Professional Development

Elon’s Teaching and Learning Conference

Friday, August 19, 2011 11:14 am

Yesterday was the 8th annual Elon Teaching and Learning Conference and the theme this year was “Thresholds to Learning.” Joy and I drove down together for the day. As always, it was a great event. I’m always surprised at the quality of presentations given that it’s both local and free. I’ll send something out next year when they announce the dates, so keep it in mind if you’re looking for something low-barrier in the instruction realm.

The first keynote was by Ray Land, Professor of Higher Education and Director of Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He spoke on his area of expertise: Threshold Concepts. He’s written and edited a few books on these, which I’ll be sure to get at the TLC liaison. The idea of a Threshold Concept makes perfect sense once you hear about it. It’s those pieces of knowledge that change who you are as a person and how you see the world. You cannot unlearn them. The example that resonated most with me was that after taking women’s studies courses, you can’t see the world the same: family is different, work is different, your expectations for your own role change. He also pointed to other familiar concepts like evolution, deconstructionism, and very specific discipline based concepts like “photoprotection in plants” or “confidence to challenge” in design. The very last few minutes were about how to concretely apply this idea to course design and teaching, and I really would have liked to have seen a whole second session on that. They recorded his session and it’ll be available on the website later today.

Throughout Land’s presentation I was thinking about what this means for information literacy instruction. I could think of two of those major shifts I went through. One was that there was an economics of information. As a child, prior to learning about employment, publishing models, tenure, and the like, I thought people sought out knowledge because that was important to do. And they made true knowledge available because that was the right thing to do with it. It never occurred to me that certain questions were asked because the investigator could get a grant to support the research or because it was something that could get published by a journal that was trying to make money. This was a major Threshold Concept for me. Another was that there are complex systems that might reveal information that would otherwise be unknowable. A librarian specifically taught me this when showing me Web of Science to track citations for a philosophy paper. Learning this system showed me a new type of information that I didn’t even understand could exist prior to that session. And learning it helped me realize that there were probably lots of other types of information out there that could only be revealed through these complex systems that I also did not even know existed. (…making libraries all the more exciting!)

Joy and I chatted about how for today’s students, that you can’t find everything on Google is a Threshold Concept. It didn’t occur to me because search wasn’t so useful when I was in college. It was clear you’d have to do something to go beyond whatever you found on the web for an academic paper. Today’s students have a very different experience. And learning that they would have to go beyond the web is a certain Threshold Concept: it’s troublesome knowledge in that they prefer the old world they lived in where Google could get them everything, it’s irreversible that once they learn about how limited that world is they’ll know they have to keep looking elsewhere for information, it’s integrative that it becomes part of who they are to continue to have to seek information through more complex means, and on and on.
Land mentioned that some faculty are reconstructing their classes around Threshold Concepts since they’re the ones that take more of a personal approach to helping students fully understand them and integrate them into their understanding. These faulty take the approach that the rest (or much of the rest) are details that can be self-taught, found through another resource, or could be taught in class to bolster the Threshold Concept. Interesting stuff!

I also attended a session on the SCALE-UP model, which reminded me a lot of Erik’s POGIL work and a session on online learning. The most personally interesting session I attended was about if counter-normative pedagogies (like Service Learning) have Threshold Concepts. This was more of an intellectually interesting question rather than something directly applicable to work. As someone who has done some work in faculty training, I was interested in the idea that there might be a Threshold Concept around student centered learning or some other non-traditional approach. I also attended this session because it was led by one of my college professors! She taught the (fantastic) service learning class I took at NCSU and made quite an impact on me. She’s apparently now doing consulting around service learning and working at UNCG. Small world!

All in all, a great day! Let me know if you want to chat about any of it!

3 Responses to “Elon’s Teaching and Learning Conference”

  1. Your comment about Google’s limitations as a threshold concept reminded me of my previous Lib 100 class. While discussing the deep web, I told the class the current estimate of what percentage of the Internet is actually indexed by Google (somewhere around 5%, if memory serves). I thought I’d have to pick one student’s jaw up off the floor for him. :)
    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  2. This has me thinking about what my personal threshold concepts are……Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great discussion about the Google issue – has my mind working!! So often when I’ve helped a student find really great stuff in books or databases they comment about how it changes everything!

Professional Development
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007

Powered by, protected by Akismet. Blog with