Teaching Philosophy
Peter J. Taylor

Four interrelated goals govern my teaching and advising: I aim to promote critical thinking, employ reciprocal animation, introduce heterogeneous construction as a model of agency, and continually develop my pedagogy. Let me convey the meaning and significance of these goals.
In a sense subscribed to by all teachers, critical thinking means that students are bright and engaged, ask questions, and think about the course materials until they understand well established knowledge and competing approaches. This becomes more significant when students develop their own processes of active inquiry, which they can employ in new situations, beyond the bounds of our particular classes, indeed, beyond their time as students. My sense of critical thinking is, however, more specific; it depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. I want students to see that they understand things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives. Critical thinking at this level should not depend on students rejecting conventional accounts, but they do have to move through uncertainty. Their knowledge is, at least for a time, destabilized; what has been established cannot be taken for granted. Students can no longer expect that if they just wait long enough the teacher will provide complete and tidy conclusions; instead they have to take a great deal of responsibility for their own learning. Anxieties inevitably arise for students when they have to respond to new situations knowing that the teacher will not act as the final arbiter of their success. A high level of critical thinking is possible when students explore such anxieties and gain the confidence to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity.
There are few models for teaching critical thinking, especially about science. In any case, teachers of critical thinking cannot learn by following instructions. Just as I expect of my students, I experiment, take risks, and through experience have built up a set of tools that work for me. Moreover, I have adapted these teaching tools to cope with the different ways that students in each class respond when I invite them to address alternatives and uncertainty, and when I require them to take more responsibility for learning. An emphasis on critical thinking implies, even in large classes, an individualized model of teacher-student interaction, and students' corresponding raised expectations are difficult to fulfill. Their responses are sometimes emotionally intense, especially in the case of science students, which makes sense when we recall that their success in science has depended on learning what others already have discovered and systematized.
"You are asking me to question what my previous teachers had presented as facts," one student complained. "Why should I accept your authority?" I value such forthrightness -- in fact, I take it as a sign of success that my students generally provide thoughtful and unusually detailed criticisms of my courses. However, I also have to interpret students' criticisms, to learn from them without always taking them at face value. When some students told me, for example, that I was "biased" or that I needed to be more "Americanized," I had to discover how much they were projecting into such comments their resistance to questioning their own views or to departing from the familiar ways of performing as students. I then have had to invent and negotiate paths around their defences. In this light, each class requires regular monitoring, not just end-of-semester evaluation. And every class provides an opportunity to learn how to teach both the specific set of students and future classes. This is what I have in mind, not merely designing and implementing new kinds of courses, when I specify on-going development of pedagogy as one of the four overall goals of my teaching.
The particular issue that has been the focus of my own learning as a teacher during the last two years has been supporting students to take more responsibilty, collaboratively as well as individually, for their own learning. Through, for example, in-class writing exercises, "breaking out" for small group discussions, and on-going peer groups, the dynamics of teaching/learning in a classroom expand well beyond direct interactions with the teacher. In this spirit, I am beginning to redesign the cases I teach so that they provide explicit opportunities for experiential and problem-based learning. I have recently attended workshops on facilitating participation in groups and through practice I am now developing my skills in this direction.
The logical complement of this on-going learning about teaching is that as teachers we need to share our problems, innovations, successes with receptive colleagues and students, and to work towards the same level of sustained collegial give-and-take, collaboration, critique, and mentorship that we value around research and writing. To this end I have appreciated the opportunity to observe and comment on the teaching of graduate students, and this led me to convene a "teaching co-op" in which graduate students and faculty observed and commented on each other's classes. I have developed -- in the spirit of everything in an educational institution should be an opportunity for learning -- new models of documentation and evaluation of teaching (see excerpts from my 1995 Teaching Portfolio).

