As I went through the threshold concepts, I kept thinking about the original Star Trek series – going into uncharted territory in space.
As an educator, I can see a lot of relevance in the threshold concepts. However, moving ‘stuck’ students beyond the bottleneck in their thinking to a place of discovery is easier said than done. For one, I believe many public school students lack critical thinking skills, and second, libraries are seldom used. Rarely using libraries refers to the concept mentioned in the TEDx Cary Academy video. The presenter said there is a lost art of being able to browse books in a library and how browsing opens up the possibility of finding other books that might address an issue or topic, which is analogous to finding an answer. Still, it may not be the correct answer or the only answer.
It is a challenge to teach students to ask questions and embrace the concept that ‘it’s not so much what you know but more importantly what you don’t know that counts.’ Not knowing what you don’t know applies not just to students but also adults.
Several other statements in the TEDx Cary Academy video stood out to me and resonated with me as an educator and as a doctoral student. Dr. Coven mentioned that the goal was to teach students to ask better questions, to move away from the obvious, and to move towards confusion. While working on the NPO workshop last year and using the 5 Whys helped me to ask more questions – I’m still learning to ask better questions. Moving toward confusion is difficult because I tend to stay in my box. Stepping out of the box is uncomfortable. The disorder makes me want to bury my head in the proverbial sand. Not knowing the answer makes me want to run back into my box and lock the door. However, the box or boundary is in my mind, and stepping out is needed during the juncture of discovery. Allowing new, absurd, and divergent ideas to flow is essential when thinking creatively. But, again, this is not easy and certainly not for the faint of heart.
According to Ray Land, in student learning, threshold concepts are analogous to a lens that magnifies and distorts at the same time. But the threshold or portal brings new things into view, which can break a student free from being stuck. The threshold concept also provides a framework that can influence course design by opening up new approaches and perspectives to the plan. Again as an educator, I am particularly interested in utilizing this concept as I develop courses in the future. It has given me a new lens to view how I construct a curriculum.
Jan Meyer and Ray Land developed the threshold concept for post-secondary schools. The threshold concepts are disguisable from core concepts in the curriculum based on five essential characteristics: Transformative, Irreversible, Integrative, Bounded, and Troublesome. However, I think threshold concepts apply to more than just educational settings. The idea is also relevant to when we travel. I think about my journey to South Africa. There are many questions. Many truths. Many different perspectives and interpretations of historical facts. My mind was ‘stuck’ in terms of how I viewed the continent of Africa. I realize there is so much I don’t know about the continent, the people, or its history.
A person’s spiritual journey also involves asking questions of Scripture and realizing that there is so much more to understanding the character and nature of God than we could ever imagine. And definitely, spiritual principles stretch our minds, and we transform from a caterpillar into a butterfly. We can never go back—threshold concepts.
I’ll end with this. I have a small plaque that sits on my office desk. It reads, “A mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Imagination.