University of Massachusetts at Boston

College of Advancing & Professional Studies

Critical and Creative Thinking Program

Processes of Research & Engagement

CrCrTh 692

Course description

In this course, students identify issues in educational or other professional settings on which to focus their critical and creative thinking skills. Each student works through the different stages of research and action -- from defining a manageable project to communicating findings and plans for further work. The classes run as workshops, in which students are introduced to and then practice using tools for research, writing, communicating, and supporting the work of others.

Fall 2019 Syllabus

Video overview. The synchronous sessions may be shorter than implied by the syllabus, with students expected to view pre-recorded material in advance. Some of the synchronous sessions will be totally online (when the instructor is out of town).

Components of the syllabus:

I. Quick access to key information and links that should be bookmarked on your browser
followed by
II. Information to get started, orient yourself, and refer back to from time to time.
III. Contract: What is expected overall.
IV. Schedule of classes: What is expected each session and why -- how each session contributes to the unfolding of the course (starting with list of links to specific sessions).
POST-IT the start of each component in your printed version of this syllabus

Peter Taylor, Critical & Creative Thinking Program
617-287-7636 (but use email for quicker response)
Wheatley 4th floor, room 170
Office hours ( or in person by arrangement):
1.40-3.40pm Tuesdays,, or by arrangement
Class time & location
Tuesdays 7-9.45pm, 9/10-12/10; W 4-170 or by Zoom at
Some synchronous sessions may be shorter, with students expected to view pre-recorded material.
Report glitches in online materials
using this form
Syllabus (also accessible via blog)
BOOKMARK THIS! Wordpress site (aka blog), for posting & commenting on assignments
BOOKMARK THIS! Assignment checklist & private site for instructor posting of comments on assignments, where xx = your first name in lower case [no hyphens or spaces].

II. Information to get started, orient yourself, and refer back to from time to time
Pointers about the preparation assumed for this course
(in lieu of formal prerequisites): Through your previous courses, you should have developed the disposition of "experiment[ing] with new tools and experiences, even if not every one became part of [your] toolkit as a learner, teacher/facilitator of others, and/or reflective practitioner" (see learning objective 4 below). Through courses and other personal and professional experience you should have an interest in one or more issues that you might delve into and promote change on (at a personal or professional level). This course introduces a range of tools and practices of research and writing, but the more Research and Study Competencies developed before entering the course the better. You should be prepared to make time outside class--at least 6.5 hours/week--for undistracted work on the course and to view each assignment and each session in relation to the unfolding of learning during the course. (That is, do not expect the syllabus and online links to allow you to cut to the chase about what to do for the following day's class.)

Introduction to the course

Options for the course project
If you are a CCT student, the course project allow you to integrate perspectives from your previous CCT courses so you can end up well prepared for--or well underway in--your synthesis project. Students from other graduate programs and the honors program should find this course helpful for development of dissertation/research proposals and initial writing about their topics. Project options include:
In contrast to the CCT Synthesis Project, the Final Report or Documentation of this project is shorter--10-20 pages (2250-4500 words) as against 20-40 pages--and it is typically more open, indicating where further work is planned or needed. (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.) The project should not be seen as producing a "term paper," but as a process of development that involves:
A sequence of 14 assignments, participation items, and tasks facilitate that development (see Assessment below). Provided you submit an initial version of the assignment on the due date, the instructor's responses will be designed to help you develop your project.

Course Objectives
By the end of the semester, for each of the goals listed below, students will be able to identify
These goals are divided into two sets:
I. "My Project Product Shows That..."

II. Developing as a Reflective Practitioner, Including Taking Initiatives in and Through Relationships

Texts and Materials
You also need:
Technical set-up
Writing Support
For graduate students, see

Sections 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 offer guidelines for curriculum modifications and adaptations for students with documented disabilities. The student must present any adaptation recommendations to the professors within a reasonable period, preferably by the end of the Drop/Add period.

