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Title: Exploring the experience of liminality in learners of secondary school physics
Author: Appleby, David
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 440X
Awarding Body: University of Bedfordshire
Current Institution: University of Bedfordshire
Date of Award: 2018
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The idea of 'threshold concepts' has attracted attention and framed many enquiries into learning, particularly in higher education, since it was first proposed by Meyer and Land in 2003. It has formed the basis of a broadly-based scholarly community; however, it lacks some of the features of the kind of generative research programmes described by Lakatos. These include the lack of an explicit ontological and epistemological position and a lack of clarity around the fundamental concepts of transformation and liminality. Instead, much of the literature on threshold concepts uses metaphors and analogies and borrows from eclectic fields and traditions. This is particularly evident in discussions of the liminality found amongst learners when confronted by troublesome knowledge or cognitive conflicts. This empirically-based study proposes that it is possible to understand the philosophical perspectives underpinning threshold concepts in terms of a commitment to ontological realism combined with epistemological constructivism. This combination is evident elsewhere, notably in constructivist science education, in physics, and in the tension between classic Glaserian and Charmazian constructivist grounded theory. This study therefore uses a hybridised grounded theory approach, combined with a think-aloud method, in order to study experiences of liminality among pre-university learners faced with a threshold concept in physics. Learners used reflective self-dialogue and deliberative problem-solving strategies to reconcile a mismatch in explanations. Key characteristics of liminality were identified including threshold avoidance, two forms of stuckness, oscillation and mimicry. However, the use of grounded analysis resulted in a reinterpretation of liminality from a period during which transformative learning took place to one in which a learner actively explored the problem space; active exploratory learning emerged as a core category. This facilitated a change in perspective from teacher-centric to learner-centric, a resolution of the two forms of stuckness previously observed, and the development of a coherent narrative to explain oscillation and mimicry and to enable a resolution of the differences between the 'possible breakthrough ideas' observed during this study and the 'eureka' moments described in the literature. This reinterpretation enables the development of a new understanding of liminality which paves the way towards the development of threshold concepts as a theory of learning. It also demands a pedagogical refocusing from the remediation or avoidance of learner deficit to strategies for enabling learners to make the most of the liminal experience.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: liminality ; threshold concepts ; stuckness ; transformative learning ; oscillation ; eureka moments ; X330 Academic studies in Secondary Education