Marita Ljungqvist

  • Recognizing and introducing threshold concepts: using podcasts to help students gain troublesome knowledge

    Marita Ljungqvist and Maria Hedberg, Lund University

    Research seminar

    Themes: teaching methods, blended and e-learning, supporting learners

    Tuesday 8 September 2009, 16.00 - 17.00 in room 121

    Recent studies (for example Evans, 2007) show that students believe that the use of podcasts have a positive impact on their learning and is a faster and more effective way to rehearse course content than for example textbooks. This paper will explore whether threshold concepts - transformative, integrative, irreversible and troublesome conceptual gateways (Land, Meyer & Smith 2008) central to the mastery of a subject - could be introduced in audio-visual podcasts - screencasts - that help the students to grasp and get an overview of the most crucial parts of the course content.

    During the spring 2009 we will conduct two parallel studies in order to

    1. identify threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge in an online beginners' course in Mandarin Chinese and
    2. explore how the use of screencasts introducing such concepts affects student learning and engagement in learning activities.

    Interviews with advanced (second-year) students will be carried out in order to identify areas that they found particularly difficult to grasp during their first year of studies and their strategies for coping with their difficulties. A complete set of screencasts, covering the teacher-identified troublesome concepts of the first semester of studies in the Chinese language (examples could be certain grammatical constructions, words and intonation) will simultaneously be provided to the first-year students. Data from a qualitative survey-based investigation of these students' learning experience will be presented together with results from a previous smaller pilot study conducted in 2008 in which twenty students watched four pilot screencasts introducing crucial but difficult parts of elementary Chinese grammar and filled in an online questionnaire evaluating their learning experience. Of the pilot study participants, 72% said that they would prefer watching a screencast than reading the same information in text.

    We hope to be able to offer a model implementing audiovisual learning resources in order for teachers in higher education to:

    • motivate and provide the students with the means to identify, approach and understand particularly troublesome areas in the course content and integrate these ideas with previous knowledge in order to develop a deep understanding of the subject
    • create transparency between the learning activities and the learning objectives of the course by illustrating and clarifying important basic concepts that the students need to learn
    • offer ways for students to construct knowledge that facilitates flexibility in time and space
    • achieve a higher variety in their teaching and learning activities


    • Evans, C. (2008). The effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education. Computers & Education, 50(2), 491-498. 
    • Land, R., Meyer, J. H. F., & Smith J. (eds.) (2007). Threshold concepts within the disciplines. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.