Code of Conduct
The University's Student Code of Conduct ( exists to maintain and protect an environment conducive to learning. It sets clear standards of respect for members of the University community and their property, as well as laying out the procedures for addressing unacceptable conduct. Students can expect faculty members and the Office of the Dean of Students to look after the welfare of the University community and, at the same time, to take an educational approach in which students violating the Code might learn from their mistakes and understand how their behavior affects others.

Students are advised to retain a copy of this syllabus in personal files for use when applying for certification, licensure, or transfer credit.

This syllabus is subject to change (marked in red), but workload expectations will not be increased after the semester starts. (Version 10 May2019)

III. Contract: What is expected overall
  • The course revolves around written assignments (and a work-in-progress presentation) and participation items. The work expected for the assignments includes spending at least 6.5 hours per week outside class time reading, researching, and writing, submitting assignments roughly weekly, reading carefully comments on initial submissions, and taking time to make thoughtful revisions. The kind of participation expected is that students have materials at hand prepared to engage in the activities of each session, help each other through feedback on drafts, and make time to consult with the instructor–starting with making sure you appreciate the thinking behind the details laid out in this syllabus (as against being left hidden in a conventional syllabus) and consulting with the peer commenter or instructor whenever you don't understand a comment. If you internalize these expectations, you won't have to think about the grading scheme or the details to follow.
  • You should aim for 11 of 14 writing/presentation assignments submitted by the due dates (even if these are in sketchy form) as well as 22 of 27 participation items fulfilled. At least 7 of the assignments should be revised and resubmitted in response to peer and instructor's comments until "OK/RNR" (=OK/ Reflection-revision-resubmission Not Requested) is received from the instructor. The work in progress presentation must be in the 11 and the complete report must be in the 7.
  • The written assignments are commented on, but not graded. Not grading keeps the focus on interaction around written work.
  • The course works by building from assignment to the next so late submissions detract significantly from the learning possible in class sessions. However, each student can ask for extensions on two assignments or participation items, moving the due date as far back as the last session. (No explanation is needed; simply insert the new due date on your assignment checklist.) When you miss the due date for a submission by more than 4 days, it is ok to submit it late, but only the eventual OK/RNR, not the submission, count towards the automatic B+ (see below), so focus first on getting the remaining assignments and participation items done on time.
  • Use your private assignment checklist page (on the blog) to keep track of due dates and of assignments and participation items completed. Do not expect class-time or meetings with the instructor to be taken up reminding you. Similarly, if you get behind, you take the initiative to submit a plan to catch up or reassure the instructor that you have, in light of your other commitments, chosen to take the grading consequences of missing assignments or due dates. (Incompletes are given only in special circumstances [detailed here].) Allowing a fraction of assignments to be skipped without penalty or explanation accommodates the contingencies of your lives.
  • If you reach the target of 11 writing/presentation assignments submitted within 4 days of the due date, 7 revised until OK/RNR, and 22 participation items—and the goal is to work with everyone to achieve that—you get at least a B+ and a rubric is used to determine B+ (<10 points on the rubric), A- (10-15 points), or A (>15 points). (This unusual but simple system is designed to keep the attention off grades and on teaching/learning interactions. Read the Rationale and ask questions to make sure you have it clear.)
  • Only if you do not get to the automatic B+ level is the grade based on points for what has been completed = 3 for each writing assignment submitted within 4 days of the due date + an additional 4 for each writing assignment OK/RNR + 1 for each participation item fulfilled, up to a maximum of 80 points. Overall points are converted to letter grades as follows: The minimum grade for A is 95, for A- is 90, for B+ is 80, for B is 72.5; for B- is 65; for C+ is 57.5; and for C is 50 points.
  • The different assignments and participation items are listed below so as to be explicit about the course contract. Of course, to undertake these assignments and items you need more information. You should take into account the guidelines supplied on the Notes page and the examples linked to your personal checklist blogpage, as well as the overall expectations conveyed in the rubric below. (Substitutions are possible on written assignments--consult with the instructor in advance to negotiate any alternatives.)

