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Threshold Concepts in Research Education and Evidence of Threshold Crossing


Higher Education Research and Development Volume 28, Number 4, ISSN 0729-4360


Most work on threshold concepts has hitherto related to discipline-specific undergraduate education, however, the idea of generic doctoral-level threshold concepts appeared to us to provide a strong and useful framework to support research learning and teaching at the graduate level. The early work regarding research-level threshold concepts is further developed and reported in this paper using research carried out with supervisors into their identification of threshold concepts and research students' crossing of these thresholds. The research was conducted in two stages involving 65 experienced research supervisors across six countries (Australia, England, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand and Trinidad) and across Humanities, Social Sciences, Engineering and IT and the Sciences. The first stage involved written responses from 26 experienced supervisors related to the learning challenges experienced by research students and their supervisors. The second stage of the research involved in-depth interviews with 39 supervisors regarding student learning challenges and successes at the research level. Responses were analysed, resulting in the identification of six possible generic research threshold concepts, which evidence themselves in the quality and level of the students' work at different stages in that work: argument; theorising; framework; knowledge creation; analysis and interpretation; and paradigm. The data analysis also suggests a number of indicators that signal when learners have crossed conceptual thresholds to gain, articulate and put into practice one or more of these threshold concepts in their research learning. (Contains 2 tables.)


Kiley, M. & Wisker, G. (2009). Threshold Concepts in Research Education and Evidence of Threshold Crossing. Higher Education Research and Development, 28(4), 431-441. Retrieved October 17, 2021 from .

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