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Jane Osmond, Andrew Turner University of Coventry
Tuesday 4 September 2007, 09.00-10.00
Themes: Better understanding of the discipline
This paper focuses on how using threshold concepts as a research framework has provided a mechanism to develop a better theoretical understanding of the discipline for both the course team and researchers, and also informed the development of pilot measurement tool to measure the spatial understanding which could be considered the existing creative baseline of the course.
Meyer and Land define threshold concepts as concepts that: ‘...can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. They represent a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress.’ (2003). Spatial understanding was presented for discussion to both staff and students as a potential threshold concept.
Initial research highlighted differences in perceptions between course team members and between students of spatial understanding, which reflected the literature in which several phrases and definitions are offered ( see Karnath et al. 2001; Garg et al. 1999; Bodner and Guay, 1997; Eliot, 2002; Gardner, 1983; Shearer, 2004). These discussions allowed the emergence of several possible threshold concepts which informed the development of a pilot measurement tool which, in conjunction with Bodner and Guay’s Purdue Visualization of Rotations Test (1997) , has been administered to 114 first year students.
The aim of the tests is to ascertain if there is a correlation between student scores on the measurement tool on entry to the course and end-of-year assessment results. With such a correlation, pedagogic interventions can be targeted at those students who perform relatively poorly on the tests at entry. Conversely, if there is no correlation, then a question will be raised about the centrality of spatial understanding to the course: perhaps another definition of spatial understanding, or the ‘creative baseline’, will need to be found. This would require more investigation into what one member of staff described as the ‘underlying agenda of things we know the students need to have’, an agenda that often remains unwritten, undertheorised and unarticulated, but, it could be argued, is at the heart of a very successful course.