  • Written assignments and presentation
    Participation Items
    For each of the following 12 qualities, * [= "fulfilled very well", 2 points], OK [= "did an OK job, but room for more development/attention", 1 point], or - [= "to be honest, this was not my strength in this course", 0 points]

    IV. Schedule of classes: What is expected each session and why -- how each session contributes to the unfolding of the course

    1. 9/12, Getting oriented, orienting oneself
    2. 9/19, Initial sources of information and informants
    3. 9/26, Models and Organization
    4. 10/3, rom Initial formulations -> Governing Question
    5. 10/10, Component Propositions
    6. 10/17, Design of Research and Engagement Process
    7. 10/24, Interviewing
    8. 10/31, Preparation for Public Presentations on Work-in-Progress
    9. 11/7, Practice Presentations on Work-in-Progress
    10. 11/14, Presentations on Work-in-Progress, open to Visitors
    11. 11/21, Getting and Using Feedback on Writing
    12. 11/28, Direct Writing & Quick Revising
    13. 12/5, Peer commenting on drafts
    14. 12/12, Taking Stock of the Course: Where to go from here?

    The Sessions are structured to introduce ten phases of research and engagement. Preparation for each session, assignments (each one identified by the letter of the Phase), and recommended tasks are intended to keep you moving through the phases.
    The order and timing of the phases for your project may vary according to the opportunities that arise, especially if your project centers on new teaching practices, workshops in the community, or other kinds of engagement as an intern or volunteer. In any case these phases are overlapping and iterative, that is, you revisit the "earlier" phases in light of
    • a) other people's responses to what you share with them, and
    • b) what you learn in the "later" phases.
    (Again, refer to your personal blog page that is a replica of the assignment check-list with links to the Notes wikipage for details about the assignments and expectations. Refer to the chart for a guide to how to pace and prepare assignments and tasks for the appropriate session.)

    Session 1
    Getting oriented, orienting oneself
    • Think about what current social or educational issue concerns you, e.g., you want to know more about it, advocate a change, design a curriculum unit or a workshop, and so on.
    • Preview the Introduction to the course
    • Preview Phase A Overall vision; Goal: "I can convey who I want to influence/affect concerning what (Subject, Audience, Purpose)."

    Session Exercises:
    a. The course as a process
    • Intro remarks on Developing as a Reflective Practitioner--including Taking Initiative in & through Relationships--and on Phases of Research and Engagement.
    • Interview an alum of this course, Brad Kozel, about experience of doing the course
    • Complete 7 minutes Free writing on how you have come to this place where you are being asked to undertake research and writing on an issue that engages you (personally or professionally)--what are your relevant prior experiences (good and bad) in the areas of research, writing, engagement, and/or reflective practice?
    • Autobiographical introductions (4 mins) with everyone identifying some point where you connect with what each person said or can suggest a way to extend it on the Connections and Extensions form.
    b. Initial ideas about individual projects
    • In-session exercises on Proposed investigation--Who do you want to reach? What do you want to convey to them? Why do you want to address them about that? What obstacles do you see ahead? (Individual brainstorming and report to the group) (a variant of Think-Pair-Share)
    • Turn this into very first draft of Governing question and Overview paragraph of proposed project and submit to instructor (by email, with 692 in the subject line and filename starting 692XY, where XY are your initials).
    • Compose and submit very first draft of Governing question and Overview paragraph of proposed project (see above)
    • Re-view Phase A
    • Read Elbow, chaps. 1-3 on writing, freewriting, and sharing (available via course wiki if you don't yet have the text)
    • Practice using freewriting and using your workbook/journal.
    • View video on how the syllabus is structured.
    • Syllabus Quiz or Treasure hunt, to get acquainted with syllabus, course materials and arrangements.
    • Preview previous years' reports to get a sense of the scope of previous projects and reports (via password-protected wikipage-do not make these reports available beyond this course.) View the schema of themes from a previous class.
    • Sign up to volunteer to have your work discussed in front of session for certain assignments, session 4, 6, 9, or 11 (=extra participation item i).
    • Review previous years' evaluations (linked to Peter Taylor's portfolio).
    • Review briefings, decide if you want to add one (=extra participation item h), and submit a topic by session 3.
    • Review connections and extensions feedback (assembled on the recordings page); identify who or what you want to follow up.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.

