So I’m going to try and keep this entry as to the point as possible. (In view of my Constructive Alignment blog post having gotten a bit ‘involved’.) In fact I’m going to try to get there in five bullet point sentences.
A threshold concept is an idea which once understood :
- is transformative. (It changes the way a subject is viewed in such a way that the student sees the whole discipline in a new light.)
- is irreversible. (A one way journey, difficult to ‘unlearn’.)
- is potentially ‘troublesome‘. (Understanding may require a student to take a leap of faith, embrace a counter intuitive or alien idea, or change a ‘customary’ way of seeing something)
- is integrative. (It is likely to bring together aspects of the subject that didn’t previously appear to be related).
- is discursive. (It is accompanied by improved use of terminology and language).
In terms of design software some threshold concepts I would identify :
- there is not necessarily one ‘right way’ of doing something, there are often many routes to the same end result. Prior to reaching this threshold, characteristically students will apply tools in the same way the teacher has shown them, ‘walking them through’ a series of steps to reach a result. They are able to use those steps verbatim to solve similar problems. After reaching understanding the student will see tools as a more free form means to achieving their aims.
- designers do not necessarily know what they are going to do before they undertake a brief, trial and error is a key part of the process. Prior to understanding students will believe more advanced practitioners ‘know the answers’. After understanding they will see the answer is reached through experimentation. I’ve seen students cross this threshold in class and the results are exciting to watch – suddenly the student switches from following the prescribed lesson plan and continues working on their project unsupervised, they experiment using tools and options (and the undo function!) and one can almost feel the sense of enable-ment and euphoria coming off them as they work.
- learning to ‘look’ at what you are doing is key to good design. Trusting your eyes. Often before reaching this threshold a student will ask “is this right?” and I will answer “you tell me?”. After crossing the threshold a student will more likely say “I’m not happy with this, can you suggest a solution?”
It is interesting to think how this might be integrated into my own teaching practice, because the concept cannot so much be taught as it must be understood. It seems that asking the right sorts of questions during class is key to encouraging the kind of thinking that can lead to thresholds being crossed.
I will focus on this in terms of lesson planning. Thinking how I might ‘set up’ situations where I illicit the kinds of questions from the students that might lead them on to the answers that will help them pass through the doors of perception.
I’ll also try to be more explicit regarding the limitations of demonstration and ‘walk through’ style class room experiences, trying to get away from any idea of ‘teacher as genius’ and instead hopefully enable students to unlock their own genius potential.
As ever I welcome comment and critique from all quarters…. hit me up!