Seminar in Critical Thinking: Science in Society
CCT611 Spring 1999
Prof. Peter Taylor, Critical & Creative Thinking Program
NOTES ON TEACHING/LEARNING INTERACTIONS
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
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
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
Before, during, and after class--Critical thinking about course readings and
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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
- 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
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
- Create a system for organizing your journal/workbook, research materials, and
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
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
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
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
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