LATROBE University presents: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: implications for course (re)design

Professor Ray Land
Durham University

Date: Thursday 7 June, 2012
Time: 2pm-3.15pm
Venue: HUED Lecture Theatre (Melbourne campus)
Register to attend

A threshold concept may be seen as a crossing of boundaries into new conceptual space where things formerly not within view are perceived, much like a portal opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. Successfully negotiating a threshold concept allows the learner to access a transformed way of thinking and practising and fresh modes of reasoning and explanation. Without access to these new understandings, perceptions, discourses and conceptual terrain, the learner finds it difficult to progress within a particular field of study. 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.

The thresholds approach emphasises the importance of disciplinary contexts, as the conceptual boundaries that are crossed are part of disciplinary structures and formation. The learning of a threshold concept frequently entails an encounter with ‘troublesome knowledge’. Depending on discipline and context, knowledge might be troublesome because it is ritualised, inert (unpractised), conceptually difficult and complex, counterintuitive, alien or tacit, because it requires adopting an unfamiliar discourse, or perhaps because the learner remains ‘defended’ and does not wish to change or let go of their customary way of seeing. Encountering the troublesome knowledge of a threshold concept provokes a ‘liminal’ phase of transition, in which new understandings need to be integrated and, importantly, prior conceptions relinquished. The letting go of a prevailing or familiar view frequently involves an uncomfortable ‘ontological shift’ or a ‘change in subjectivity’, which, while advancing understanding, can paradoxically be experienced as a sense of loss.

This session will outline the thresholds approach and invite discussion of its applicability to the ways of thinking and practising, the shifts in subjectivity and the development of necessary attributes that students encounter in various programmes. It will be considered as one conceptual tool for course (re)design.

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