2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 16
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-6:00 PM

Researching Threshold Concepts: Ways of Thinking and Practising In Geoscience

KING, Helen, Higher Education Consultant, 2202 Yardley Court, Alexandria, VA 22308 and STOKES, Alison, Experiential Learning Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), University of Plymouth, 3-15 Endsleigh Place, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, United Kingdom, helen@helenkingconsultancy.co.uk

The idea of ‘threshold concepts' as a framework for better understanding student learning and informing curriculum development has emerged fairly recently in higher education. It is suggested that understanding a threshold concept in a particular discipline can “lead to a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something”(Meyer & Land, 2003). Hence threshold concepts are not merely the core components of a discipline but are ideas and skills which transition the learner from novice to expert and transform their way of looking at the world.

In many cases, threshold concepts are likely to be embodied in the work and ways of knowing by experts to such an extent that they may not be overtly introduced to students. They are “taken for granted by practitioners in a subject and therefore rarely made explicit” (Davies, 2006). An analogy might be made with learning to drive a car: an experienced driver will operate the vehicle and make observations without deliberate thought. A novice, on the other hand, will be highly conscious of the step-by-step processes and find the coherent activity of driving troublesome. One of the difficulties for teachers is bringing to the surface or making conscious those processes and skills, which have become second nature, in order to better help the learner.

Geological fieldwork, for example, involves many observation skills and ‘ways of being and moving' in the field that are usually developed through years of experience. If these intuitive ways of thinking and practising could be brought to the fore and elucidated this could have a profound impact on student learning and novice-to-expert development. This presentation will outline possible methodologies and invite discussion on applicable research that will contribute towards the investigation of ways of thinking and practising and, hence, the identification of threshold concepts in geoscience.