Barrett, Terry (2012) HARD FUN AS A THRESHOLD CONCEPT IN PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING. In: National Academy’s Sixth Annual Conference and the Fourth Biennial Threshold Concepts Conference. Threshold Concepts: from personal practice to communities of practice, 2012, June 28 - 29 2012, Trinity College Dublin., Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.


At the centre of this research study was the research question: “What can we learn about problembased learning (PBL) from how lecturers, as PBL students, talked about learning in PBL tutorials? The focus of this study was the naturally occurring students’ talk in PBL tutorials. All the PBL tutorials for a full module were video and audio-recorded. The talk was analysed informed by critical discourse analysis. Firstly, The study identified and explored the different ways each team talked about learning, that is, the interpretive repertoires. There were consistencies and contradictions together with agreements and conflicts in the way both one student and a team of students talked about learning. Secondly, the study involved deriving the threshold concept of hard fun by analysing the interpretive repertoires about learning across both teams. The experience of creating the concept of learning in PBL as hard fun has transformed my understanding of learning in PBL. This understanding is irreversible as this important insight has affected both the way other colleagues and I think about and implement PBL and PBL education development. The concept of hard fun is integrative in that it brings together my analysis of how the two teams of PBL students talked about their learning. Learning in PBL is about the fun of laughter, creativity and playfulness and the hardness of the demanding activity levels, the difficulties, and the transformations. Fun without hardness is frivolity and hardness without fun is drudgery. Learning in PBL demands both the fun of playing with ideas and the hardness of refining and reworking ideas. Hardness and fun are complementary parts required for learning. One implication for practice is the challenge of working together to design hard fun problems in different communities of practice (Barrett, Moore and Cashman, 2010).

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