Mastering threshold concepts in tertiary education: “I know exactly what you are saying and I can understand it but I’ve got nowhere to hook it.”

Ann Harlow, Mira Peter

Abstract


International interest is growing in the hypothesis that a focus on teaching threshold concepts can engender transformation in the epistemological and ontological dimensions of learning. According to threshold concept theory (Meyer & Land, 2003) concepts that are troublesome to learn are also transformative when mastered: the acquisition of threshold concepts conduces to the change in the student’s understanding of a discipline, and what it means to be a disciplinary expert, engendering in the student deep knowledge and learning throughout the student’s life span. Our project explored how threshold concept-focused pedagogies and assessments can afford opportunities for student learning of hard-to-grasp concepts. The impact of a threshold concept-informed curriculum was  examined through two cycles of collaborative action-research, in doctoral writing, leadership, a Bachelor of Arts foundation course and electronics engineering course. Results revealed that although the direct impact of changed teaching practice on students’  short-term learning could not always be uniquely identified, results from student surveys confirmed that their learning experience had been enhanced. Results also suggest that by focusing teaching on  identified threshold concepts, lecturers can attend to what they consider the keys to deep learning and ways to best enable it. The explicit teaching of these integrative troublesome concepts offers students somewhere to hook their disciplinary understandings
as they continue to learn new concepts.

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DOI: 10.15663/wje.v19i2.95

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© Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, 2015