Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking

using critical and creative thinking to develop reflective practice as we change our schools, workplaces, and lives

Overview: The Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) program at the University of Massachusetts Boston provides its students with knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts.

Critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice are valued, of course, in all fields. In critical thinking we seek to scrutinize the assumptions, reasoning, and evidence brought to bear on an issue-by others and by oneself; such scrutiny is enhanced by placing ideas and practices in tension with alternatives. Key functions of creative thinking include generating alternative ideas, practices, and solutions that are unique and effective, and exploring ways to confront complex, messy, ambiguous problems, make new connections, and see how things could be otherwise. In reflective practice we take risks and experiment in putting ideas into practice, then take stock of the outcomes and revise our approaches accordingly.

The rationale for a distinct Masters and Certificate program of study in CCT is that an explicit and sustained focus on learning and applying ideas and tools in critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice allows students involved in a wide array of professions and endeavors to develop clarity and confidence to make deep changes in their learning, teaching, work, activism, research, and artistry. By the time CCT students finish their studies they are prepared to teach or guide others in ways that often depart markedly from their previous schooling and experience.

In these processes of transformation and transfer, CCT students have to select and adapt the ideas and tools presented by faculty with diverse disciplinary and interdisciplinary concerns. Although each CCT course is self-contained and is open to students from other graduate programs, students matriculated in CCT benefit from extended relationships with core CCT faculty and fellow students that support their process-learning-experimenting and taking risks in applying what they are learning, reflecting on the outcomes and revising accordingly, and building up a set of tools, practices, and perspectives that work in their specific professional or personal endeavors.

Content of Studies: Traditionally, the foundational knowledge emphasized in Critical and Creative Thinking has included psychological studies of the scope, limits, and techniques of critical and creative thought, information processing, and conceptual learning in children and young adults; philosophical studies of reasoning, argument, logical thinking, valuing, and judging; and work with cognitive structures and metacognitive techniques for stimulating creativity and critical thought. In the CCT Program this knowledge base is expanded through elective courses that take students into areas of specialization and through required courses in research, implementation, evaluation, and communication that introduce a range of tools for students' own personal and professional development and for helping others develop equivalent processes. In recent years required and elective CCT courses have delved further into inter- and intra-personal dimensions of critical and creative thinking and reflective practice, involving empathy, listening, dialogue, and facilitation of other group processes. An interest in contributing to constructive social change has also led CCT faculty and students to address anti-racist and multicultural education and to promote the involvement of teachers and other citizens in debates about science in its social context [certificate with science in society theme]. The Program's long-standing emphasis on creativity has also been complemented by the newer courses on workplace and organizational change [certificate].

Like the students in the Program, CCT faculty members are engaged in ongoing personal and professional development, which builds on, but extends some distance from, their original disciplines of education, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, and the life sciences. Indeed, faculty members value teaching in CCT as an opportunity for innovation and process-learning-ideas incubated with input from the diverse practitioner-students of CCT can then be brought back into the faculty's home disciplines and undergraduate teaching. In turn, students' experience of the faculty as reflective practitioners in their own work is an essential part of the content of CCT studies.

Students and intended impact of studies: The CCT Program appeals to students looking for professional and personal development who are interested in learning from and with others of diverse backgrounds and interests. Many are mid-career educators: teachers and college professors, curriculum specialists, teacher educators, museum educators, or school administrators. Others are policy makers or personnel trainers in government, corporate, or non-profit settings. Some are artists, musicians, or writers. Through course projects, independent studies, pre-capstone research courses, and the capstone synthesis projects, CCT students explore issues they have not had much chance to address before and translate what they learn into strategies, materials, and interventions for use in diverse educational, professional, and social settings. Given the range of practitioners that choose to undertake studies in CCT, the Program cannot measure its impact in terms of numerical production of, say, certified teachers, principals, or nurses. Instead, the Program's success in fulfilling its mission has to be read from the capstone projects, exit self-assessments, and subsequent reports and testimonials. These outcomes demonstrate that graduates leave CCT well equipped for ongoing learning, addressing the needs of their schools, workplaces, and communities, adapting and contributing to social changes, and collaborating with others to these ends [syn/thesis abstracts, exit self-assessment and feedback from alums and testimonials].

Programs of study: Most students in CCT seek a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree (11 courses/33 credits). Others study for a Graduate Certificate (5 courses/15 credits), and some of these students then apply to transfer their credits into the M.A. program. The Certificate may be completed through online courses and the M.A. through a combination of online courses and regular courses taken at a distance.. CCT courses also allow students from other graduate programs to fulfill requirements for courses in critical and creative thinking and in teaching in the different subject areas, especially in mathematics and science. In particular, students in the non-licensure and professional Teacher Education tracks who want to build a specific area of interest in CCT should contact the Program to be assigned a CCT faculty advisor. Non-degree students can also take CCT courses; this opportunity, together with workshops, summer institutes, open house activities, forums, and other outreach activities further extend the range of educational experiences offered by the Program [Publicity Brochure]. To accommodate the schedules of teachers and other professionals, courses are offered after 4 pm as well as in intensive sessions during the summer, and the Program can be completed on a part-time or full-time basis.

The elective courses allow students to define specific areas in which they explore their CCT-related interests -- for example, "creative thinking at work", "science in a changing world", "gifted and talented education", "critical and creative thinking in literature/arts/music", "dialogue and collaboration in organizational change."  Areas of specialization may be constructed through cooperation with other UMass-Boston graduate programs, such as Instructional Design, Special Education, Public Policy, and Dispute Resolution.

M.A. students complete four foundation courses, four electives*, and three final required courses including a capstone synthesis. The elective courses offered specifically address four areas in which students apply critical and creative thinking skills: moral education; literature and arts; mathematics, science, and technology (including sub-specialities in science in society, and environment, science, and society); and workplace and organizational change. Additional areas of specialization can be constructed through cooperation with other UMass Boston graduate programs, such as Instructional Design, Special Education, Educational Administration, and Dispute Resolution.
(*Three electives for students matriculated before Fall '08.)
A Handbook for CCT Students provides more detail about joining CCT and moving through the program (PDF version). The extensive website can be searched for more information about the Program and allied activities in the wider world.


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Last update 7 May 09