    Session 2
    Initial sources of information and informants
    Session Exercises:
    • Session: Self study, with coaching (in breakout rooms) by instructor (on formulating projects and lines of inquiry) and Library Instructional specialist (on using library tools and resources).
    • Use the catalogs or databases to locate articles or sections in books for your research. Look especially for scholarly articles (i.e., ones having extended bibliographies) that review the range of things that others have said and done, or discuss the state of some active controversy that exposes the range of research on the issue.
    • Complete Self study and explore on-line tutorial and the library wikipage for CCT courses.
    • Continue searching catalogs and databases
    • Initiate your bibliographic and note-taking systems.
    • Towards assignment. B2: Identify an initial guide (previously called "initial informant"), make contact, make appointment for a conversation before session 4, prepare verbal report on conversation with informant to be given during session 4.
    • See first page of a well-chosen review article (for a project on teaching creativity).
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • Participation item b, Syllabus Quiz.

    Session 3
    Models and Organization
    Preparation(for part b of session):
    Session Exercises:
    a. Models of engagement (see Phase F and I)
    • Presentation by alum, Jill Corson Lake, showing how one person built on their Processes of Research & Engagement project into a CCT synthesis and beyond.
    b. Organizing and processing research materials (see phases B and C)
    • Note-taking (including discussion of example of active "dialogue" with what you're reading), summarizing, and annotating references.
    • Organizing one's computer.
    • Discussion: Share ideas about organizing and processing research materials.
    • Record items you might bring into your own practice on your copy of the research organization worksheet.
    • Review previous years' alum presentations (if interested): Presentation1, Presentation2, Presentation 3, Presentation 4 (audio)
    • Begin to implement a system to organize your research. Be ready to describe this system in detail during the first office hours conference (due by session 5-what is the organization of your computer files (e.g., the directory/folder structure you're using) and what is the organization of your paper files (e.g., the sections you're dividing your material into & how you're using any other notebook etc.).
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • A. Governing Question and Revised single paragraph overview of your subject, audience, purpose,
    • B1. Sense-making digestion of relevant article

    Session 4
    From Initial formulations -> Governing Question
    • Preview Phase C. Possible directions and priorities; Goal: "I have teased out my vision, so as to expand my view of issues associated with the project, expose possible new directions, clarify direction/scope within the larger set of issues, decide most important direction expressed in revised Governing Question."
    • Re-read the first two pages of Elbow, chapter 3, on sharing and giving.
    Session Exercises:
    • From phase B: Verbal report on conversation with initial guide.

    • For all phases: Discussion of sharing one's work with others and getting support regarding other concerns that arise during research.

    • For phase C:
    • Creative and critical aspects of any phase of research and writing ("opening-wide, focusing & formulating").
    • Discovering/inventing/defining subject-purpose-audience.
    • Mapping--student presentation, with instructor probing.
    • Initial map-making, then probed by another student.
    • Complete support survey.
    • Complete initial map.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • B2. Review or controversy article w/ paragraph OR Report on conversation with initial guide [verbally in session 4. If meeting hasn't happened by session 4, submit a brief written report after the meeting happens describing how it moved you towards fulfilling goal B.]

