The potential of combining phenomenography, variation theory and threshold concepts to inform curriculum design in higher education

Gerlese Akerlind, Jo McKenzie, Amanda Lupton

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapter in text book

13 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This chapter describes an innovative method of curriculum design that is based on combining phenomenographic research, and the associated variation theory of learning, with the notion of disciplinary threshold concepts to focus specialised design attention on the most significant and difficult parts of the curriculum. The method involves three primary stages: (i) identification of disciplinary concepts worthy of intensive curriculum design attention, using the criteria for threshold concepts; (ii) action research into variation in students' understandings/misunderstandings of those concepts, using phenomenography as the research approach; (iii) design of learning activities to address the poorer understandings identified in the second stage, using variation theory as a guiding framework. The curriculum design method is inherently theory and evidence based. It was developed and trialed during a two-year project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, using physics and law disciplines as case studies. Disciplinary teachers' perceptions of the impact of the method on their teaching and understanding of student learning were profound. Attempts to measure the impact on student learning were less conclusive; teachers often unintentionally deviated from the design when putting it into practice for the first time. Suggestions for improved implementation of the method are discussed. Copyright © 2014 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Perspectives on Higher Education Research
EditorsJeroen Huisman, Malcolm Tight
Place of PublicationUK
PublisherJAI Press
Pages227-247
Number of pages21
Volume10
ISBN (Print)9781783509997
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameInternational Perspectives on Higher Education Research
Volume10
ISSN (Print)1479-3628

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  • Cite this

    Akerlind, G., McKenzie, J., & Lupton, A. (2014). The potential of combining phenomenography, variation theory and threshold concepts to inform curriculum design in higher education. In J. Huisman, & M. Tight (Eds.), International Perspectives on Higher Education Research (Vol. 10, pp. 227-247). (International Perspectives on Higher Education Research; Vol. 10). JAI Press. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-3628(2014)0000010017