Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: Student as co-inquirers: The challenges and benefits of inclusive research

Review by: Yasmin Dean, Associate Professor, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada

This resource provides the reader with an opportunity to consider the ways that research can be conducted “with” rather than “for” or “on” students. It also shares the challenges inherent with ‘co-participation’ and the complexity involved when working across geopolitical contexts navigating different cultural contexts and also when using mediums such as skype to conduct interviews.

Content is well organized and takes the reader through the literature review related to how students experience research through to a discussion related to liminal spaces of knowing. The challenge of how to involve students as co-researchers was particularly well explained.

Researchers and educators interested in student research, service learning and international education projects wanting to better understand the student experience will find this article to be particularly useful. The article helped me consider 1) how to engage students as co-researchers,  2) what it really means to bring student “voice” into research and 3) the shifts in identity experienced by students as they move toward ‘becoming and being’ co-inquirers.

I found the limitations described around the timing of student engagement very helpful for planning how to include students with research. As the article revealed, while this is a desirable focus, student enrolment times, ethics approval processes etc may make it challenging to fully structure a research project that can begin with student input from project inception.

As a faculty member who is increasingly looking for ways to include students with research, the article helped me to think through my commitment toward doing research “with” rather than “for” and also gave me some ideas for helping to foster student interest as undergraduate researchers.  When we use the word partnership, we sometimes imply equity but researchers and educators will have to go a bit deeper within themselves to consider how much of a partnership they really want to have with their student researchers.

Werder, C., Thibou, S., & Kaufer, B.  (2012).  Students as co-inquirers: A requisite threshold concept in educational development?  Journal of Faculty Development, 26, 34-38.

Review: Designing for Transfer: A Threshold Concept

Review by Shannon Murray, English, UPEI

The issue that underlies this short article is one that I’m sure puzzles and frustrates many university and college teachers: the difficulty students often have transferring knowledge from one course to another or from the classroom to the world.  Moore offers a very helpful survey of the literature on knowledge transfer and places that literature in the context of threshold concept theory. Transfer can be either “near” – when a student is expected to “apply a learned strategy to similar contexts” – or “far” – when the original knowledge has to be adapted to suit a completely new situation (21).   What I found most interesting is the emphasis here on transfer as a threshold concept not for students but for faculty.  It is faculty, Moore argues, who first must come to terms with transfer as a troublesome and potentially transformative concept.

But there are constraints that may keep an instructor from designing with transfer in mind, as she points out.  We may find ourselves so focused on the material of the discrete course that we see any attempt by students to bring in prior knowledge as disruptive or as a sign of poor understanding; we may be more focused on students transferring knowledge into our own classrooms than on what they will do after they leave us; or we may simply find mastery of the material and an emphasis on transfer a tall order for a 12-15 week semester.  The article suggests that once faculty master the idea of transfer, it has the power to transform how we think about course design.

The article concludes with some specific strategies to improve transfer: “hugging” activities, which encourage “low road transfer,” and “bridging” activities, which encourage “’mindful abstraction’ of knowledge from a previous context to the new context” (20).  Students, for example, might be asked to “bring in interdisciplinary knowledge” but then to expose the way that knowledge was transferred, so its transfer might be “more visible to others” (23).  The article is helpful for two reasons: as a good survey of the central issues in transfer theory itself; and for its original location of that theory as a potential threshold concept, one capable of transforming faculty course design.

Moore, Jessie L.  “Designing for Transfer: A Threshold Concept.”  Journal of Faculty Development 26.2 (2012): 19-23.

Review: Crossing thresholds: Identifying conceptual transitions in postsecondary teaching

Review by Mary Neil, Educational Development Program and Event Coordinator, Wilfrid Laurier University

In the article, Crossing Thresholds: Identifying conceptual transitions in postsecondary teaching, Wilcox and Leger present educational developers with an exploratory study designed to identify threshold concepts in the field of postsecondary education. Recognizing the importance of seeking input from educators with a range of experience, Wilcox and Leger collected written responses from 19 beginner educators and 8 experts (three educational developers and five master teachers) in postsecondary teaching. Through thematic analysis and using Meyer and Land’s (2003) definition of threshold concept, the authors identified four potential concepts in the field of postsecondary education: (1) assessment for/as learning, (2) learning-centred teaching, (3) accommodation for diversity, and, (4) context-driven practice.

