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

Akerlind, Gerlese, McKenzie, Jo, & Lupton, Mandy (2014) The potential of combining phenomenography, variation theory and threshold concepts to inform curriculum design in higher education. In Huisman, , J. & Tight, M. (Eds.) Theory and Method in Higher Education Research II. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 227-247.

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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.

Impact and interest:

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1 citations in Web of Science®

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ID Code: 65826
Item Type: Book Chapter
Additional Information: International Perspectives on Higher Education Research
Additional URLs:
Keywords: phenomenography, variation theory, threshold concepts, higher education, law, HERN
DOI: 10.1108/S1479-3628(2014)0000010017
ISBN: 9781783509997
ISSN: 1479-3628
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY (130200)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Cultural & Professional Learning
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Deposited On: 09 Jan 2014 02:18
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2014 00:55

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