal of completing an extended narrative outline or short draft (say 4-5 pages). After completing this, read Elbow section III on revising, take stock of comments received on your outlines, and then prepare the draft of your research report.
After the draft is completed I ask you to pair up and comment on another student's draft. Take Elbow's chapters 3 & 13 in mind when you decide what approaches to commenting you ask for as a writer and use as a commentator. In the past I made lots of specific suggestions for clarification and change in the margins, but in my experience, such suggestions led only a minority of students beyond touching up into re-thinking and revising their ideas and writing. On the other hand, I believe that all writers value comments that reassure them that they have been listened to and their voice, however uncertain, has been heard.

Final report: These should be 10-15 pages or 2000-3000 words (plus references). If the report presents an activity for a class, organization, or your own personal development, you may have fewer words for the same number of pages.
For the final project report to be counted as final, you must have revised in response to comments on previously submitted outlines/drafts. Allow time for the additional research that may be entailed.
Cite references consistently (an annotated bibliography is not needed). For a guide on technical matters of writing scholarly papers, I recommend Turabian, K. L. (1996). A Manual For Writers of Term papers, Theses, and Disertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
I will keep the reports to show future students so please make another copy to keep for yourself. If you send me a check for xeroxing and postage, I will send you a compilation of the final reports.

Details about the Assessment system

For each of the two parts of the grade--Written assignments and presentations, and Participation and contribution to the class process--"basic work" gives you an automatic B+.
To have a chance--but not a guarantee--of getting a higher grade, "additional work" is taken into account.
If you do not complete the basic work, the grade is pro-rated downwards. A passing grade of C requires 50% of the assignments or items in the following:

Written assignments and presentations:
Basic work = 80% of assignments (10 of 13) marked OK/RNR, which means "OK, Resubmission Not Requested." That is, you must submit assignments, revise in response to comments, and resubmit promptly until OK/RNR. For the project report to be OK/RNR, you must have revised in response to comments on the outline and draft.
Additional work = Final research report will be graded.

Participation and contribution to the class process:
Basic work = 80% (=13) of the following 17 items: Attendance and prepared participation at the 13 class meetings and two required conferences, plus keeping a journal (reviewed twice). If you miss a class, arrange to find out what happened and get any handouts so you can prepare adequately to participate in subsequent classes.
Additional work = Active participation and End-of-semester Portfolio.

Rationale: Not grading the different assignments and granting an automatic B+ for the basic work is intended to keep the focus on appreciating and learning from what each other is saying and thinking. I have found that, even when the first submissions of written assignments are excellent, angles are opened up for learning through dialogue around comments. I continue to request revision, not until a certain standard is reached, but as long as the interaction can still yield significant learning (see "Learning through dialogue around written work" in the course packet).

Additional options: 1) Alternative grading system: Students can, at the end of the semester, submit to be graded their full set of assignments and revisions. (Note: Last minute, overdue assignments cannot be added at this stage.) I will assign a grade based on the best version of each assignment. Similarly, grades can be requested for participation and contribution to class process. In both cases, if the grade turns out lower than under the system above, the better grade stands.

2) Half-value for unrevised assignments: Although I would rather no-one relies on this, at the end of the semester for students below the basic level, I count assignments that were submitted more or less on time, but were not resubmitted until OK/RNR, as half value. Similarly, half value is assigned when the student attends class, but was clearly unprepared.

3) There is no Pass/Fail option.

Basic course protocols/expectations

1. Make time to work on the course outside class, at least 6-7 hours/week. Preferably, set aside clear block(s) of time to do this.

2. Be responsible about course involvement (incl. pre-reading and preparation for class activities, attendance, arrival on time, discussion, contact about non-attendance and late work)--don't wait for me to check in with you. If you miss a class, arrange to find out what happened and get the handouts given out so you can be prepared to participate actively in subsequent classes.

3. Use the 80% requirement in the assessment system (see above) to drop some assignments and miss some classes when you need to accommodate to competing demands from work and life in general.

4. Read guidelines and rationales given in this course packet and in other handouts. The class meeting times are too short to explain everything (see section above on "Communication before, during, and after class").

5. Do assignments on a wordprocessor so you can revise them readily. Resubmit assignments when requested, responding to comments from me and sometimes from other students. Submit assignments and revisions on due dates, or submit a note about when you plan to do so.

6. Bring journals to every class, to draw from or write in during in-class activities.

7. Arrange WWW access and get an email address, either through UMB or a place, e.g., your local library, where you can use a web browser and access email during the week between classes.

8. Make suggestions about changes and additions to the course activities and materials. Support me as I experiment in developing this course.
Updated 3 Feb. 99