threshold concepts, part 4 (final): no more sports metaphors

In the last couple weeks, the revised version of the full framework was released and open forums were held to discuss them yet again. I attended the July 11th event, and since it’s not too far removed from today, I thought I’d use this opportunity to put a close to this conversation for now.

After my last post on threshold concepts (TCs) at the end of April, I continued to engage in conversations about them, but didn’t feel like I was able to dedicate time to write about them. But in the last couple months, even with the newly revised and complete draft framework, my opinions have not changed much. I don’t believe the underlying philosophy behind them is being made clear to librarians (as evidenced by the types of questions people are still making in large forums), and it is my belief (also discussed in my last post) that the best way to do so is to explicitly positioned within a curricular and course design framework (i.e. backward design)–especially since that’s eventually going to be the context in which they’re discussed when finally implemented.

Additionally, there was an article by Lane Wilkinson tweeted out to me by my supervisor that has some interesting points about “thresholdiness” that I agree with. I won’t go into those, but aside from their inherent issues, I think using TCs as a theoretical foundation is making them more complicated than they need to be. If we just called them the big, overarching goals that help drive our profession, I wonder if people would accept them at face value more readily.

As I mentioned in the first part of this series, I think they are sensible albeit large step in the right direction. Keeping the long-term goals (which is what the TCs represent to me) are what’s going to help us focus our teaching and engage our students (as well as faculty) when we can place lessons within a larger co-curricular context.

The one thing that I would like to briefly address is this issue of the old standards and all the assessment that has been built around them (and a little speculation about assessing the new ones). There has been some call for a crosswalk that translates one to the other. I understand why people want them, but it really doesn’t make sense–or at least might be a step backward.You could probably categorize them under each threshold concept, but you wouldn’t have a complete document or one that would be very helpful.

The old standards are prescriptive and skill-based.  Specific and measurable outcomes (if this is how people are viewing them–I personally do not) are determined on the local level and based on the goals or needs of a course. TCs are a continuum that represent a co-curricular (and I would even argue that they could stand alone; perhaps another day) end goal, not the short-term outcomes. There’s still a tier of objectives missing–this tier lies in between the TCs and the desired outcomes of instruction.

The old standards document was not intended to be exhaustive. It was supposed to just give an idea of the types of skills that the information literate have. I view the TCs as something that’s supposed to be somewhat more complete—they are the big, important ideas that represent the conceptual universe of information literacy. If the goal is to more easily adapt current assessments to the new framework, well, you need to rethink that idea. It’s not going to be easy, and you’re going to have a lot of gaps (again).

My last thought on assessment is the TCs themselves. I don’t believe there ever will be a direct assessment. How do you know students understand “Information has value”? How do you know that I have achieved inner peace? I think that will be something that will be done by individual instructors. By the conclusion of their class, students will have completed activities or demonstrated behaviors that help them get closer to that understanding as it is applicable in the coursework of that class. But, and this is basically my final wordI really think it’s going to be about continuous practice and increasingly sophisticated understanding as the information environment changes and evolves.

And thus marks the end of my conceptual discussion of TCs in this blog for now. It may come up again in future project work that I might talk about, and I am happy to continue conversing in the comments, on Twitter, over email, or offline, but this series is over. Thanks for reading and considering my thoughts.

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