Ray Land

  • Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (3): Implications for curriculum design and evaluation

    Ray Land, Coventry University
    Jan Meyer, University of Durham
    Glynis Cousin, University of Warwick
    Peter Davies, Staffordshire University

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    Conceptual paper

    Themes: course and programme design, learning and teaching methods, learning environments

    This paper builds on research carried out by the authors in a UK nationally funded project _Enhancing Teaching and Learning Environments in Undergraduate Education_ (ETL). This project forms part of the large scale ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme, Phase 2. ETL is seeking to identify factors leading to high quality learning environments within five disciplinary contexts across a range of HE institutions. The idea of a threshold concept emerged from explorations with teachers and students about what might be fundamental to to ways of thinking and practising within their subject. Meyer and Land (2003) argue that there are likely to be threshold concepts in any academic discipline.

    A threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress. Comprehension of a threshold concept often entails a transformed internal view of subject matter, and of the subject landscape. Not infrequently, it might involve a reconstitution of learner identity. Such transformation may be sudden or it may be protracted over a considerable period of time, with the transition to understanding often proving troublesome. This paper explores the value of a threshold concepts approach to curriculum design in terms of

    1. its diagnostic capacity, as a design tool, to identify the necessary transformations of perspective required within specific disciplinary areas, and
    2. the ways in which teachers might more effectively assist students in the mastery of threshold concepts through their design of supportive learning environments.

    References

    • Meyer, J.H.F. & Land, R. (2003a). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (1): linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines. In C. Rust (Ed.), Improving Student Learning. Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice ― 10 years on, OCSLD, Oxford, 412-424.
    • Meyer, J.H.F. & Land, R. (2003b). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): epistemological considerations and a theoretical framework for teaching. Symposium paper, 10th European Conference on Learning and Instruction, Padua, Italy, August 26-30, 2003.
    • Cousin G (2003) Threshold concepts, Troublesome Knowledge and Learning About Others, Symposium paper, 10th European Conference on Learning and Instruction, Padua, Italy, August 26-30, 2003.