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Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology
(2017: Changing Life: Reading the Intersections of Gender, Race, Biology, and Literature)
(WoSt 597, Spr '09, '11, '13, '15, '17)
Offering a course through the Graduate Consortium for Women's Studies would allow me to get enough students to run a course on science in its social context, to experiment with making a course entirely based on problem-based learning (PBL), and to interact with a co-instructor.
The course as proposed and approved by the GCWS aims to subvert barriers to wider access to the production of science and technology and stimulate interdisciplinary inquiry, pedagogical, conceptual and practical innovation, and epistemological self-consciousness through provocative PBL cases that put into play a variety of resources (see full overview of course)
We expect that students will enter this course with different levels of preparation in science and technology, in interpretation of the dynamics of science and technology, in feminist, anti-racist, and other critical theories, and in collaborative, reflective processes of inquiry and exchange. By the semester's end, students should have:
Challenges and Responses
- experienced and appreciated a "developmental" model of teaching/learning, which aims not for a common final standard of work, but to guide and support each student to develop or improve as much as they can given their background and current circumstances;
- learned and practiced tools for engaging with provocative cases designed to stimulate interdisciplinary inquiry and exchange;
- clarified and pursued their particular interests in teaching, research, or activism around the complex production of science and technology;
- acquired resources, tools, guides to help navigate a manageable number of substantive bodies of knowledge in interpretation of the dynamics of science and technology, especially using feminist, anti-racist, and other critical frameworks;
- synthesized these knowledges into resources for future students and others in the form of reports from cases, annotated references, and additional cases;
- initiated ongoing patterns of subverting barriers to wider access-for themselves and others-to the production of scientific knowledge and technology; and
- explored the theoretical and practical implications of the question "What can we do with the knowledge we generate for ourselves and others?" with respect to engagements with/in the complex production of scientific knowledge and technology.
(5/09) See pdf compilation of course process and students work.
The main challenge was to locate (in our files, brains, and contacts) appropriate sources that the students would follow up. Eventually this became less of a strain as students became self-directed in their inquiries and projects.
Another challenge was that a number of students dropped out, with regrets, when they weighed the work they had to do to make good use of the course with their other student obligations.
0. The same course description and structure will be retained because the approach is working well this time and we want a chance to build on that.
1. More word-of-mouth publicity to recruit additional students with the expectation that a fraction will withdraw once they appreciate that the course requires an equal commitment to their required courses, thesis preparation, etc.
2. Require group work in one of the instructor-designed cases (so as to fill out the students' experience of the range of approaches to teaching using PBL cases).
3. Establish a routine of reflection/synthesis/feedback in the last 10 minutes of every class.
4. Incorporate required common readings at a few selected points in the semester, following or followed by mini-lectures by the instructors.
5. Do more with evolving annotated bibliography.
6. Bring back an "alum" of the course to help students see what's ahead and be less stressed at the beginning (as mentioned in student evaluations).
7. Pursue each PBL project myself to keep in touch with the student experience and gain the intellectual stimulation.
This semester a course blog was implemented for annotated bibliography entries and other reflections. Here is my blog post on the course evaluations:
The evaluations combined:
Here is an earlier blog post responding to reflections expressed on the last day of class: Day 1, 2015?-an attempt to address various comments from the taking stock session.
Some of the evaluation comments seem easy to address and, indeed, were already being worked on before the semester ended, e.g.,
- appreciation for the PBL experience (e.g., "starting with a problem and then beginning to acquire the expertise needed to solve it is, I believe, very productive and also lets each one follow her interests");
- awareness that the course requires finding a lot of time; and
- directive recommendations for changes made responsibly (i.e., not in the tone of disgruntled consumer getting back at the instructors through the evals)
Others comments are more challenging to address:
- An initial class that makes explicit the pedagogy that runs through the whole course and begins the process of students making connections with each other (see mock up).
- all materials into one online place-the blog-with a menu of shortcuts to specific items when helpful.
- Guidelines for each assignment stated in the flow of the syllabus, albeit with reminder that the aim is for the student to pull each assignment in a direction that connects with their interests.
- Assigning a default common reading for each week (but with the option of students choosing substitution), with annotations to be posted on the blog; selected from the required and recommended texts and ordered so that a scaffold or framework is built up in parallel with the cases.
- Shorter presentations, esp. final presentations, allowing more time for discussion and not going over the end-of-class.