    Session 5
    Component Propositions
    • Preview Phase D. Propositions, Counter-Propositions, Counter-Counter-Propositions... ; Goal: "I have identified the premises and propositions that my project depends on, and can state counter-propositions. I have taken stock of the thinking and research I need to do to counter those counter-propositions or to revise my own propositions."
    Session Exercises:
    • For all phases: Discussion based on support survey.
    • For phase D: Identify component propositions, counter-propositions, etc. and formulate research tasks that follow. Begin this as an individual exercise, then discuss in pairs, then in whole group.
    • Continue propositions -> research task exercise.
    • Participation item c: Sign-up for second conference (to be held before session 11).
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • B3. Annotated bibliography of reading completed or planned,
    • C. Revised map (incl. updated Governing Question),
    • c. first in-office or phone conferences on your projects before this session,
    • d. Research workbook & organization perused during conference before this session,
    • g. support survey

    Session 6
    Design of Research and Engagement Process
    • Preview Phase E. Design of (further) research and engagement; Goal: "I have clear objectives with respect to product, both written and practice, and process, including personal development as a reflective practitioner. I have arranged my work in a sequence to realize these objectives."
    • Sign up for to do session exercise online (f2f students: get small Post-its and blank sheet of paper)
    Session Exercises:
    • Strategic personal planning about research, writing, and engaging
    • One-on-one sessions with instructor.
    • Translating strategic personal planning into research design (incl. sequence and timeline).
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • D. Summarize the different component propositions/arguments for your topic.

    Session 7
    • Preview Phase F. Direct information, models & experience; Goal: "I have gained direct information, models, and experience not readily available from other sources."
    • Write down your top 5 questions you would like someone to talk to you about because you can't easily get answers from published literature
    Session exercises:
    • For phases E & J: Discussion of Mid-project self-assessment/ (gap between where you are and would like to be), plus (time permitting) competencies and evolving research organization.
    • For Phase F: Discussion of getting people to speak about/explain what they usually don't; dealing with experts; effective questions. 5 question activity.
    • Building on 5-question activity, prepare interview guide, then practice interviewing (in pairs). (When you are interviewed, you pretend to be the person the interviewer tells you they would be interviewing.)
    • Revise/refine interview guide.
    • Review Notes and assignments from a 1998 sociology course on qualitative research (incl. Interviewing, observing, etc.)
    • Review briefing: "Interviewing is not just asking questions and receiving informative answers".
    • Adapt release form, if needed.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • E. Research & engagement design,
    • e. Mid-semester self-assessment of project, competency list, and research organization,
    • h. Draft of briefing (=optional extra participation item).

    Session 8
    Preparation for Public Presentations on Work-in-Progress
    • Preview Phase G. Clarification through communication; Goal: "I have clarified the overall progression or argument underlying my research and the written reports I am starting to prepare."
    Session exercises:
    • Analyze overall arguments implicated in a previous student's research.
    • Clarification of the overall structure of your argument.
    • Visual aids, and their use in aiding this clarification.
    • Draft sequence of visual aids that highlight your overall argument.
    • Supply working title for your presentation that conveys what is distinctive about your project.
    • Complete in-session exercises.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • B4. Updated annotated bibliography,
    • F1. Interview guide

    Session 9
    Practice Presentations on Work-in-Progress (Phase G continued)
    • Prepare Practice Presentations on Work-in-Progress .
    • Submit (at least one hour before the session, by email to instructor to be uploaded to the recordings wikipage) visual aids, notes, or other materials for your practice presentation. (Not strictly necessary for online students, but serves as a backup.)
    Session Exercises:
    • Presentations (10 minutes) to whole class (one volunteer) and to breakout groups (each other student) with peer plus-delta evaluations, plus an additional tips.
    • Digest peer and instructor comments on practice presentation.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • G1. Practice Presentations (equivalent of initial submission for G1),
    • h. revised Briefing (=optional extra participation item).

    Session 10
    Presentations on Work-in-Progress, open to Visitors (Phase G cont.)
    • Practice your Presentations on Work-in-Progress. Save it as a pdf and practice using screenshare on class hangout.
    • Submit (at least one hour before the session, by email to instructor to be uploaded to the recordings wikipage) a title for your presentation that conveys what is distinctive about your project [along the lines of the governing question] and powerpoints or other visual aids.
    Session Exercises:
    • Presentations on Work-in-Progress, with short peer plus-delta comments, plus any additional tips, on each talk (using form at The order of presentations and talk titles are subject to revision:

    • Digest peer and instructor comments on presentations (viewable on recordings wikipage).
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • G1. Work-in-Progress Presentations (equivalent of OK/RNR for G1).

