I have been hesitating the entire week before taking courage and reading these two articles and, alas, I didn’t find comfort in reading them. I should start by positioning my take: I’m a critical scholar, a social scientist, a sociologist.

That said, it is the “problem-based” type of process both articles are built on that I see as highly controversial in its assuming the “problem” – whatever it is – as the starting point for learning and knowing. Actually, one shouldn’t be surprised by such a cut because the origin of this model lays on a medical model (confirmed in both articles) according to which – apologies for simplifying – there is a “disease” (problem) that requires a “treatment” (solution).

But not all diseases have a cure, unfortunately: some of them require the capacity of living with the disease.

In its evolution, this medical approach has been complemented by:

(1) an engineering mindset that brings with it both interventionism and solutionism: given a certain problem, the entire learning process becomes a matter of formulating the best possible (right) answer;

(2) a neoliberal managerial approach (Kek and Huijser refer to “knowledge management” p. 413) that brings with it the agile model aligned with a concept of an “entrepreneurial self”: one is responsible for its own individual learning (fine!) and “knowledge” is the “good” to be produced, sell and buy, transfer from here to there as a discrete entity (less fine!). My problematization is linked to the ongoing debate on the commodification of knowledge and the role of Academia;

(3) I could also problematize the psychological heritage (i.e. the Gestalt tradition) that risks individualizing the learning process and leave traces of cognitivism in the pedagogical approach, despite Kek and Huijser mobilising an “ecological model” that, however, is not convincingly presented in the article. This contribution is plenty of weak claims. For example, they stress the importance of imagination that, however, looks like more an engineering type of imagination at the service of a problem-solving purpose; if at first, these authors seem to align with a critique of neoliberal thinking, later on, they mention, among students’ qualities, the “entrepreneurial thinking” and, eventually, propose an “agile PBL”.

Similarly, Savin-Baden elaborates on the constellations of PBL – which does not have my sympathy, as articulated above – and eventually proposes a reflection of the concept of “engagement”. However, what I didn’t find in her classification is the idea of “motivation”.

Here I would propose one more way of looking at the engagement of students as “affective motivation to learn in an accountable way”.

Students – in my view – should develop a strong attachment to what they learn; they should care for what they learn and not in an instrumental way (i.e. solving a problem, with its charge of “urgency to fix”) but rather appreciating that complexity and uncertainties may also require the capability of listening (not mentioned in these two articles), slow thinking, and “staying with the troubles” (Haraway, 2016). It does not mean “take it easy”, on the contrary, an affective (not emotional) engagement requires accountability and responsibility: both ask for pausing and listening before acting, intervening, solving, managing, etc.

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Connecting week-Some reflections