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Issues Regarding Threshold Concepts in Computer Science

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Abstract

Threshold Concepts deserve discussion and reflection in Computer Science Education; they provide a conceptual framework intended to re-empower tertiary educators. At this stage, the idea of Threshold Concepts raises plenty of questions, promises renewed learner and teacher engagement, and suggests a means of focusing on the key aspects of a discipline that will allow a learner to, for example, "think more like a computer scientist." But what precisely are threshold concepts? Can we identify them? Can we agree on which concepts are threshold concepts and which are not? Can we validate them? If threshold concepts do exist, and can be identified and agreed upon, then how would they alter what we teach, how we teach, and how we assess? Do threshold concepts represent anything new or unexpected? The purpose of this paper is to set out issues for the Threshold Concepts model in Computer Science Education and encourage on-going discussion.

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... Threshold concepts are seen as crucial topics or ideas recognised as particularly important in the understanding of a subject. Rountree and Rountree (2009) observed that the threshold concepts model has become fashionable, having gained popularity since 2003 when it was first put forward (Meyer & Land, 2003). The concept has now been explored in many different areas including Biology, Mathematics, Economics, Accounting and CS (Barradell, 2013). ...
... This transformative way of understanding the topic leads to deeper understanding of the subject that would not be possible otherwise. Rountree and Rountree (2009) note that certain aspects of the curriculum are pivotal and act as 'portals' to new understanding, mastery of which is seen as a rite of passage for all students of the discipline. Achieving an understanding of these threshold concepts can help students see connections with other aspects of the discipline that transcend individual components of the subject (Boustedt et al., 2007). ...
... It is useful to know that students tend to become stuck on a particular concept, but the deeper understanding of the student experience-how students get unstuck, and why some students get unstuck (or perhaps never get stuck at all) while others remain stuck-should provide ideas on how to help students to make progress toward understanding that concept. (Boustedt et al., 2007, p. 507) Similarly, exploring threshold concepts in CS, Rountree and Rountree (2009) argued that the most substantial work on identifying threshold concepts in CS has been on, 'examining the responses of students in Computer Science to questions about where they got "stuck" while studying' (p. 3). ...
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... " The main predictor for the transformative character of (TCs) is the again the " Use of Inquiry Features, " while the other main prediction is coming again from the " Use of Modelling Indicators, " as was also the case for the dependent variable " Learning Performance. " Our results indicate that students' engagement in models of simulation could enhance their conceptual understanding of the (TCs) and this is probably an answer to the question about the identification of threshold concepts and how would they alter what we teach, how we teach, and how we assess them (Rountree & Rountree, 2009). The (ADI) variable seems also crucial in students understanding of threshold concepts, since it is strongly correlated with the acquisition of threshold concepts (r = 0.925) while it also appears in the regression analysis for the dependent variables we discussed before. ...
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Computational experiment approach considers models as the fundamental instructional units of Inquiry Based Science and Mathematics Education (IBSE) and STEM Education, where the model take the place of the " classical " experimental setup and simulation replaces the experiment. Argumentation in IBSE and STEM education is related to the engagement of students/learners in a process where they make claims and use models and data to support their conjectures and justify or disprove their ideas. Threshold Concepts (TCs) are of particular interest to IBSE and STEM education, representing a " transformed way of understanding, or interpreting or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress. " The purpose of this study is to explore the effects of IBSE teaching approach on University students': (a) argumentation; (b) involvement in the use of modelling indicators; and (c) acquisition of certain threshold concepts in Physics and Mathematics. 79 pre-service engineering school university students participated in this research and results indicate that the computational experiment can help students' acquisition of threshold concepts and improve their level of argumentation as well as the use of modelling indicators.
... Meyer and Land have proposed using threshold concepts as the fundamental way to organize the teaching-and-learning process (Eckerdal, 2006) for subjects, such as computer programming. Although there is much debate around the use of threshold concepts (Rountree, 2009) these concepts can form the foundation of the computer programming curriculum. Threshold concepts can be characterized as being (Meyer, 2003b): ...
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Novice students' experience strong emotions while learning to program. This is especially true when they are learning a threshold concept, as the action of crossing a threshold means walking through a " liminal space ". The liminal space is a transitional period where students experience oscillating emotions while trying to master a threshold concept. These emotions are rarely discussed in the field of computing and rarely mentioned in the literature associated with teaching-and-learning of computer programming. This paper describes such emotions and the paper reveals that there is no lack of emotional reactions while learning a threshold concept, program dynamics. As emotions are significantly related to motivation and motivation is strongly related to the success of the novice student, it may be useful for educators to understand students' emotions so that they are not only communicators of information but also motivators. Furthermore, constructivist pedagogy may provide a nurturing environment, where students are able to express their emotions.
... It has been suggested that internalisation of these ideas alone makes the skilful practitioner and underpins the expert (Cousin, 2006; Meyer & Land, 2006). Considerable thought has gone into ways of identifying TCs (Davies, 2006; Rountree & Rountree, 2009;). A notable success of the theory to date has been as a tool for teachers to address the " stuffed curriculum " (Land, Cousin, Meyer, & Davies, 2005; Cousin, 2006). ...