    Session 11
    Getting and Using Feedback on Writing (Phase G continued)
    • Read Legendre, "Exploring your writing preferences," identifying which type you are for each of the four pairs. Take note of your strengths and issues to work on (summarized at the end).
    • Complete Survey of writing preferences
    • Read Elbow, chap. 13; re-read chap. 3.
    Session Exercises:
    • Varieties of ways to respond (a.k.a.writer takes charge of how they get feedback)
    • Writing Preferences-assemble for the class as a whole, then discuss.
    • Survey results: TBA
    • Peer review of narrative outlines or overall arguments, in the class as a whole (one person) and then in pairs (in breakout rooms).
    • Read, or at least dip into, Elbow, sections III-VI.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • F2. Brief written report on interview conducted, participant observation, or workshop attended, G2. Narrative Outline, c. second in-office or phone conferences on your projects before this session.

    Session 12
    Direct Writing & Quick Revising
    • Preview Phase H. Compelling communication; Goal: "My writing and other products Grab the attention of the readers/audience, Orient them, move them along in Steps, so they appreciate the Position I've led them to."
    • Read Elbow, chaps. 4-6; reread chapters 1-3.
    Session Exercises:
    • Introduction to Direct Writing & Quick Revising, then use this method for 90 minutes to produce text that elaborates on your narrative outline. (If you have not completed the narrative outline, use the method to prepare text for that.)
    • Journal/workbook/research system perused by instructor.
      • either this session or next submit update on system to organize your research-what is the organization of your computer files, e.g., the directory/folder structure you're using, and what is the Organization of your paper files, e.g., the sections you're dividing your material into & how you're using any other notebook etc.
    • Write and revise.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • d. Research workbook & organization "perused" during this week or next for changes made in response to comments.

    Session 13
    Peer commenting on drafts (Phase H continued)
    • Complete your draft report (starting with an informative title that captures your Governing Question) and submit by email to instructor. (To count as complete, a draft must get to the end, even if some sections along the way are only sketches. These will be uploaded to a peer share wikipage by the start of the session.)
    • Preview Phase I. Engagement with others; Goal: "I have facilitated new avenues of classroom, workplace, and public participation."
    • Review briefings on grant-seeking, participatory action research, facilitation of group process, writing a business plan, video resources, volunteering, and others of interest to you).
    Session Exercises:
    • For phase I: Discussion of engagement beyond the course.
      • You should be ready by this point to practice/present what you've developed/discovered in, e.g., next semester's CCT Network series
      • Open question for discussion: What is the means of best presenting the group's work to the wider public, and of supporting each other in doing so?
    • For phase H: Drafts commented on by other students and returned with comments by email.
    • Discussion of experience of making comments.
    • Revise in response to peer comments.
    • Look ahead to what work is due in the next session.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • H. Draft Complete Report, f. Last peer commentary, given during the session on one or more students' drafts.

    Session 14
    Taking Stock of the Course: Where to go from here?
    • Keep writing and revising (Phase H cont.).
    • Preview Phase J. Taking stock; Goal: "To feed into my future learning and other work, I have taken stock of what has been working well and what needs changing."
    Session Exercises:
    • Taking stock in multiple ways with the aim of:
      • a) feeding into your future learning (and other work), you take stock of your process(es) over the semester;
      • b) feeding into instructor's future teaching (and future learning about how students learn), instructor takes stock of how you, the students, have been learning.
    • Sense of Place Map
    • Discussion of (shareable) insights that emerged and reactions to the exercise
    • Official evaluation that starts with a self-evaluation (to be administered by google form) (which follows this model).
    • Closing circle (plus-delta).
    • Revise in response to instructor's comments and complete report.
    Work due by the first day of this session:
    • Completion contract (if needed; see policies).
    Work due one week after session 14:
    • H. Report,
    • J. Self-assessment in relation to goals.
    Extensions after the course is over:
    (Copies are accessible via Password-protected access page)