Media, Technology, and Education
Cluster PedagogyHabits of Mind

Developing Habits of Mind

The latest assignment for the Tackling a Wicked Problem/Integrated Capstone track of Plymouth State University’s Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community asks us to:

Write (and share if you feel comfortable doing so) a self-assessment on your own development of the Habits of Mind. Pay particular attention to the signposts on the benchmarks for the level of achievement you believe you have attained. How do you demonstrate that level of achievement? What behaviors do you exhibit for each of the signposts?

I feel a bit vulnerable sharing this post widely but, as I’ve written before, I think it’s useful to put myself into situations where I feel vulnerable about learning (and reflecting on learning) so that I don’t forget what it feels like. So here goes.

The Habits of Mind (HoM) are the learning objectives for the General Education program. After learning about them in their Tackling a Wicked Problem (TWP) class, we ask our students to reflect on their ongoing development of them. So the purpose of this assignment in the CPLC is to ensure that faculty understand what that reflection process feels like.

I think I have achieved the Summit level in the Purposeful Communication HoM but I also think this is the HoM that I need to work on the most. The descriptions of the signposts for the Summit level of achievment say:

Awareness of Context: Seeks additional knowledge to understand the cultural and historical context, in both the creation of messages and the construction of meaning from messages

Comprehension: Recognizes that the text has implications beyond its explicit message; identifies broader questions raised by the text; and/or suggests counterarguments in response to the text.

Purposeful Expression: Organizes and synthesizes information to create a clear message containing new insights that achieves a specific purpose

Effective Application of Strategies for Communication: Tailors communication strategies to effectively involve and/or address different audiences, foster respectful dialogue, and build relationships based on mutual understandings

I think my strength in communication is that I try to tailor my communication strategies for different audiences, foster respectful dialogue, and build relationships based on mutual understandings. One piece of evidence I would give for this is my development of different materials for different audiences related to the HoM. With the Gen Ed Outcomes Task Force, I helped to develop the descriptions of and benchmarks for the HoM that can be found in the Gen Ed Handbook. I recognized that this would be confusing for first year students, so I simplified what we present to them in the OER for TWP. I also recognized that both of these versions of the details of the HoM are wordy and are perhaps too detailed for a first pass understanding of what they’re all about. So I created the infographic that serves as the featured image for this post. I think these 3 ways of presenting the same information show that I’m concerned about different audiences and mutual understandings. I think they also provide evidence for Summit level of achievement in Purposeful Expression. I think I could use some work in Awareness of Context. I sometimes seek to understand the cultural and historical context of messages. But I also sometimes just react to messages I’m receiving, without understanding the various contexts in which messages are created and received. I would like to be more thoughtful all the time in my reading of and response to various messages.

I think that I have reached the Summit level of achievement in Problem-Solving. The descriptions of the signposts at this level of achievement are:

Problem Framing: Explores multiple perspectives on the problem and incorporates those perspectives in explaining and describing the problem

Challenge Identification: Surveys the problem from various points of view in order to uncover additional challenges and determine the ways in which challenges are interrelated

Plan Development: Employs a repertoire of relevant strategies and perspectives to develop possible solutions to the problem and explores the potential implications of those solutions

Decision-making and Revision: Weighs the potential implications of possible solutions in order to determine the most desirable course of action, providing a strong justification for that decision, and revising the plan as needed in response to ongoing feedback

Evaluation of Progress: Reflects on positive and negative impacts of strategies employed and understandings gained from the problem-solving process

The field of Computer Science focuses to a large extent focuses on solving problems. My areas of expertise within the field are software engineering and artificial intelligence, both of which have special emphasis on problem solving. I think my particular strength in problem solving is that when I work with a group of colleagues or students on a problem, I listen to what other people are saying and try to develop solutions that incorporate their ideas, thoughts, suggestions. For example, when I teach Creating Games, students often have trouble coming up with unique ideas for how to solve the problems that they find in their games during play-testing. One of my favorite parts of teaching that class is engaging those students in a conversation about the problem they are trying to solve and asking them questions that elicit their thoughts and ideas and then repeating those back to them in the form of a possible solution. I have gotten lots of positive feedback from students about this process.

I think I have reached the Summit level of achievement in Integrated Perspective. The descriptions of the signposts at the level of achievement are:

Self-Awareness: Considers multiple perspectives and adjusts one’s own ideas, beliefs, and values as appropriate

Perspective Seeking: Seeks to augment one’s own limited perspective with others, even those that may be conflicting

Interconnectedness: Analyzes and explains the interconnectedness between and within natural and social systems and how shifts within those systems create changes

Collaboration: Critically analyzes different perspectives and purposefully communicates to contribute to an optimal outcome

I think my major strength in Integrated Perspective is my ability to engage in systems thinking, which allows me to see the interconnectedness between parts of systems and to see places where we might be able to make cahnge. An example of this is the work I have been doing with Promotion, Tenure, and Evaluation Advisory Group. Our overall task is to revise the faculty handbook so that it aligns with the Collective Bargaining Agreements for our two groups of unionized faculty and so that it is easier to understand and find the information you’re looking for. This is a huge task but I think over the course of last year we made significant progress because I helped the group break the larger problem into smaller problems whose solutions contribute to the solution to the larger problem. This strength in Integrated Perspective is also my major weakness. I try to apply these skills to every kind of problem, including interpersonal problems where I think systems thinking is not particularly effective. This leads me to go over and over an interpersonal problem (almost obsessively), trying to break it down in ways that are inappropriate. I realized about 12 years ago that I do this, I have worked to develop a repertoire of strategies for dealing with interpersonal problems but my tendency is to fall back on what I am most comfortable with.

I think I have reached the Summit level of achievement in the Self-Regulated Learning HoM. The descriptions of the signposts for this HoM are:

Responsibility for Own Learning: Sets high expectations for oneself and develops a plan to meet those expectations

Engagement in the Learning Process: Generates ideas and questions, takes intellectual risks, displays resourcefulness in grappling with challenges, and shows confidence in own ability to learn

Metacognitive Awareness: Reflects independently on own thinking and learning and uses strategies effectively to strengthen understandings and skills

I am very self-motivated. I set goals for myself and meet those goals. I take intellectual risks and am confident in my ability to learn. My weakness is probably that I don’t reflect on my own thinking and learning often enough. This blog post is an example of me taking intellectual risks. It is challenging to put oneself out in public with a self-reflection like this. I am very nervous about it because I worry that those who know me will think that I don’t know myself very well, that my self-reflection is way off the makr. But I’m going to do it anyway. It is helpful for me to do this because if I, a tenured faculty member with really nothing to lose by writing and sharing this post, feel as nervous as I do, imagine what it feels like for a non-tenured faculty to do something like this. Or even more importantly, imagine what it feels like for our students to do something like this. Many of them are not confident learners. Taking intellectual means that you will sometimes make mistakes or look foolish. It’s hard to make yourself do that. And taking risks is nearly impossible if mistakes have long-term consequences such as failing a class. It’s good for me to be reminded of what it feels like to make yourself vulnerable by risking failure.

We ask our students to do this kind of self-reflection multiple times over the course of the semester in both TWP and INCAP. It’s hard! I found it especially hard to provide evidence of my self-assessment. How can I demonstrate that I have reached the level of achievement that I’m claiming? What evidence shows others that I have reached that level of achievement? Again, it’s good to be reminded that we are asking our students to do something that is really hard.


Image Credit: I created the infographic to provide a quick overview of the Habits of Mind and their signposts.

Article written by:

I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

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