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Thursday, June 18 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
CON07.06 - ‘Threshold concepts’, dissonance and disorientation in transformative learning: Exploring student encounters with ‘troublesome knowledge’ in Introductory Sociology

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One of the most exciting aspects of teaching is seeing students challenged - and changed - by the ideas they encounter. As Mezirow (1991) stated, transformative learning typically involves a period of significant disorientation, prompting students to question and reject previous beliefs. While unsettling at the time, this destabilising experience of dissonance and discomfort ultimately generates transformative learning, achieved when the temporary uncertainties resolve into a stable, new understanding. Within sociology, a key concept encountered early on – the ‘sociological imagination’ - frequently challenges students in this way, before leading them to transformative ‘epiphanies’ (e.g. Haddad and Lieberman, 2002). Seeing this take place repeatedly in my own Introductory Sociology classes enabled me to identify the sociological imagination as an especially significant ‘threshold concept’ within the discipline (Meyer and Land, 2003) and, using this conceptual framework, I began exploring how students traverse this particular threshold in their learning. Using a CATS-inspired approach (Angelo and Cross, 1993), I ask students to complete weekly in-class writing tasks for the duration of the course, which form a cumulative ‘learning dossier’. This serves to document changes in their thinking, as they grapple with developing their own sociological imagination. In this presentation I will explain the development of my research with reference to Meyer and Land’s theory and invite audience members to identify ‘threshold concepts’ in their own field that could be explored using a similar approach. I will conclude by encouraging discussion of the implications of some of my research findings for our everyday teaching practices.

Key words: threshold concepts, transformative learning, the sociological imagination, CATs


Angelo, T. and K.P. Cross (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Haddad, A. and Lieberman, L. (2002) ‘From student resistance to embracing the sociological imagination: unmasking privilege, social conventions and racism.’ Teaching Sociology 30: 328-341

Meyer, J. and R. Land (2003) ‘Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines.’ In C. Rust (ed.) Improving Student Learning: Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice Ten Years On Oxford: Oxford Brookes University

Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Thursday June 18, 2015 3:00pm - 3:30pm PDT
Chairman Room

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