Re-envisioning tertiary teaching and learning of difficult concepts: How “threshold concepts” afford understanding of problematic ideas.

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Funding year: 
2011
Duration:
2 years
Organisation: 
University of Waikato
Sector: 
Post school sector
Project start date: 
January 2012
Project end date: 
June 2014
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Mira Peter and Anne Harlow
Research team members: 
Professor Jonathan Scott, Dr Marcia Johnson, Professor David McKie, Professor Anne McKim
Research partners: 
The team is a collaborative partnership between lecturers in several subject areas and three education researchers.

Project Description

Through collaborative action-research the researchers will work with tertiary lecturers in electronics
engineering, doctoral research and writing, management communication, and English to identify threshold
concepts in and across disciplines. We will document changes in lecturers' threshold-concept-informed
teaching and supervision and the impact of a threshold concept-informed curriculum, pedagogy, and
assessment on student learning.

Aims

In a previous study we examined the implications of a threshold concept-informed curriculum and pedagogy
in electronics engineering. Threshold concept theory asserts that concepts that are troublesome to learn are
also transformative when mastered: once grasped, they reconfigure students’ understanding of a discipline
and what it means to be a disciplinary expert.
There is a three-fold objective to our study: (1) to engage tertiary lecturers in rigorous examination of
curriculum and pedagogy through an exploration of threshold concept theory; (2) to foster in students deep
rather than shallow knowledge and understanding through the threshold-concept-informed curriculum,
pedagogy, and assessment; and (3) to address concerns around retention of tertiary students. We will address
these objectives by investigating:

  1. How lecturers' awareness of threshold concepts impacts teaching and supervision at the tertiary level.
  2. How the introduction of threshold concepts into teacher-student discourse and practice impacts student learning at the tertiary level.
  3. The possibility of threshold concepts spanning disciplines.
  4. The value of collaborative action research, by lecturers from several disciplines, for tertiary curriculum and pedagogy design.

Why is this research important?

The retention of students through to successful completion of tertiary study is a priority in today’s knowledge-centered society. In our project, education researchers and university lecturers will explore the potential of threshold-concept theory to transform students’ learning through lecturers’ threshold-concept focused pedagogy. In our previous study, in which a lecturer changed his pedagogy guided by the threshold concept theory, the number of students continuing in electronics engineering was double that of previous
years. This finding strongly suggests that collaborative action research into pedagogy, based on the threshold-concept theory, can address current concerns around retention of tertiary graduates in New Zealand.

Project Contact

Mira Peter
Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research
Faculty of Education
University of Waikato
Email:mpeter@waikato.ac.nz

 

Project Outputs

2012

Conferences, presentations and workshops

Harlow, A., Scott, J., Peter, M. (2012, June). Students’ perceptions of travel through the liminal space: Lessons for teachers. Paper presented at the 4th Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium: From personal practice to communities of practice. June 28–29, 2012, Trinity College, Dublin Ireland.

Peter, M., & Harlow, A. (2012, June). Teaching and grasping threshold concepts: Four disciplines and one paradigm. Paper presented at the 4th Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium: From personal practice to communities of practice. June 28–29, 2012, Trinity College, Dublin Ireland.

Scott, J., Peter, M., & Harlow, A (2012, June). Threshold concept-inspired electronics concept Inventory. Paper presented at the 4th Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium: From personal practice to communities of practice. June 28–29, 2012, Trinity College, Dublin Ireland.

Scott, J., Peter, M., & Harlow, A. (2012, August). An electronics threshold concept inventory: Assessment in the face of dependency of concepts. Paper presented at TALE2012, August 2012, Hong Kong.

Johnson, E. M., & Haines, A. (2012, November). "The size of the project is overwhelming": Case study insights into becoming an academic scholar. Paper presented at the Tertiary Writing Network Colloquium. Hamilton, New Zealand.

Peter, M., & Harlow, A. (2012, November). Teaching and grasping threshold concepts. Paper presented at the New Zealand Association of Research in Education (NZARE) Conference. Hamilton New Zealand.

Haines, A., Marsh, D., & Johnson, E. M. (2012, November). The 4 x 4 strategy for writing improvement. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Association of Tertiary Learning Advisers of Aotearoa New Zealand (ATLAANZ). Hamilton, New Zealand.

Harlow, A., Peter, M., & Scott, J. (2012, December). Threshold concept knowledge in analogue electronic. Paper presented at the Special Session on Engineering Education attached to The 19th Electronics New Zealand Conference (ENZCon2012). Dunedin, New Zealand.