While critical thinking is important for all fields, teaching in the interdisciplinary areas of Environmental Studies, Biology and Society, and Science and Technology Studies (STS) has provided me opportunities to promote critical thinking in special ways. Many of my undergraduate students chose my courses because they want to complement their training in the life sciences with studies of the social context and social implications of those sciences. Given this, I first encourage these students to see that critical thinking can help them understand science more or less on its own terms. For example, in my integrative Biology and Society course, "The Social Construction of Life," students come to understand natural selection better by examining why Darwin used the selection metaphor in preference to Spencer's phrase, "the survival of the fittest." Similarly, I encourage them to distinguish genetics from heredity through an assignment in which they invent and then describe an analogy for embryological development. The assignment specifies that the analogous phenomenon should not rely on a central controller, yet still be able to co-ordinate its own differentiation and change and thereby make itself. Students have described, for example, improvisional dance, cheese making, and a casual conversation in an elevator.
Such exercises prepare the students to take critical thinking a significant step further. Students use their images of developmental processes not only to think critically about claims that intelligence is genetically determined, but also to consider the social implications of and social support for the different scientific accounts. The idea here is that close examination of concepts and methods within any given natural or social science can stimulate students' inquiries into the diverse social influences shaping that science. Social contextualization can, in turn, suggest alternative lines of scientific investigation. This two-way interaction between science and social contextualization of science I call reciprocal animation; it enlarges significantly the sources of ideas about what else could be or could have been in science and in society.
Reciprocal animation and critical thinking inform my STS approach to environmental studies and the life sciences more generally. When STSers teach or write about science with the objective of engaging and influencing its practitioners they are implying, more or less, that science could be practiced or applied differently. I encourage graduate students from environmental studies, STS and other disciplines to use historical, philosophical, sociological, political, and literary interpretation in this spirit. For example, my "Social Analysis of Ecological Change"/"Interpreting Nature and Society" seminars examine Hardin's "tragedy of the commons," his idea that any non-privatized resource, such as the rangeland of nomadic pastoralists, will inevitably be degraded. One interpretative angle is to link First World scientists' interest in exotic situations to their concerns about situations much closer to home. The popularity of Hardin's thesis becomes an ironic inversion of a "tragedy of atomized individuals" in the West, that is, environments will inevitably be degraded when people have difficulty influencing social arrangements except through isolated individual actions as consumers. (As a simple example, individually people choose to commute on congested freeways. Although most of them would be better off with efficient public transport, they have few means of reaching a social consenus about this more sustainable alternative.) This kind of interpretation invites a shift in socio-environmental research -- Instead of empirical assessments of the tragedy of the commons in the Third World, a whole new line of investigation and theorization in the First World can be brought into focus.
By exposing points at which the science could be (or could have been) pursued differently, reciprocal animation and critical thinking open up a more difficult issue: Through what processes are alternatives actually realized (or deflected)? My STS work emphasizes how, in order to know the world and practice their science, scientists harness diverse resources -- from funding opportunities to metaphors, status hierarchies in their discipline to data available/collectable given the time allocated for the study. As a teacher I therefore highlight the diverse kinds of practical measures, not just conceptual shifts, needed to modify the development of the episode of science we are considering. Of course, the particular resources and their inter-linkages making up such heterogeneous constructions differ from case to case; reconstructions of their complexity require considerable practical experience. Heterogeneous construction can, however, be made accessible to students through exercises in which they attempt to map the diversity of influences on their own development, the ways these build on each other over time, and the different potential points of intervention. Eventually, I hope, they will bring a heterogenous constructionist view of agency to bear on their own research, applications of science, and other social interventions.
While I have found ways to introduce students to reciprocal animation and heterogeneous construction, it has been harder to draw them into using these approaches in their own STS or scientific studies. I cannot point to unanimous student approval; my courses challenge students in unfamiliar ways and they respond with challenging suggestions and criticisms. In fact, I invite and make room for this. However, I consider that I am on the right track when students comment that while my courses require harder work than other courses, the educational payoff makes the effort worthwhile. And, for me, the effort is definitely worthwhile. Developing these approaches to teaching and advising stimulates and reinforces the other strands of my larger scholarly project, namely, to open up space for reflexive, critical scientific practice in society and, in particular, in the academy.

4/95; revised 10/97 & 1/98