12. Extending the Invitation: Threshold Concepts, Professional Development, and Outreach
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12 E x t e n d i n g t h e In v i tat i o n DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c0012 Threshold Concepts, Professional Development, and Outreach Linda Adler-Kassner and John Majewski In one of only a handful of studies examining the role that threshold concepts might play in faculty members’ professional development, Jan H. F. Meyer outlines a trajectory along which he believes faculty move through engagement with the idea. The trajectory includes four phases: (1) describing threshold concepts of their discipline; (2) using threshold concepts as an “interpretive framework” through which to consider teaching ; (3) reflexively incorporating them into teaching practices; and (4) conducting research on teaching and understanding teaching as research (Meyer 2012, 11). Meyer’s study echoes elements of other literature focusing on professional development, such as Middendorf and Pace’s (2004) Decoding the Disciplines (DtD) process, which leads faculty through a seven-step process beginning with identification of “learning bottlenecks” (points where students get stuck in a course), which leads to an examination of expert knowledge related to the bottleneck, finally resulting in the design and assessment of pedagogical activities that address the sticking point (decodingthedisciplines.org). In the frameworks of both Meyer and Joan Middendorf and David Pace, teaching is intimately connected to creative application of expert knowledge in a manner similar to academic research. As Sarah Bunnell and Daniel Bernstein argue, the application of this knowledge (here represented in threshold concepts) to teaching is a “scholarly enterprise” that includes understanding teaching as an “active, inquiry-based process” and seeing teaching as a “public act contributing to ‘community property’” that leads to “open dialogue about teaching questions and student work” (Bunnell and Bernstein 2012, 15). This chapter builds on these existing models by examining how discussions about threshold concepts usefully facilitate faculty development and outreach. As in Meyer’s model, the study we describe here suggests Extending the Invitation   187 that involving faculty in systematic discussions about threshold concepts in their discipline provides a welcome opportunity to reflexively consider the nature of their own expertise, as in the DtD process. While this consideration begins with definitions of a discipline’s threshold concepts—what we can think of as a first layer of expertise—it quickly leads to a second layer, expertise associated with knowledge about how to learn and represent threshold concepts (such as how to select, interpret, and use evidence within the discipline). The argument here, then, is that discussions about threshold concepts are particularly productive starting points for professional development precisely because faculty are invested in their own disciplines. By asking faculty about “their own forms of evidence and ways of knowing” (Bunnell and Bernstein 2012, 17), discussions of threshold concepts can lead to considerations of the nature(s) of these levels of expertise and, ultimately, to professional development efforts to make threshold concepts more visible for students. To illustrate, we begin this chapter by drawing on interviews with colleagues from our institution during which faculty described threshold concepts in their disciplines and considered how these were made visible to students enrolled in general education courses. The interviews show faculty members working through their own liminal stages of thinking associated with three concepts associated with teaching: (1) threshold concepts are a threshold concept; (2) my discipline is not the universe; and (3) successful student learning involves demonstrating particular ways of thinking and can be supported through deliberately sequenced learning opportunities. Faculty members’ thinking around each of these concepts provides glimpses of how they articulate elements of professional expertise and shows how consideration of that expertise can open doorways for professional development that represents movement along the trajectory described by Meyer, the shifts in thinking outlined by Bunnell and Bernstein, and the stages of “decoding ” described by Middendorf and Pace. To show what this thinking looks like in a more fully realized form, John then discusses changes he has made to one of his courses, History 17b, a large general education course, as a result of our collaborative (and ongoing) study of threshold concepts and the teaching of history—a study that has, in fact, served as professional development for both of us. TC 1: Thresho ld Co ncep ts Are a Th resho ld Concep t Our interviews with colleagues across disciplines were intended to help them name what they knew and wanted to help students learn. However, 188   Part 2 : Using Threshold Concepts our interviews quickly demonstrated that faculty are seldom presented with such opportunities to...

Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • Creative writing -- Study and teaching.
  • Academic writing -- Study and teaching.
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