Threshold Concepts – ‘One resource to rule them all’

If you have been following along some of my writing in the past few Bridges, I have been writing about threshold concepts – a new and emerging idea in the area of higher education teaching and learning that many people from on campus and around the world have found quite useful in thinking about teaching and learning as well as curriculum development.

Threshold concepts, to remind those who may have missed or only skimmed the Bridges issues (Vol 9, issue 2; and Vol 10, issue 2) where I introduced this work, are those concepts that are central to students’ mastery of their subject. They have a number of features that make them threshold concepts rather than just key or core concepts:

  • Transformative: A students’ way of understanding the discipline or subject is transformed once understood.
  • Troublesome: The concept is often troublesome – tacit, seemingly incoherent, alien, counter-intuitive, or the language of the concept is troublesome.
  • Irreversible: Once learned it is very unlikely that a student will forget (or unlearn) the concept.
  • Integrative: In that they highlight the interrelatedness of knowledge within their discipline or subject.
  • Bounded: They usually delineate a particular conceptual space, and is bounded by other thresholds that lead further into the discipline.
  • Discursive: In that an enhanced and extended use of disciplinary language usually accompanies a students’ learning of the concept.
  • Reconstitutive: In that the students reconstitute their understanding (their prior conceptual schema) over time and let go of their earlier conceptual stance.

Having just re-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy recently, I am reminded of the phrase “One ring to rule them all” and in thinking about writing this blog post it jumped into my mind. Mick Flanagan, a Professor of Electrical Engineering at University College London, has put together the ultimate website resource related to threshold concepts, featuring publicly available articles, videos, and other detailed resources. One of the most exciting aspects of the web resource is that Prof Flanagan has compiled all of the work that has been done on threshold concepts in the disciplines on the site. There is information on threshold concepts in everything from Engineering, Chemistry and Computer Science to English, Economics, and Gender Studies, and on to the Health Sciences. If you are interested in learning more about what has been written/discussed on threshold concepts in your own disciplines, this resource is the place for you. It is the resource to rule them all (for threshold concepts).

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