Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Threshold Concepts Overview; related to information literacy

Google: Meyer Land "threshold concepts" and you will see articles, books, websites, conferences (Biennial International Threshold Concepts Conference), presentations, videos, theses, dissertations, teaching awards, a Facebook group, & discussion lists. Meyer & Land defined the idea in 2003.

Flanagan digests Meyer & Land's defining characteristics of threshold concepts (TC):
  • Transformative (conceptual changes occur)
  • Troublesome (difficult, counterintuitive)
  • Irreversible (hard to unlearn, but understanding varies as learning is iterative)
  • Integrative (relates concepts to one another to form a whole)
  • Bounded (limited, specific to a discipline)
  • Discursive (conversational, dialogic)
  • Reconstitutive (involves paradigm shifts)
  • Liminal (unsettled place of partial understanding without true mastery)

Scholars are busy defining TC for their own disciplines. Works on TC in Information literacy began to appear in 2008. Today there are about 20 works identified under "Library Studies, Information Science and Information Literacy."

The University of New South Wales Library in Australia undertook a project in 2010 "to
identify threshold concepts which enable learners to effectively engage with information in a university environment" (Blackmore, 1). Their ideas are completely different from the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.

In 2011, Coonan & Secker defined TC for information literacy & supplied learning outcomes along with example activities & assessments. They also mapped TC to the SCONUL 7 Pillars, the ACRL Standards, & the ANZIIL standards.

Virginia Tucker explored threshold concepts among librarians as searchers. She wrote, "LIS professionals are concerned with competencies that will endure. Threshold concept theory provides a robust framework for studying conceptual knowledge that is independent of shifting technologies" (269).

(Despite Townsend's assertion that Bruce's Informed Learning & phenomenography only "focused on students," whereas TC is "focused on us--librarians, our expertise & knowledge of content," Bruce is an internationally-recognized theorist in information literacy, has suggested practical application by librarians, & her work was used by Tucker (under Bruce's supervision) to investigate librarians' views as well. Phenomenography is only a research methodology & Bruce used it in her earlier works, transitioning to variation theory. Meyer & Land draw upon variation theory to research threshold concepts; variation theory underpins Bruce's concept of informed learning. Informed learning is ours.)

Works Cited

Blackmore, M. (2010). Student engagement with information: Applying a threshold concept approach to information literacy development. Paper presented at the 3rd Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium: Exploring transformative dimensions of threshold concepts. Sydney, Australia 1‐2 July, 2010.

Coonan, Emma. "Teaching and Learning: Perceptions of Information Literacy."
a.k.a. Secker, Jane & Emma Coonan. A New Curriculum for Information Literacy:  transitional▪ transferable ▪ transformational: CURRICULUM AND SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS. Arcadia Project, Cambridge University Library, July 2011.

Flanagan, Michael Thomas. The Threshold Concept: a brief introduction and bibliography. Accessed 5/21/2014.

Townsend, Lori. Personal conversation, 5/9/14, Grand Rapids, MI.

Tucker, Virginia Miller. (2012). Acquiring search expertise: Learning experiences and threshold concepts. PhD Thesis.‎  or

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