Tag Archives: PBL

Changing Life: Reading the Intersections of Gender, Race, Biology, and Literature (Open Courseware version)

An Open Courseware version of a Spring 2017 graduate course in which students developed their abilities to expose ways that scientific knowledge has been shaped in contexts that are gendered, racialized, economically exploitative, and hetero-normative. The course used a Project-Based Learning format that allowed students to shape their own directions of inquiry in each project, development of skills, and collegial support. Students’ learning was guided by individualized bibliographies co-constructed with the instructors, the inquiries of the other students, and a set of tools and processes for literary analysis, inquiry, reflection, and support.


Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change

Initial prospectus [from April 19]:

The overall goals of the Collaborative are to support inquiries, teaching-learning interactions, and other practices of critical intellectual exchange and cooperation that challenge the barriers of expertise, gender, race, class, and place that normally restrict access to, understanding of, and influence on the production of scientific knowledge and technologies.

In its first phase of the Collaborative, this support will happen in connection with two graduate courses–Scientific and Political Change and Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology–offered in alternate spring semesters in association with the Science in a Changing World graduate track at UMass Boston.

These courses use a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach that allows students to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and prospective teachers (in the broadest sense of the word).

In this first phase, the Collaborative aims to draw a wider range of participants into the 3-week PBL cases: for-credit students from distant locations; not-for-credit students; course alums returning for a refresher; panel members for the final presentations in each case; guides to help in the inquiries of participants; and co-instructors.

Graduate and advanced undergraduate students from all fields and levels of preparation are encouraged to register for the courses. Other participants should contact the SICW track about getting involved, sicw@umb.edu.

In the second phase, participants might translate their experience into running their own PBL-style courses, for which other members of the Collaborative might serve as guides and panel members. The Collaborative may eventually host PBL inquiry and presentations outside the structure of the two courses.


For inquiry towards further development of the Collaborative, see companion blog.

Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology: A bibliography

In a 2011 graduate course on “Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology,” students were asked to add an annotated reference or resource (=person, organization…) to the evolving googledocs bibliography each week.  (Annotations were to convey the article’s key points as well as its connection to the student’s own inquiries and interests.)  The result is as follows: Continue reading

Genetic purification

I have heard some argue that prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion would reduce society’s burden in having to give special care for very disabled people and that this would free up funds for general health care, education, etc. for the mildly disabled.

I have also heard the strong counter-proposition that such “genetic purification” in practice works against tolerance for the usual range of variation and against measures to care for the abnormal.

To understand the logic of this second proposition consider an analogy: The health and fitness boom of the 1980s seems to have reduced tolerance for plump, “overweight” people. Those who have kept themselves trim tend to think that overweight people ought also to be able to do something about their figures.

I first used these contrasting propositions as a topic for a writing assignment in a course on Biology and Society where the assigned reading was Rapp, R. “Moral Pioneers: Women, Men & Fetuses.” Women & Health 13 (1/2, 1988): 101-116.  I then adapted into a problem-based learning unit that asked students: “In the light of this analogy, Rapp’s articles [i.e., “Moral Pioneers” and her subsequent publications], your own experience, and research into the published literature, discuss the contention about ‘genetic purification.'”  Readers of this post may also reflect on how they think about these contrasting propositions.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL): A guided tour

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
begins from a Scenario in which the problems are not well defined*,
Students brainstorm so as to identify a range of problems related to the scenario and choose which of these they want to investigate and report back on.
* e.g., (from a biology-in-society course) http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/645embryo

The problem-definitions may evolve as students investigate and exchange findings with peers. If the scenario is written well, most of the problems defined and investigated by the students will relate to the subject being taught, but instructors have to accept some “curve balls” in return for

  • a) student engagement in self-invented inquiry, e.g., http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/645IVFIncBriefingJC
  • b) content coverage by the class as a whole, e.g., http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/749-05PBLbriefings.html, and
  • c) increased motivation for subsequent, more-focused inquiry (see “inverted pedagogy” below), e.g., the student who produced http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/749-05PBLJC1.doc in response to the scenario in b), went on to complete a term paper reviewing citizen-based governance of science, which is under revision for a Science Studies journal. She then participated in the Public Impact Campaign associated with the “Unnatural Causes” health disparities project. (This student was a college-librarian with no prior science background.)

Interdisciplinary Coaching. In the case-based learning, the instructors facilitate the brainstorming and student-to-student exchange and support, coach the students in their individual tasks, and serve as resource persons by providing contacts and reading suggestions drawn from their longstanding interdisciplinary work and experience.

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 (This inverts the conventional curriculum in which command of fundamentals is a prerequisite for application of our learning to real cases.) E.g., the same student as above later took a course in social epidemiology for non-specialists.

KAQ framework for inquiry and exchange, http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/FrameworkForExchanges
By linking Knowledge and Action, this framework promotes the emphasis of one strand of science and technology studies since the early 1980s on examining what it takes in practice to establish knowledge or make technology reliable.

Internet facilitation. The internet makes it easier to explore strands of inquiry beyond any well-packaged sequence of canonical readings, make rapid connections with experts and other informants, and develop evolving archives of materials and resources (e.g., presentations to the class, new cases, annotated bibliographies) that can be built on by future classes and others (see http://sicw.wikispaces.umb.edu/grst).

Extracted from http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/PBLGuidedTour

Problem-based Learning activity for synthesizing our ideas about directions for future research and collaboration

A Problem-based Learning (PBL) (of the ill-defined problem kind) activity for synthesizing our ideas about directions for future research and collaboration

(from NewSSC 2004)

PBL is designed to allow for participant engagement in self-invented inquiry and content coverage by the class (= the workshop participants) as a whole.  See appendix for brief overview of PBL. Continue reading