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Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
Liminality as liability
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Liminality as liability

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A short paper given at the 4th Theshold Concepts conference in Dublin, 28-29 June 2012. …

A short paper given at the 4th Theshold Concepts conference in Dublin, 28-29 June 2012.

It discusses how the system of vocational education in particular militates against permitting liminality and hence by extension the teaching of threshold ideas.

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  • In one case the teacher thoughtfully provided me with some of the course documentation including photocopies of pages from the "official" textbook which she was using as a handout. (Not best practice, but with a heavy timetable and no time to develop her own resources, understandable.) So I could see that she was following the required Scheme of Work almost to the letter. The handout declared authoritatively that there are four theories of such-and-such (well, it all depends... and two of the theories were simply variations on a third, but there was no acknowledgement of that), and the teacher was supposed to "get through" these at the rate of ten minutes each, and to test that they had been "learned" (whatever that means in this context). Being fair to her, again, she was not very familiar with the area she was teaching, and so she had to stick largely to what the book told her*. She offered few examples, because she was not confident they would be "correct". And I could tell that some of the information on the handout was misleading and even simply wrong. The students, rather sadly, were bored but compliant. They "researched" allocated topics (Googled them), and paraphrased what they found and the relevant paragraph from the handout, and two of them gave short presentations by the time the session ended. They spoke when spoken to, but volunteered nothing. They exhibited a weary familiarity with yet more half-understood gobbets of information they were supposed to "learn", without a clue as to why. At the end of the session the teacher told them they could “tick off” their first Unit objective The teacher and I had our post-observation discussion. I checked on the academic/vocational level of the programme (3; the next level below first-year undergraduate level). She agreed it was dumbed-down to near meaninglessness, because that is seen as the way to get the students to "achieve". The bottom line is that they must not drop out.
  • This is illustrated clearly by an observation by PW, of a Business Studies class for 16-year-olds. The curriculum prescribes what knowledge etc. is required of a candidate for a Pass, Merit, or Distinction. For an irrelevant reason, the teacher decides to address all the “P” level objectives first (for the whole syllabus), and then to revisit the “M” criteria and possibly the “D”s if there is time. (This of course makes no sense in terms of the knowledge base.) But in this particular class, a student has encountered what is for him a threshold concept, and pipes up with, “But doesn’t that mean that...” and goes on to identify several more “functions of the firm” which go beyond the current topic but clearly now make sense to him. He is shut down, “We’re not doing that until next term—don’t confuse other people!”
  • ...I had the vague idea to cover directions based on the fact we had changed classrooms, so opened with the question “Where are we?” assuming that the answer would be “college” from whence I thought I could whittle it down to “in the classroom”. Never assume! The answer I got was “school”. Again, I addressed the error with a questioning look, and got “college” from another student. “What’s the difference?” I asked. It was fascinating to watch the answers develop from hand signals to indicate small height, to “kids” and “children”, to “adults”. There was here another fascinating moment: in terms of the almost visible cognitive processes going on as one learner in particular started to answer, fell silent, and instead of filling the gap for him, I again opened it up to the rest of the group. No significant answer, lots of thinking and, crucially silence for a few moments until the original learner came up with “university” (albeit mispronounced). A lovely lovely moment, and it wouldn’t have happened if I’d leapt in and told him.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Troublesome Thresholds and Limiting Liminality: issues in teaching in vocational education James Atherton Peter Hadfield Peter Wolstencroft (formerly or currently of University of Bedfordshire UK)
    • 2. Liminality as Liability James Atherton Peter Hadfield Peter Wolstencroft(formerly or currently of University of Bedfordshire UK)
    • 3. Using the model/frame of“defences against liminality”as a way of understandingthe practice of teaching and learningin vocational education (and beyond)Intro
    • 4. Based on…• Professional Graduate Certificate in Education, and a non-grad version• For teachers in post-compulsory education• About 700 students enrolled: in 10 centres: with around 40 staff• Actively using ideas of TCs since 2007• In a community of enquiry about how they work in this sector• Drawing on all possible sources (within ethical limits).• Guided and encouraged by the three authors Intro
    • 5. Issue
    • 6. Issue EdExcel 2010
