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. 6
Presentation Time: 2:45 PM

Threshold Concepts: Unstuffing the Geoscience Curriculum

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, KING, Helen, Higher Education Consultant, 2202 Yardley Court, Alexandria, VA 22308 and LIBARKIN, Julie, Department of Geological Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, ajstokes@plymouth.ac.uk

Threshold concepts offer an alternative framework for better understanding student learning, and informing curriculum development. As geoscientific knowledge advances, geoscience educators try to incorporate greater and greater amounts of ‘stuff' into their already-overcrowded curricula. Do students REALLY need to know all this ‘stuff', or are there specific concepts which, once acquired, can transform students' understanding and open the way to ‘thinking and practising' like a geoscientist? If these ‘threshold concepts' can be identified, then what are the learning interventions that are most effective in helping students to acquire these concepts?

This paper will discuss current thinking on threshold concepts as presented in the literature, and as debated and discussed at the recent 2nd Biennial Threshold Concepts conference in Kingston, Ontario. At present, threshold concepts in the geosciences are largely undefined. As geoscientists we may have some ideas about what we think they might or should be, but are we, as experts with considerable knowledge and experience, really best placed to identify the concepts that are so fundamental to student learning? Or are threshold concepts better identified through their emergence from naturalistic enquiry with students and faculty alike?

The debate around threshold concepts is widening as educators and practitioners seek ways to decrease curriculum content and increase conceptual understanding. Threshold concepts are emerging as a mechanism by which curricula can become ‘unstuffed', and a powerful and innovative means of gaining insight into students' conceptual understandings. The relationship between alternative conceptions and threshold concepts needs further exploration, but once established could help to identify effective means of confronting deeply entrenched alternative concepts. Engaging in dialogue and working collaboratively will enable the international geoscience education community to realise the potential that threshold concepts have to offer.