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Discovering the Thresholds in Materials Education

Dr Artemis Stamboulis | University of Birmingham

Discovering the Thresholds in Materials Education

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Threshold concepts were developed from a UK national project, which focused on student learning in different disciplinary areas. Meyer and Land (2005) realised that certain concepts central to the discipline would open up required systems and 'ways of thinking' yet were troublesome for students. Meyer and Land (2006) suggest that the learners may be left in a state of liminality (Latin ?limen'- a threshold). Liminality is a suspended state in which ?understanding' falsely approximates to a kind of mimicry. Identifying the threshold concepts can help with curriculum design by focusing students attention on the most troublesome and yet transformatory areas. Understanding why these concepts are threshold can assist with designing teaching methods and assessment approaches. This paper develops the work of threshold concepts in 1st year engineering combining the results of research programmes in three institutions UB (Materials engineering), UO and the UWA (Materials is a common module in UWA's engineering programme). Research at UB and UO is funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering (HE STEM) and the UWA by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council to develop the methodology for exploring thresholds, identifying thresholds and bringing these into curriculum design where possible. The three universities shared and compared the initial results of their studies following an approach recommended by Erik Meyer, one of the founders of Threshold Concept theory whose experience with the disciplines of economics and computer science suggested that after preliminary investigations of concepts a crucial stage is the debate and discussion of such concepts at disciplinary community level. In this paper, we will present the emerging methodologies developed by the team demonstrating the way that they collected data using interviews, focus groups and workshops and how they analysed data using concept mapping tools. We will also focus on the materials concepts discovered during the research within each institution noting areas of overlap and considering differences and the potential reasons for these. We will particularly invite debate, discussion and feedback by members of the materials education research community at this conference.