The Search for a Threshold Concepts Instrument

Recently I’ve been learning about threshold concepts, which are portal-like concepts that may be troublesome to learn but represent an irreversible transformation once acquired. Learning to ride a bicycle is a great example. The crossing of a conceptual threshold might culminate quickly in an “ah-ha!” moment, or it might be drawn out over an extended period of liminality that is resolved gradually and perhaps not even consciously noticed.

Since deadlines are looming and I have assignments to complete, I’m searching for, ideally, a validated, quantitative (Likert-type scale) survey instrument to assess what respondents think qualifies as a threshold concept.

No such instrument seems to exist. Most research is simply qualitative, using interviews and many quotes from participants. The closest I could find to such an instrument is Manyiwa (2006), which doesn’t appear to have been validated, meaning, data collection and statistical verification has not been performed to determine whether it measures what it claims to measure.

I wrote the following email to Dr. Manyiwa seeing if he has any ideas for me. Most likely, I will just end up proposing an exploratory study (descriptive research) for the research prospectus in IDS 7501: Issues and Research in Education at University of Central Florida. I want to do the research on doctoral students at UCF. Research on doctoral students at UCF is not unheard of; for example, the coordinator for my Master’s program, Morgan McAfee, did her Master’s thesis in the same program, Applied Learning and Instruction, on attrition between Education Ed.D. and Education Ph.D. students at UCF.


Hello, Dr. Manyiwa,

I am exploring the literature on threshold concepts as applicable to research students in doctoral programs. While there are about 20 relevant articles, all of them focus on qualitative methods (interviews, open-ended questions, etc.). See my introductory concept map.

I started poking around for a quantitative measure (e.g., validated questions on a Likert-type scale), and found your article from 2006, “Threshold concepts in teaching and learning undergraduate marketing research.”

I was wondering how you came up with these questions? I’m a new Education Ph.D. student in the Instructional Technology track at University of Central Florida, and am writing a research prospectus for one of my first-semester courses. I think doing exploratory research on a variant of your questions tailored to a threshold concept relevant to doctoral students (e.g., writing a qualitative research report as identified by Humphrey & Simpson, 2012) might be useful, and I certainly find it interesting.

1. The  understanding  of  [concept]  is  very  important  for  gaining  new  insight  into the marketing research module (MKT2252)
2. I understand this concept very well
3. Previous knowledge is required to grasp this concept in the marketing research module (MKT2252)
4. The  knowledge  I  gained  prior  to  attending  this  module  prepared  me  for understanding this concept
5. On  the  face  of  it  (before  explanation  is  given),  this  concept seems  to  be counter-intuitive

I know the relevant source that advised your writing of the above questions was:

Davies, P and Mangan, J (2005), Recognising Threshold Concepts: an exploratory of different approaches. The European Association in Learning and Instruction Conference (AERLI) August 23-27 2005, Nicosia, Cyprus.

That paper does not have Likert-type questions and uses purely qualitative methods, though. It looks like threshold concepts are in need of a validated quantitative or mixed-methods questionnaire instrument.

I am familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets, where we have validated Likert-type questions such as “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it,” “Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much,” and “You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence” (Dweck, 2000, p. 177).

I don’t see anything similar for threshold concepts, but perhaps they are too broad, or, at this point, still too emergent.

Thank you for reading and let me know if you have any input.

Sincerely,
Richard Thripp, M.A., ACB, ALB
Education Ph.D., Instructional Technology Student
Graduate Teaching Assistant | University of Central Florida
Secretary | UCF Student Laureates of STEM Teaching & Learning
Treasurer & Imm. Past President | Port Orange Toastmasters

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  1. Pingback: Prospectus for Survey Research on Threshold Concepts and the Doctoral Process | Richard Thripp's Website

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