Building Capacity for Transformative Learning: Embedding Integrative Learning into Threshold Concept Pedagogical Design

Blackshields, Daniel, Cronin, James, Bennett, Deirdre, Higgs, Bettie, McCarthy, Marian, Kilcommins, Shane, Ryan, Tony and O’Leary, Walter (2012) Building Capacity for Transformative Learning: Embedding Integrative Learning into Threshold Concept Pedagogical Design. 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.


The creative teacher is one ‘ris[es] to the needs of the situation’ (Dewey 1997; p. 174). Meyer and Land’s (2003, 2005, 2006) seminal work on Threshold Concepts gives educators an important lens on the transformation of students’ disciplinary understanding. One key characteristic of a Threshold Concept is that it is likely to be ‘bounded’; a conceptual space with ‘terminal frontiers’ (2006, p.6). Meyer and Land recognise the danger of this being perceived as essentialist. In response they advocate a research-minded pedagogical design so as to avoid what Gardner calls ‘hyper-disciplinarity’. We pose the question as to how disciplinarians might embed integrative learning principles into a Threshold Concept curriculum design. Disciplinary thinking, offering different ways of conceiving phenomena, in themselves ‘reflect characteristics of the phenomenon itself and …characteristics of the social construction of that phenomenon’ (Davies, 2003; p 7-8). Therefore, the mental capacity of learners to communicate not only within but inter and trans-disciplines requires pedagogical strategies to i) take account of the ways with which different communities of thought conceive of phenomena and; ii) scaffold the ability to think across and merge disciplinary understandings. We propose that the characteristics of integrative learning such as acknowledging authentic, responsible learning experiences and authentic assessment both to the learner and to the world around them is crucial for building such mental capacity. The embedding of such principles into pedagogies may provide ‘a larger canvas from which to view the interconnectedness of our lives’ (Kegan, 1994) and the design of complex and creative solutions to complex and competing individual, institutional and social problems. Drawing on a series of studies across the Sciences, Arts and Humanities, this research offers a series of case studies as a portal into the ‘liminal space’ of integrative learning in the context of threshold concept curriculum design. 1: Playing with Models to Conceptualise, Support and Assess Professional Learning Ruth Pilkington, University of Central Lancashire This concept paper is a work in progress. It provides a preliminary model for how threshold concepts for HE lecturers can be unpacked for analysis and discussion, and for assessment. Utilising the dimensions of self, knowledge and action in the curriculum model of Barnett and Coate (2005) as a starting point, this paper explores threshold concepts for academics engaging with professional learning as HE educators. The separate dimensions can be unpacked for assessment and curriculum design purposes across a range of levels from novice to mastery. In particular, the paper suggests that recent writings synthesising aspects of academic work are providing valuable mechanisms for discussing in more detail how professional learning progresses in the HE context. For example, notions of ‘self’ can be discussed as development from technis through to profis (Kemmis 2010) within which threshold concepts such as 'critical professionalism' and 'reflexivity' play a significant role as the learning of the HE academic progresses. ‘Action’ can be examined from the perspective of work by Kreber (2004), Brew (2010) and Larrivee (2008) to discuss how the skills and activity horizon of the academic grows as artistry develops. The challenge may be how to focus attention on this within assessment. ‘Knowledge’ is simple and complex as the UK PSF recognises. It embraces pedagogy, roles, responsibilities, the subject perspective, and context (Schulman 1987). In proposing this paper, the author builds upon work and research over a number of years as course leader of a suite of professional education awards - PG Certificate, MEd, EdD - and also having worked closely with UK National Professional Standards for Teaching and Learning. It proposes the idea of 'facilitated learning space' which can be structured formally within programmes or informally through dialogue allowing academics to progressively engage with and traverse key thresholds in learning and development.

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