The Threshold Concept Paradigm and Student Use of Textbooks

Foley, Brian (2008) The Threshold Concept Paradigm and Student Use of Textbooks. [Conference Proceedings]


The threshold concept way of thinking has brought a new approach to our understanding of student learning [Meyer & Land, 2003], one which strikes an empathetic resonance among discipline teachers and which tends to orient the curriculum towards the student learning experience. While the paradigm has been primarily used for the identification of threshold concepts within particular disciplines [Meyer & Land, 2006], some contributions have been aimed at broader application of the paradigm, for example, the use of analogy in science teaching [Bishop, 2006] and teaching product design [Osmond, Turner & Land, 2008]. In this contribution, the threshold concept way of thinking is used to explore aspects of students’ use of textbooks and their approach to academic reading.In discipline areas such as science, engineering, economics, etc, it is very much the norm for the teacher to recommend one or textbook as supplementary reading, additional to primary resources such as course notes and, increasingly, e-learning materials. While the textbook resource is typically non-mandatory, the student will be strongly encouraged to engage with it for coverage of more detailed explanation, extended application, or for the presentation of an alternative approach thereby fostering critical thinking. Our interest lies in following up on these recommendations and investigating student reading practices from the threshold concept perspective. Most studies of students’ reading practices have been in the context of their overall approaches to study, eg [Marton, Hounsell & Entwistle, 1997] and emphasise the theme of variety of practices and preferred styles. A more recent study [Mann, 2000] brought the focus beyond the core academic context to personal and socio-political perspectives.The main basis for this study comprised a textbook review assignment conducted among a class of 170 second year engineering students. The particular course was a foundation course in digital electronics/logic design, a course which would not normally be regarded as “troublesome” but for the fact that, at this stage of their studies, the programme is general engineering with discipline specificity only coming in the third year ? and most of the class opting for a non-electronic choice. Results of the study include:• identification of a number of discipline thresholds, some expected, others less so;• a definite role for the textbook in grappling with the uncertainties of the liminal state; • confirmation of the prevalence of variation across what might be termed reading style; • some insights into the notion of academic reading as a threshold concept.

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