    • 7. [...] I could see that she was following the required Scheme of Work […]to the letter. The handout declared authoritatively that there are four theories [...]and the teacher was supposed to "get through" these at the rate of ten minutes each,and to test that they had been "learned" [...]The students, rather sadly, were bored but compliant. They "researched"allocated topics [...] , and paraphrased what they found and the relevant paragraphfrom the handout. […] They spoke when spoken to, but volunteered nothing.They exhibited a weary familiarity with yet more half-understood gobbets ofinformation they were supposed to "learn", without a clue as to why.The teacher told them they could “tick off” their first Unit objective[…] post-observation discussion. I checked on the academic/vocational level ofthe programme (3; the next level below first-year undergraduate level). She agreed itwas dumbed-down to near meaninglessness, because that is seen asthe way to get the students to "achieve". The bottom line is that theymust not drop out. Issue (Atherton, 2010)
    • 8. Issue
    • 9. • [...] For an irrelevant reason, the teacher decides to address all the “P” level objectives first (for the whole syllabus), and then to revisit the “M” criteria and possibly the “D”s if there is time.• [...] a student has encountered what is for him a threshold concept, and pipes up with, “But doesn’t that mean that...” and goes on to identify several more “functions of the firm” which go beyond the current topic but clearly now make sense to him.• He is shut down, “We’re not doing that until next term—don’t confuse other people!”Issue
    • 10. Knowledge/ skill etc. yLiminalit Time
    • 11. This is a stylised “learning curve”, a fantasy of incremental progressKnowledge/ skill etc. Time
    • 12. This is a stylised “learning curve”, a fantasy of incremental progressKnowledge/ skill etc.Liminalit y Time
    • 13. This is a stylised “learning curve”, a fantasy of incremental progressKnowledge/ skill etc. ...and this is the more realistic curve associated with learning a threshold conceptLiminalit y Time
    • 14. This is a stylised “learning curve”, a fantasy of in particular, incremental this is the progress Liminal TroughKnowledge/ skill etc. ...and this is the more realistic curve associated with learning a threshold conceptLiminalit y Time
    • 15. • Entry level ESOL class• Trying “naked” teaching• Changed rooms at last minute“...almost visible cognitive processes going on as one learner [...] started to answer, fell silent, [...], I again opened it up to the rest of the group. No significant answer, lots of thinking and, crucially silence for a few moments until the original learner came up with “university” (albeit mispronounced). A lovely lovely moment, andit wouldn’t have happened if I’d leapt in and told him.” Sam Shepherd’s blog: 14 June 2012 (his emphasis)Liminalit y
    • 16. Liminality is risky (and so are TCs)Liminalit y
    • 17. Risk is toxicLiminalit y
    • 18. Pressures andresponses
    • 19. So...Pressures andresponses
    • 20. So...No room for, can’t afford liminality Pressures and responses
    • 21. which representsloss of control Pressures and responses
    • 22. which represents loss of control and hence increasing anxiety For For …and for Pressuresmanagers teachers studentsand responses
    • 23. Isobel Menzies-Lyth investigated this general principle in a classic 1967 paper:"A Case-study in the Functioning of Social Systems as a Defence against Anxiety”which does what it says on the tin (based on nursing).
    • 24. Trade-off• Security vs. autonomy• Risk reduction  stagnation
    • 25. So what?• Raising awareness of the normality of liminality (Cousin, 2008) Suggestions
    • 26. So what?• Raising awareness of the normality of liminality (Cousin, 2008)• Providing the language to “diagnose” it Suggestions
    • 27. So what?• Raising awareness of the normality of liminality (Cousin, 2008)• Providing the language to “diagnose” it• Pre-emptive re-assurance Suggestions
    • 28. www.doceo.co.uk/tools/thresholds_11.htm james@doceo.co.uk
    • 29. Selected References• Atherton J S (2010) Recent Reflection: On making learning more difficult by making it easier... http://recentreflection.blogspot.com/2010/12/on-making-learning-more-difficult-by.html#ixzz1yLm6CPEU accessed 20 June 2012• Keats John (1817) Letter to George and Thomas Keats (21 Dec 1817) in H. E. Rollins (ed.), (1958) Letters of John Keats, Vol. 1, 193• Land, R., Cousin, G., Meyer, J.H.F. and Davies, P. (2005), Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (3): implications for course design and evaluation, In: C. Rust (ed.), Improving Student Learning - diversity and inclusivity, Proceedings of the 12th Improving Student Learning Conference. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD), pp 53-64. [ http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/isl/isl2004/abstracts/conceptual_papers/ISL04-pp53-64-Land-et-al.pdf    last accessed 23 May 2012]• Menzies-Lyth I E P (1988) "A Case-study in the Functioning of Social Systems as a Defence against Anxiety" (1967) reprinted in Containing Anxiety in Institutions (Selected Essays vol I) London: Free Association Books• Perkins D (2010) “Threshold Experience” keynote given at 3rd Biennial Threshold Concepts Symposium, UNSW, Sydney 1-2 July 2010 (online, available http://www.thresholdconcepts2010.unsw.edu.au/speakers.html retrieved 14 November 2011• Shepherd S (2012) Sam Shepherd’s Blog http://samuelshep.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/unplugged-trousers/ accessed 14 June 2012• Turner V (1969) The Ritual Process; structure and anti-structure London; Routledge and Kegan Paul• Van Gennep A (1909) The Rites of Passage (trans.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960• Wenger E (1998) Communities of Practice Cambridge; CUP The original version of this presentation was given at the 4th International Threshold Concepts Conference, held 28-29 June 2012 at Trinity College Dublin.

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