Given the challenges in identifying threshold concepts in a field without a specific, defined knowledge base and where educator experience is diverse, Wilcox and Leger manage to present concepts that are overarching and relatable across disciplines and institutions. The authors argue that “By changing the focus to identifying and sharing ideas that matter, work with threshold concepts may legitimize postsecondary teaching, which in turn may engage more faculty members” (p. 9). Ultimately, this article offers a glimpse into some of the troublesome and transformative challenges in postsecondary education that may impact the development of educational development initiatives.

In initiating the discussion of threshold concepts in the field of postsecondary education, this paper calls for education developers to extend this discussion, given their advantageous position working with a broad diversity of educators. Wilcox and Leger clearly outline their method and provide the tools to implement similar studies across other institutions allowing further corroboration for their results, the addition of other threshold concepts, and the opportunity to flesh out any institution-specific perceptions and challenges. Further steps for this research may also include longitudinal studies following beginner educators as they reflect on and change their teaching practice in response to encountering threshold concepts over time.

Wilcox, S., & Leger, A.  (2013).  Crossing thresholds: Identifying conceptual transitions in postsecondary education.  The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4. doi:10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2013.2.7

Link to the article: 

Review: Reciprocity as a threshold concept for faculty who are learning to teach with service-learning

Review by Janice Miller-Young, Director, Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Mount Royal University

In this article, Harrison and Clayton propose, and provide evidence for, the idea that reciprocity is a threshold concept for faculty who are learning to teach with the community service-learning pedagogy. The authors describe the concept of reciprocity as “withness” (Clayton, 2010) in that faculty leave the expert role behind in favour of working with students and with the community, which has “associated shifts in power, identity and authority”.

This topic is important and timely because as the authors state, “the pedagogy of service-learning is emerging as both a central mechanism for community-campus engagement and a high-impact pedagogy (Kuh, 2008)”.  They also provide a clear and convincing literature review, describing the counter-normative nature of this pedagogy, which “positions all partners in service-learning as co-educators, co-learners, and co-generators of knowledge (Clayton, 2010)”. In fact, for the literature review alone, this would serve as an excellent introductory article for faculty who are relatively new to teaching with this pedagogy, and for educational developers who are interested in supporting those faculty.

After a brief introduction to threshold concepts, Harrison and Clayton focus on three of their key elements: that they are transformative, troublesome and liminal (Meyer and Land, 2003, 2005). The authors describe and discuss each of these elements, drawing evidence primarily from two sources: a discussion that took place among faculty, staff, administrators and education consultants at a threshold concepts conference; and one faculty member’s autoethnographic examination of her own teaching with this pedagogy (Tilley-Lubbs, 2009).  It is difficult to determine how representative this data is since, for example, the number of participants, disciplinary backgrounds and levels of experience of those at the conference are not reported.  However, the authors do acknowledging that service-learning and teaching with reciprocity is not experienced by everyone in the same ways.  They conclude by suggesting several possible approaches to faculty development, ranging from immersing faculty in service-learning as students themselves (likely time and resource intensive), to workshops, to facilitating critical reflection on actual teaching experience.

One aspect this article does not address is whether the concept of reciprocity meets the other key elements which define threshold concepts: that they are irreversible, integrative, discursive, reconstitutive, and sometimes bounded (Meyer and Land, 2003, 2005).  Perhaps the authors were limited by article length? Perhaps future work is required? Or perhaps they feel that meeting three of the criteria is sufficient enough for reciprocity to qualify as a threshold concept? I would probably be satisfied with any of these possible reasons, but I would have appreciated the authors at least acknowledging and discussing this. On the other hand, this limitation does not reduce the article’s usefulness to faculty developers and it certainly makes room for more scholarship on this topic.

Harrison, B., & Clayton, P. H.  (2012).  Reciprocity as a threshold concept for faculty who are learning to teach with service-learning.  Journal of Faculty Development, 26, 29-33.