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1.6: What should instructors be getting out of the course and book?

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  • As co-instructors of this course, we learned a great deal—about our students, ourselves, and our science—and we have tried to organize this text so that other instructors can use this course as a learning experience for themselves as well. About our graduate students, we learned that our training largely teaches them to think in methodological terms, about variables and associations, and to organize their understanding of their phenomena in terms of research questions and analyses. For that reason, this text and course has as one of its primary goals to help students “de-fuse” their thinking so they can move up several levels to become more flexible in their conceptualizations and representations of their phenomena. We also learned that students are largely unaware of the meta-theoretical assumptions that “reside quietly and unrecognized in the background of our day-to day empirical science” (Overton, 2007, p. 154).

    Perhaps most importantly, we learned about sequence and patience, both of which are represented in the structure of this text and course. It is tempting to start a class at the end—by telling students what you want them to end up learning. We did, in fact, teach this course that way—once. We started with a pile of fascinating papers on dynamic systems; we assigned students to read them and tried to discuss them in class (Skinner & Lendaris, 2007). This way of teaching the course crashed and burned. Students looked at us as if we had transported them to a distant planet and asked them to speak a foreign language—one that had no relevance to them and which they would never use again. So we learned to start where students currently reside— even if, to some instructors, the starting places seem too easy. If you watch students working with these beginning ideas, you will see that they are not easy or simple. They are foundational. And we learned to be patient while students struggle with the activities and exercises in this book. They need time and space to re-construct their working models of their phenomena, and at the same time, to re-construct their working models of applied developmental science. If we can make ourselves slow down and really try to figure out what our students are thinking and doing, we can learn and discover along with them.

    We suggest that, the first time through, instructors try the sequence recommended in this text. And then, after they have experienced its effects on student engagement and learning directly, they can freely refine, reorder, and optimize the class for their specific students and their own particular style of teaching. We always co-teach this course and we highly recommend this practice. It allows instructors to embody the key notion of multiple perspectives and competing claims. It prevents the meta-theory of a single instructor from taking on the unexamined status as “correct,” and demonstrates how good scientists remain skeptical about their beliefs, no matter how deeply rooted. We would wish for future instructors all the frustrating, confusing, and precious moments we have experienced in teaching the course-- all the good arguments, the floundering attempts to articulate clearly our own positions and warrants and to comprehend the differing views articulated by respected others, the laughter at uncovering our own hidden assumptions, and the rare and delicious moments of insight and of opening and changing our minds.