- "there was no pressure to actually critically engage with race and gender. There was no pressure to engage with the field of STS." Did you "check... in with students who weren't doing annotated bibliographies or reflections"? We didn't pressure students or check in because we a) wanted students to appreciated what one student mentioned, namely, that "a particular level of maturity is required to be awarded such autonomy"; b) expected that students would "critically engage with race and gender" and "with the field of STS" and we'd be a helpful guide, not someone lassoo-ing anyone back to those emphases; and c) were not quick on our pedagogical feet, e.g., to arrange timely conversations with students who got behind or didn't seem to be getting into published literature on gender, race, and science. Perhaps, given the inevitable competing demands that professors have, the two co-instructors could take 2-week turns to take the initiative in reaching out and talking to such students.
- "more foundational texts at the beginning and discussed them before diving into the cases" It is not just that this would run against the goal of Inverted pedagogy: "The experience of case-based learning is expected to motivate students to identify and pursue the disciplinary learning and disciplined inquiry they need to achieve the competency and impact they desire" (from https://sicw.wikispaces.com/-/GRST/g/ObjectivesTheory). It is that, from experience, if a PBL instructor sends out a signal-even once-that there is an established answer that students are expected to get to even if they haven't been told this, it is hard for students to take their own not-yet-well-articulated interests seriously enough.
- "we spent a lot of time doing discussions with the cards that weren't really about any specific thing" and "a few went way off." The dialogue process format is intended to make use of what students come prepared for, that is to talk about and to think about as it is raised by other students. When I was a grad. student I was always active in seminar discussions, including ones structured by moving through a set of predefined questions, I don't recall any professor trying to help students who were silent express themselves or develop their thoughts during the discussion. Yet, the quoted comments suggest again more pedagogical quick-footedness rather than going with the flow.
- "use of personal experience in a responsible way" This comment, which refers to discussions, makes me wonder if spoken-aloud experiences have more status than the personal experiences that informed, at least as I experienced these, your directions of inquiry and the resulting products. If so, what to do about that?
(9/15) The easy-to-address issues from 2013 (see above) were addressed, more or less successfully. My faculty self-evaluation provides a more detailed picture. One thing that struck me this year was that more students seemed to have teaching loads or personal issues that kept them from digging deeply into the cases and completing the assignments. One of these students asked for a clearer narrative of the course. This was easy to provide by pointing to material already supplied, but it also led to more thinking during and after the semester. I considered the feminist theory of the PBL pedagogy (blog post) and also about how the course asks students to develop a personal narrative for their learning, not simply to do the readings and papers as prescribed in a conventional graduate course. My current plan for the future is to bring this issue (of supporting students to develop a personal narrative for their learning) to the forefront from the start. However, after co-teaching this course four times, GCWS is asking for a new course, although still one using the PBL format. Developing a new course, with a new co-instructor, is taking precedence over further thinking through of the implications of the 2015 experience (blog post).
"I do not plan to apply to co-teach for GCWS again--five times is a good run--but, from the perspective both of stimulating thought in readers of this evaluation and taking stock myself for when I teach PBL-style graduate courses again, here some notes about a) my specific goals for this offering of a PBL course, and b) what worked well (and thus would be continued) ["Plus"] and some notes on what needs further development before one could say it is working well ["Delta"]."
The student evaluations show that the PBL format that allows and motivates students to undertake self-directed inquiries did not win them all over by the end, which had been the pattern in previous offerings. This shortcoming was evident, for example, in evaluations asking for clarity about what was due in a 3-page syllabus, when the course booklet was extremely explicit about that (see excerpt below). More inquiry on the instructors' part would be needed to understand well what contibuted to this disappointing outcome and how to address it in the future. Instructors' discussions considered personal dispositions, thesis deadlines, workload, and need for one-on-one guidance to make efficient use of the detailed booklet, but the main lessons I take away are not to assume that the PBL format will work for all students and to build in time to address each student's issues.
|| EXCERPT from Course Booklet:
"Sequence of steps and classes:
Class 2. Generating questions for inquiry & looking for answers in the texts (adapted from KAQ framework [Knowledge-Action-Questions; Taylor and Szteiter 2012, 105-106])
Focal reading: Haraway, "Teddy bear patriarchy"
Prompt for journal entry (between class 2 & 3): Reactions at this early stage to be asked to identify and pursue one's own inquiries
Class 3. 5-phase Dialogue process (aka Dialogue Hour, http://bit.ly/FivePhase) to share and clarify what we are inquiring into regarding the project.
Focal reading: Duchamp, "The forbidden words of Margaret A."
Prompt for journal entry (between class 3 & 4): At the time Delaney wrote, he, like you are now, was grappling with learning how to read Haraway...
Class 4. Presentations and submission of written product = a mock-up of a museum display and text interpreting Haraway's video or texts in their 1980s context.
Focal reading: Delaney, "Reading at Work"
Prompt for journal entry (between class 4 & 5): Digest comments on presentation
Between Class 4 & 5. Comment on the written product of another student.
Class 6. Resubmit your product, revised in response to comments from an instructor and a peer." ||
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