[Events] Threshold concepts and Troublesome Knowledge - Prof Ray Land

Mary.Fitzpatrick Mary.Fitzpatrick at staffmail.ul.ie
Tue Nov 3 08:48:55 GMT 2009

Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: a Transformative Approach
to Learning
Professor Ray Land, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.
Venue: Radisson Blu Hotel, Ennis Road Limerick
Date and Time: Tuesday 17th November 2009, 9.30 to 13.00
Places are limited. To register, email: Liam.Boyle at lit.ie
This seminar will outline and invite discussion of a new analytical
framework to inform programme design and assessment.  The approach
builds on the notion of 'Threshold Concepts' which 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. As a consequence of comprehending a threshold
concept there may thus be a transformed internal view of subject matter,
subject landscape, or even world view.  Typical examples might be
'Marginal Cost', 'Opportunity Cost' or 'Elasticity' in Economics;
'Evolution' in Biology; 'Gravity' or 'Reactive Power' in Physics;
'Depreciation' in Accounting; 'Precedent' in Law;  'Geologic Time' in
Geology; 'Uncertainty' in Environmental Science; 'Deconstruction' in
Literature; 'Limit' theory in Mathematics or 'Programming' in Computer
This transformation may be sudden or it may be protracted over a
considerable period of time, with the transition to understanding often
involving 'troublesome knowledge'. Depending on discipline and context,
knowledge might be troublesome because it is ritualised, inert,
conceptually  difficult, alien or tacit, because it requires adopting an
unfamiliar discourse, or perhaps because the learner remains 'defended'
and does not wish to change their customary way of seeing things.
Difficulty in understanding threshold concepts may leave the learner in
a state of 'liminality', a suspended state or 'stuck place' in which
understanding approximates to a kind of 'mimicry' or lack of
authenticity. Insights gained by learners as they cross thresholds can
be exhilarating but might also be unsettling, requiring an uncomfortable
shift in identity, or, paradoxically, a sense of loss.  A further
complication might be the operation of an 'underlying game' which
requires the learner to comprehend the often tacit games of enquiry or
ways of thinking and practising inherent within specific disciplinary
knowledge practices.  In this sense we might wish to talk of 'threshold
practices' or 'threshold experiences' that are necessary in the
learner's development.
The thresholds approach addresses disciplinary contexts and emphasises
transformation in learning. It results in a reformulation of the
learners' frame of meaning. It is currently being implemented in a wide
range of disciplinary areas and has been the focus of two international
symposia in the UK and Canada with a third taking place for Australia in
July 2010.  This session will outline key dimensions of the thresholds
approach followed by discussion of implications for practice in
participants' own contexts.

Ray Land Ray Land is Professor of Higher Education and Head of the
Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement (CAPLE) at the
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow UK. His research interests include
academic development, threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge,
research-teaching linkages, and theoretical aspects of digital learning.
He is the author of Educational Development: Discourse, Identity and
Practice (Open University Press 2004) and co-editor of Education in
Cyberspace (RoutledgeFalmer 2005), Overcoming Barriers to Student
Learning: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (Routledge 2006),
Threshold Concepts within the Disciplines (Sense Publishers 2008) and
Research-Teaching Linkages: Enhancing Graduate Attributes (QAA 2008).  A
new volume, Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning will be
published in early 2010 (Sense Publishers, Rotterdam)




Dr. Mary Fitzpatrick

Regional Teaching and Learning Advocate


Centre for Teaching and Learning

Millstream Courtyard

University of Limerick

Limerick, Ireland


[T]   +353-61-234 351

[F]   +353-61-338 044

[E]   mary.fitzpatrick at ul.ie

[W]  www.ul.ie/ctl


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