Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Go Where No Man/Woman Has Gone Before

Written by: on October 6, 2022

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.

About the Author


Audrey Robinson

12 responses to “Go Where No Man/Woman Has Gone Before”

  1. Caleb Lu says:

    Audrey, first, love that you started with Star Trek because I’m sitting here reading your post as I pet my dog, Spock.

    I’m curious, as an educator, how do you navigate the troublesomeness of teaching threshold concepts to your students?

    And secondly, for your faith journey, what is the most memorable spiritual threshold concept/portal that you learned/stepped through?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Too funny – sitting there with Spock!

      Great questions. I’ll answer the second one first. In terms of spiritual matters, one of the most impactful threshold concepts has been the study of grace. It changed me. I had to grapple with the initial confusion, ask questions, and live with the tension of distortion and clarity for a time.

      As an educator, I don’t have a specific threshold concept. What I have found successful in helping students get unstuck is the ability to contextualize the concepts for students. Find a point of interest where they’re at in their understanding and build the concepts/understanding from there.

      Say hello to Spock!

  2. Kristy Newport says:

    I like what you said:
    The “box or boundary is in my mind, and stepping out is needed during the juncture of discovery.”

    It sounds like you are helping students and you create curriculum. I am curious how you are are creating curriculum to help students get out of their boxes?

    You also mentioned: “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.”

    I am curious what your thoughts are on making libraries and book browsing/finding an enjoyable experience for students? I would love to learn how to make this appealing to my children!

    Thanks Audrey!

  3. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    Great questions. I do develop an ‘out-of-the-box curriculum for adult learners who are coming back to school for the umpteenth time. The concepts are easy but to the adult learner, it has meant the difference between a minimum wage (which until COVID was around $10 per hour on average) versus a wage-sustaining job to feed their families. There are a lot of areas in their thinking about the concepts they are “stuck”. So taking the concepts and distilling them down into bite-sized pieces and contextualizing them has been helpful.

    To be honest, my lane is with adult learners. I am lost in a classroom with students under 18 years old. I hope that all young people discover the love of reading and the joy of being in a library full of possibilities.


  4. Tonette Kellett says:


    Loved how you began and ended. You are very creative. And you are a deep thinker. I enjoyed getting to know you better in Cape Town.

    My question is this … what new idea are you currently struggling with as a result of our time in South Africa?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I enjoyed getting to know you better as well.

      To try to focus on just one new idea is hard – but here goes. Until the trip, I had not placed a high value on the significance of the continent of Africa as it relates to the Black American’s story. Now, I’m wrestling with the similarities between the two and what, if anything, the Lord would have me do. And related is the newer awareness of the similarities between the black South Africans and Native Americans – having their land taken away.

      Great question.

  5. mm David Beavis says:

    Hi Audrey,

    The statement on the plaque that says “A mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions” is brilliant. Though, the reality is, stretching can be uncomfortable – troublesome – for people. I appreciate how you reflected on getting out of your “box,” which I would argue is essential for an educator guiding others, namely adult learners, out of their boxes, stretch their minds with new ideas, and break through barriers into new world in which their minds will never be the same.

    Closing your post with relating this journey with threshold concepts with one’s spiritual journey was particularly interesting. One of the final statements in Dr. Robert Coven’s TEDx talk was about the importance of gaining knowledge not so much for the sake of finding answers, but for the invitation into asking better questions. As a pastor, I believe it’s critical for me to help teenagers and young adults lean into asking more questions rather than simply seeking answers. Do you have any advice on how I can cultivate that in the spiritual journey of others?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Great question. Most of what I’m going to say – I’m sure it is second nature to you but sometimes hearing it confirms we’re on the right track. Three things come to mind. Hopefully, what I have to say will not come off as ‘super-spiritual’ and ‘no earthly good. ‘

      As a Christian life coach, one of the things I learned was to listen with the heart of God. What this means to me is to begin a dialogue with the Holy Spirit as you start to listen to someone and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what this person is saying. Often, people talk about issues but not the heart of the matter. And the Holy Spirit will prompt you to ask the right questions. You begin to seek to understand with the Father’s heart of love.

      The second is to ask open-ended questions. Keep asking until you can repeat back what a person has just said, and they confirm your understanding; then, ask permission to respond versus jumping in to give an opinion.

      Lastly, role play by developing teenage scenarios, then with the group of young people, practice listening, repeating back, asking questions, and listening some more.

      • mm David Beavis says:

        That’s brilliant. Thank you Audrey! I’ll keep that in mind and be prayerful in my conversations, paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

  6. Michael O'Neill says:

    “Not knowing what you don’t know applies not just to students but also adults.” Great, point, Audrey. True knowledge is understanding what you don’t know too! I think too often we settle for Google searches, or a superficial discovery and also assume we know it all. I see this a lot in the younger generation but many seasoned adults too. Sometimes we’re a little too confident and perhaps strut that confidence without even knowing what we don’t know. I think you brought up some great points, strategy, and techniques many of us could incorporate into our oun learning and lives. Thank you.

  7. mm Becca Hald says:

    Hi Audrey,

    I am with Caleb. I love Star Trek. I agree with the comparison of going into uncharted space, but I also think it works with the television show and how it went into uncharted space for television. The episode where Kirk kissed Uhura was groundbreaking. Each new series pushed those boundaries further, such as Geordi LaForge (a main character with a disability), Katheryn Janeway (first female captain and my personal favorite), and Benjamin Sisko (first African American captain). Gene Roddenberry created a world where they could cross the threshold into new ideas. I think that television and movies is a great way to introduce threshold concepts. Stories create space for new ideas, for imagination, for learning. How do you think that the use of stories would impact learning and spiritual formation?

  8. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Audrey, you had me at your Star Trek reference!

    I like to think that inadvertently developed the skill of asking questions (or maybe happening upon the philosophy grogram in undergrad helped with that a bit). It does seem to be a lost talent that can be developed with the right nurturing. I was recently listening to a Jewish Rabbi discuss how asking questions is the skill they instill in their children because it leads to a lifetime of learning.

    It makes me wonder, what other skills other cultures might possess (and even take for granted) that we are watching Ted Talks to discover?

    In your experience working in adult education, how open do you perceive adults being to learning to be more curious? I imagine one of the challenges of their education is the sheer pragmatism of their situation. Is knowledge and curiosity a luxury that has to be developed before one simply does not have use for it?

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