Academic “Stuckness”

I recently started to read a most interesting blog, The Thesis Wisperer. While this blog is about doing a doctoral thesis, and my research is about researchers and the research process, it seems a natural fit.

This became even more apparent when I read their newest post, Why you might be ‘stuck.’ This post is about threshold concepts, a topic I have been studying especially intensely recently, that comes from the work of Meyer and Land. Not much to really add to this right now, as I am saving all that for my own research findings. On an even larger note, as I am narrowing down my doctoral research questions, let’s just leave stuckness alone, at least for the time being!

Let’s just say that I envision this being a most important framework for my thesis proposal, whose idea is due to be submitted for review within 2 weeks at Lancaster University. Back to my research . . .

Learnings & Questions about Threshold Concepts

OK, I have now read everything I can find by Meyer and Land on Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (with the exception of one text which I am trying to get via inter-library loan, as it is pricey even for my endless book buying binge–Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge).

There are two other things (loosely) I learned about this framework:

  • While learners struggle with this sort of conceptual knowledge, once they “get” it, their transformative, irreversible, and integrative experience will change their conceptual framework, while it is bounded within a disciplinary terrain and there is a discursive nature that is demonstrated when we use a different language to describe the concept or its results (Land, R., Meyer, J. H. F., & Smith, J. (2008). Editors’ Preface. In R. Land, J. H. F. Meyer & J. Smith (Eds.), Threshold concepts within the disciplines. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
  • This framework is intended to assist “teachers in identifying appropriate ways of modifying or redesigning curricula to enable their students to negotiate such epistemological transitions, and ontological transformations, in a more satisfying fashion for all concerned” when these concepts are located within “disciplinary knowledge” (Meyer & Land, 2005, p. 386).
  • This framework is intended for higher education, though the authors want to see it spread to other sectors of education (Land, Meyer, & Smith, 2008).

With this, I now have a few open questions to explore as next steps:

  • How do disciplinary Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge fit if one has a postmodern or post-structural worldview?
  • This issue arose from a comment made in David Perkins’ article when he spoke about John Dewey and Neil Postman’s work (Perkins, D. (2008). Beyond understanding. In R. Land, J. H. F. Meyer & J. Smith (Eds.), Threshold concepts within the disciplines. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers).
  • Whose knowledge can be determined to be troublesome to whom?
  • This issue arose from a comment about a Foucauldian perspective and how power within a curriculum is wielded, used, and understood (Meyer & Land, 2003).
  • How is this framework something distinctive from Jack Mezirow’s work in Transformative Learning
  • The only reference to Mezirow’s work on perspective transformation that I located was in the original 2003 article (Meyer & Land). I found this a bit surprising, in that the transformative learning literature (based on Mezirow, Brookfield, Cranton, Taylor, et al.) is increasing (with courses on it within adult education, a conference, dedicated journal, and entire programs of study built upon it), and there seem to be many similarities with enough differences tocomplement one another.

OK, now to use this (as it does interest me) as the conceptual framework for my research design, which I now want to begin to develop. Has anybody used this framework in any research?

Are Threshold Concepts Discipline Specific?

As I am reading my way through the literature about threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge for my next research project, I am reading this work through the lens of Jack Mezirow’s Transformative Learning framework. However, this does not seem to be what Jan Meyer and Ray Land (2005) are talking about, though there are certainly similarities between the two. More about this later.

Meyer and Land focus their threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge in a disciplinary-specific manner, where there seems to be support to suggest that common experiences related to a field of study present a threshold to fully entering into the conversations in the field itself. One example they give is hegemony, which is a threshold concept within cultural studies. Learners often struggle with this concept, though once the “get” it, their transformative, irreversible, and integrative experience will change their conceptual framework.

Now, I am still working my way through this, and have a lot more to read about it. However, why should these concepts live only within certain disciplines? Isn’t that a rather traditional way of looking at learning, only through the perspective of what fits within this or that field? For those of us who are transdisciplinary (especially within the world of the social sciences) and don’t want to live within a silo or in a box, it seems a bit limiting to hinge this framework within a specific discipline. My field is not cultural studies, though when I (as an educational researcher) finally “got” hegemony, I had that transformative, irreversible, and integrative re-framing of a worldview. The difference is I like to give attention to hegemony from the perspective of how people learn, rather than how they live and express themselves within a culture.

Thinking about this from another perspective, perhaps this related to how some people, such as Foucault, Baudrillard, Gramsci, and the like are used within several of the social sciences, as their works seem to transcend a single, narrow, area of human study and endeavor? Will have to play with this a bit more later as well.

I think there may be value in recognizing how some fields have these elements, while others have other ones. Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable in having a clearly definable list of these (though, to be fair, there are some concepts that fit better within some disciplines, but not as readily as others). Mezirow’s work is not discipline-specific at all, and certainly I have more reading to do to claim I really understand what Meyer and Land are proposing.

How have others struggled with the issue of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge being discipline specific?

Threshold Concepts Symposium in 2010

As I am beginning to look at Ray Land’s work in Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (which I first became aware of last year, though I went in a different direction then) as an element of the research design I am working on, I just became aware of the 3rd Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium in July of 2010 in Australia. The conference site is here, and while the airfair from the East Coast in the US is astronomical at that time of the year, perhaps others may find this useful.

threshold-concepts-conference

Now, to try to distinguish this from Jack Mezirow’s Transformative Learning theory. Anybody see anything that tries to show the similarities and differences?

Research Interest Clarification, 2009

phenomenologyI recently had to re- introduce myself to a colleague regarding where my current research interests are, and I thought it may be interesting to share with a wider audience, as I do get asked to explain what I am interested in (since I cannot oversimplify this, however hard I try).

One of the things I learned about myself in the module at Lancaster I just finished is just how much I love qualitative methods. Not just qualitative studies in my own content areas, but the rich methodological particulars in themselves. Yes, I couldn’t believe it when I first said that a few weeks ago – I knew