In the course of my extremely enjoyable and invigorating conversation with Ray Land, he mentioned that Ference Marton, the scholar best known for his work in what’s known as the “deep/surface” research, once said that the one thing that would do more than anything else to improve higher education would be for faculty to sit down and talk with one another about their teaching. If conversation is a kind of banquet, nothing so whets appetites and prompts a good meal as a fresh and attractive metaphor. “Threshold concept,” coined in conversation between Land and his colleague Jan Meyer, has set an exciting and nourishing table for ten years, and the meal seems far from over. The FORUM has long held to the ideal of a good conversation as the best way to convey powerful, actionable ideas, and so I’m proud to devote considerable space to a look at “threshold concepts” and the implications of the insights it’s led to for the improvement of teaching and learning.
Just as no picture has depth without shadows, no conversation progresses without counter argument and alternative points of view. Richard Lewine’s work at the University of Louisville seeking to develop “self-knowledge” in students probes the shadow side of some of the implications of research into students lost in the limnality of threshold concepts. Land and his colleagues emphasize the tenacity and resilience students need to make it through. Lewine looks at developing the self-awareness it takes to know when it’s time to give up, that this course is not for you. Researchers all around the table agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes that “in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
In yet another way, this issue’s TECHPED by Michael L. Rogers focuses on the need to help students develop respect for knowledge itself: what it is, where it comes from, how it is made, and how what they are being asked to do as students makes them more than spectators in the world of knowing. The internet and its “pulse-frequency-coded systems” can’t really offer up the kind of understanding that is knowledge at its best. Rogers explores the suspicion that as the internet has increased students’ power in many ways, it seems also to have diminished their understanding of the importance of their own minds, their own judgment.
This issue also offers the final part of Ed Nuhfer’s DEVELOPER’S DIARY exploring the concept of metadisciplinarity. Previous parts have sorted out the differences between science and technology, despite the way the STEM acronym squeezes them together. This part looks at the best pedagogical approaches to teaching in the metadiscipline of technology. To write it, Ed interviewed a wide range of teaching faculty and uncovered important, exciting, and little-known treasures in existing, published inquiries into teaching and learning. Not to pick the bones too clean here, but Ed’s many conversations have set a nourishing text for readers.
Conversation is a back and forth, a give and take. We now commonly ask for student feedback on our teaching, but Marilla D. Svinicki’s AD REM . . . concluding this issue suggests we don’t do enough with what they tell us. The best conversations provoke reflection on all sides. Marilla suggests a number of simple steps faculty can take to foster a productive conversation with their students, one aimed at leaving both parties reflecting on how they may be more effective in their roles.
The snow has finally melted here in Wisconsin and soon the flood waters will recede. I hope the summer will offer readers some inspiriting time for reflection. Remember: these pages are always interested in your thoughts.
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