Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge

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Therefore, to prevent ritual knowledge when teaching literature searching skills, enable learners to search for literature on a topic with relevance for themselves and their practice.

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They may simply be used to less complex methods of searching such as typing simple terms and phrases into Google. Conceptually difficult knowledge is also linked to everyday experience creating misunderstandings and these can exacerbate the difficulty, for example the mistaken belief that heavy objects fall faster than light objects.

To reduce difficulties in learning conceptually difficult concepts we can let learners rediscover the concepts or introduce the concept and then let them test and use it actively. Some knowledge comes from a perspective that is different from our own and this is known as foreign or alien knowledge. An example of this is where learners of history see historical situations through current thinking rather than through the views and beliefs of the time in history. Another is the language used in the discipline which presents itself as a foreign and impenetrable language to the learner.

Troublesome knowledge: why don't they understand?

To lessen foreign knowledge we can enable learners to recognise and acknowledge different perspectives or engage them in learning the new language of their discipline. Boolean logic is frequently used in literature searching and is likely to be unfamiliar and therefore foreign to learners. They need to be introduced to the terms and how they work to enable them to design and carry out successful literature searches. There are also other types of knowledge that can be troublesome. Meyer and Land 6 highlighted that much knowledge held by professionals is tacit.

That is it is difficult to explain as it has become so ingrained in the being of that person that they use it without thought. So concepts and ways of approaching literature searching that are obvious to you as an information and library professional may not be to a learner unfamiliar with these methods. Emotional capital may also make concepts difficult.

Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge

Or it may just be that they are not having a good day and their attention is elsewhere. There is also evidence that learners need to experience variation in the concept to enable them to identify and solve the problem in different situations. Overall the ideas behind troublesome knowledge suggest that we should engage learners actively, get them to work with the knowledge using a variety of different methods and also vary the variables within those methods.

Threshold concepts are considered to be a new way of viewing something. Examples cited in the literature include opportunity cost in economics, 11 hypothesis creation in biology 12 and caring in occupational therapy. Meyer and Land 6 identified five criteria for a threshold concept: transformative, integrative, probably irreversible, troublesome and bounded.

Table of contents for Overcoming barriers to student understanding

The transformative nature indicates that there is some change that occurs due to the crossing of the threshold. This change can be a change in the learners subject view, their view of the world or a change in them personally. In relation to information skills this could be a change in how an individual views how to search for literature, or a change in the focus of a search or information requirement. This transformation is linked and integrates with existing knowledge that the learner holds. In terms of literature searching, new knowledge on literature searching approaches may link with disciplinary knowledge and existing research on their literature topic area.

Meyer and Land suggest that the acquisition of a threshold concept is probably irreversible but do not suggest how this may be confirmed. They suggest that passing through the portal is not an easy passage and may include understanding knowledge that may be troublesome as described by Perkins. Understanding how to conduct a literature search may have aspects of qualitative or quantitative research as its neighbours. It is also possible that the language of the discipline has an impact on the crossing of a threshold concept 14 and so the unfamiliar world of Boolean logic can impact here if it is not acknowledged and explained.

Of course learners come with different backgrounds and experience different concepts in different ways.


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Meyer and Land 14 acknowledge these differences and that they make the concept easy for some learners and very difficult for others. Threshold concepts, troublesome knowledge, liminality, mimicry, ontological shift, underlying game. For information about our services for businesses, please visit our dedicated site. Explore a suite of interactive resources and live discussions at Research Essentials Online.

For all enquiries regarding quantitative methods training please contact the Doctoral College Team on dcevents le. Personal tools Web Editor Log in. Search Site only in current section. Advanced Search…. Search Site. Abstract This presentation will outline and invite discussion of a new conceptual framework to inform programme design and assessment. Key Words Threshold concepts, troublesome knowledge, liminality, mimicry, ontological shift, underlying game Presentation Slides Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge.


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