What are Threshold Concepts?

Since I am working with a colleague on a research project around the idea of Threshold Concepts in doctoral education, I thought it may be useful to provide a fundamental definition of this to potentially assist those who supervise doctoral students to consider participating in this research.

As per Jan Meyer and Ray Land, the originators of this area:

A threshold concept 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 (Meyer & Land, 2003, p. 1).

While there is certainly more to it, threshold concepts exist within disciplines of study and often result in a transformed perspective of something.

Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines. Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses Project Occasional Report 4, May 2003. Retrieved November 5, 2010, from http://www.etl.tla.ed.ac.uk//docs/ETLreport4.pdf

Do You Supervise Doctoral Students?

Do you (or somebody you know, such as your doctoral supervisor or mentor) supervise, mentor, advise, or teach doctoral students?

Have you ever seen an aha moment occur with your doctoral students, when they suddenly grasp something related to their study in a way that helps them move into a new place in their work or thinking or experience? If so, we would love to speak with you for a research project we are engaging in that we are calling Faculty Support: Doctoral Student Threshold Concepts.

More information about what we are planning to do may be found here, including our research consent form.

Please consider forwarding a link to this study to anybody who you think may be interested in this work or email me if you have any questions or wish to participate.

Supervising the Doctorate Experience – Invitation to Participate in a Study

Who is Invited?

Are you (or were you) a staff / faculty member who supervises, directs, mentors, or tutors doctoral students, who for at least part of their programme (including thesis / dissertation writing) are studying at a distance?

If so, have you ever had experiences of helping or supporting these students confront and work through any threshold concepts or areas of troublesome knowledge (i.e., aha moments, trouble spots, breakthrough areas, or defining moments of epistemological or ontological shift that may be pivotal in one’s identity development)?

Want to share these experiences for an approved  research project sponsored through the Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology (CSALT) in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University?

What is the Purpose of the Study?

The purpose of this research is to better understand the experiences of faculty members who work with doctoral students, at least in part via information and communications technology or technology-enhanced learning or e-learning, who have identified threshold concepts (i.e., aha moments, trouble spots, breakthrough areas, or defining moments of epistemological or ontological shift that may be pivotal in one’s identity development) for their students and were successful helping these learners through this troublesome knowledge.

Who are the Researchers?

This research is being conducted by Dr. Gale Parchoma (Lecturer / Assistant Professor in North America) and Jeffrey Keefer (Doctoral Student) at Lancaster University’s Educational Research Department, Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology (CSALT).

What will Participation Involve?

Participation in this study will involve:

  1. An approximately one-hour interview via telephone or Skype.
  2. Approximately one hour of your time to review and potentially revise your interview transcript and/or summarized narrative.

We will organize our interview schedule as soon as we receive confirmation of participants. We anticipate interviews taking place between December, 2010 and January, 2011. We hope to be able to return transcripts to participants before the end of February, 2011.

How Can I Learn More?

Our approved Consent Form with more information is available for review. If you have questions, want to speak about this, or wish to participate, please email either Gale or Jeffrey.

Thank you for considering this request for participation. We hope to add to the academic body of knowledge through our work together.

Doctoral Research (Module #4) Project Idea

So, here is my current thinking about my final empirical research project in my doctoral program at Lancaster (I work on a literature review in the Fall and then begin the draft proposal for my doctoral thesis). I have already gotten some internal feedback on this, and am now interested in getting some thoughts from my most educated and helpful colleagues (yes, you, dear reader!). Once again, I will have a very short timeline of 4 weeks for this, so will formalize this in the next day or two, and begin seeking potential people to interview beginning this Wednesday.

Research Problem
While programs in doctoral higher education (HE) increasingly moving online and are being supported via distance delivery, it seems important that faculty members support these learners and attend to the changing pedagogical landscape of increasing technology with decreasing face-to-face class time. Mindful of the work of Meyer and Land (2008), it seems the more we can understand where threshold concepts exist, the more doctoral faculty can help their distance students through the doctoral research process while these learners develop as new researchers.

The purpose of this research is to better understand the experiences of faculty members who work with doctoral students via distance or technology-enhanced learning who have identified threshold concepts, or trouble spots / breakthrough areas, for their students and who have found success with helping these learners through this troublesome knowledge.

Research Question
What can we learn about how faculty support their doctoral students, studying from a distance, through areas of disciplinary challenge or threshold concepts?

Methodology and Method
I am hoping to identify and interview 3 social science doctoral faculty members who work with students using TEL or Network Learning methods. I will reach out to my TEL / NL / Qualitative Research networks to inquire for interest. l will conduct and record Skype or phone interviews, and will then engage in grounded theory (cf. Kathy Charmaz) to develop a theory to explain this phenomenon. I will not expect my interviewees to know the terminology around “threshold concepts,” so I will have to define them as being “areas of discipinary trouble, places where students have breakthroughs and then understand their work and research in a new way.”

These are the open-ended, semi-structured interview questions I am considering beginning the conversations with:

  1. Tell me about your experiences identifying disciplinary areas that your doctoral students often struggle with as they pursue their studies from a distance.
  2. How have you helped your doctoral students through these areas?
  3. What did you learn about your students, your discipline, or your role as a doctoral tutor / mentor as a result of these experiences?

Any thoughts at this point are very appreciated.

Identity Development in Blogging — The Whys and Hows?

As I am starting to get personal, public, and formal academic feedback about my (working and developing) research design (both here on my blog, directly to me, and in my university’s Virtual Learning Environment), I am slowly narrowing it down.

I am thinking about how I work all various elements together (transformative learning, adult education, critical theory, teaching and learning, virtual identity, etc.), and it occurred to me that many of the people I speak with on Twitter and whose blogs I read are all sharing a similar experience to me — we are (or recently were) doctoral (or even graduate) students. I find myself interested in reading those blogs about people who chronicle their research interests, learning, struggles, and journies through graduate and doctoral work.

  • Why do this via a blog?
  • What is learned in the process?
  • How does it feel to be public with your thinking?
  • How do you learn about yourself?
  • Where does this fit with your identity development?
  • What troublesome knowledge do you learn along the way?

I wonder what it would be like to identify and interview some of these folks to inquire what they learned about themselves through blogging their educational experiences, why they did it, and how it influenced their research?

I wonder if there is a research problem and question in here?