Using Threshold Concepts to Transform Entry Level Curricula

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 34: Higher Education on the Edge

July, 2011, 394 pages
Published by
K. Krause, M. Buckridge, C. Grimmer, & S. Purbrick-Illek
0 908557 85 X

Academics at The University of Queensland undertook an extensive curriculum reform leading to changes in both the undergraduate and masters entry occupational therapy curricula. We explored a number of theories to assist with determining an educational philosophy to underpin our curricula. Threshold concepts (Meyer & Land, 2005) provided us with a transformative and integrative way forward. In this paper we describe our experiences of using threshold concepts as a mechanism for engaging in transformative curriculum renewal and planning. We compiled a list of 20 pieces of troublesome knowledge, namely aspects of each course that were difficult for students to grasp (Perkins, 2006). Using thematic analysis we reduced this list further to 8 items and then subjected these to rigorous questioning to determine whether they were threshold concepts. We asked whether each potential concept was transformative, irreversible, integrative, bounded and troublesome. Threshold concepts were identified if they met all of these characteristics. This generative process revealed five threshold concepts:1) purposeful and meaningful occupation, 2) client centred practice, 3)integral nature of occupational therapy theory and practice, 4) identity as an occupational therapist, and 5) thinking critically, reasoning and reflecting. We also reflected on Barnett and Coate’s (2005) key features of professional programmes - knowing, doing/action and being. We made these concepts explicit to staff as well as students and have used these to underpin our new curricula. This shared language has contributed to staff ownership of the curricula.

Keywords: curriculum reform, threshold concepts, action research methods.