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In this article a thermodynamic view of learning is taken. Internalisation of a threshold concept, the so-called act of “passing through the portal”, is viewed as a phase change. It is postulated that threshold concepts are associated with learning that both involves a large entropy change and that has competing possible learning outcomes. Through analogy with enthalpy of matter, it is predicted that certain learning activities will aid students, especially in the case of reaching true understanding of threshold concepts, much as certain physical processes aid the formation of diamond in preference to graphite.
... The starting point in our project was the findings from New Zealand and overseas that first year undergraduate students, across disciplines, have great difficulty learning certain concepts and progressing in their tertiary studies (Buntting, 2006;Meyer, Land, & Baillie, 2010;Rountree & Rountree, 2009;Scott, Harlow, Peter, & Cowie, 2010). The project also built on overseas studies that have examined factors related to pedagogy and knowledge acquisition (i.e., the acquisition of TCs) in tertiary education as an alternative solution to the problem of troublesome learning (Baillie, Goodhew, & Skryabina, 2006;Cowart, 2010;Eckerdale, McCartney, Moström, Sanders, Thomas, & Zander, 2007;Meyer, Land, & Baillie, 2010). ...
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International interest is growing in the hypothesis that a focus on teaching threshold concepts can engender transformation in the epistemological and ontological dimensions of learning. According to threshold concept theory (Meyer & Land, 2003) concepts that are troublesome to learn are also transformative when mastered: the acquisition of threshold concepts conduces to the change in the student’s understanding of a discipline, and what it means to be a disciplinary expert, engendering in the student deep knowledge and learning throughout the student’s life span. Our project explored how threshold concept-focused pedagogies and assessments can afford opportunities for student learning of hard-to-grasp concepts. The impact of a threshold concept-informed curriculum was examined through two cycles of collaborative action-research, in doctoral writing, leadership, a Bachelor of Arts foundation course and electronics engineering course. Results revealed that although the direct impact of changed teaching practice on students’ short-term learning could not always be uniquely identified, results from student surveys confirmed that their learning experience had been enhanced. Results also suggest that by focusing teaching on identified threshold concepts, lecturers can attend to what they consider the keys to deep learning and ways to best enable it. The explicit teaching of these integrative troublesome concepts offers students somewhere to hook their disciplinary understandings as they continue to learn new concepts.
... hreshold. They were identified in the first place by working with students and observing where they reported difficulty, or had learning troubles exposed through assessment. Later each was evaluated against the five attributes of Meyer and Land (2003). Debate between EE educators and instances from the literature have added weight to our selection. Rountree and Rountree (2009) favour the search for " the ways in which practitioners in related disciplines solve similar problems" offered by Davies (2006) to identify TCs. This manuscript puts our findings up for debate, and presents some novel approaches we are using to bring some objectivity to the evaluation. ...
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This manuscript reports the Threshold Concepts (TCs) identified in early circuits & electronics courses through our work to date. We suggest some novel methods used to quantify the identification. We identify some concepts that ought to have been mastered in high-school physics courses but that are often absent from student repetoires. This may be a confusing factor for us and a source of trouble for students.
... re identi ed in the rst place by working with students and observing where they reported dif culty, or had learning troubles exposed through assessment. Later each was evaluated against the ve attributes of Meyer & Land (2003). Debate between electrical engineering (EE) educators and instances from the literature have added weight to our selection. Rountree & Rountree (2009) favoured the search for " the ways in which practitioners in related disciplines solve similar problems " offered by Davies (2006) to identify TCs, and we will go even further than this. This manuscript puts our catalogue of postulated TCs up for debate, presents some novel approaches that we are using to identify TCs, and presents some ...
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ABSTRACT: This manuscript reports the threshold concepts identi␣ed over a two-year study in early circuits and electronics courses. Some novel methods have been used to improve con␣dence in the identi␣cation process. We also identify some concepts, potentially threshold, that ought to have been mastered in high-school physics courses but that are often absent from student repertoires. Weak understanding of these underlying concepts may be a confusing factor for researchers in their search for threshold concepts as well as an additional source of trouble for students of electronics.
... The identification of Threshold Concepts in disciplines remains a matter of ongoing research.(Davies 2006, Atherton, Hadfield, and Meyers 2008, Rountree and Rountree 2009) This space of this manuscript does not permit reporting the extensive process carried out to identify and justify our identifications. Nevertheless, we have a high level of confidence in our identification of the TCs that are explicitly taught, based on their correlation with each of the 5 accepted attributes of TCs as identified by Meyer and Land (2003), and upon our subsequent observation of students at work in the course. ...
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... Similarly, despite our failure to convincingly account for the bimodal CS1 distribution, the underlying assumption still appears to be that the explanation must lie in some preexisting factors which divide the world into populations who can and can't learn to program. In the recently popular research on threshold concepts, for example, " pre-liminal variation " (variation which exists before the learning process begins) is regarded as the key to understanding why students may be effective or ineffective in the learning process (Meyer & Land, 2003; Rountree & Rountree, 2009). When considering the partial predictors which have been fairly consistently identified, such as mathematical ability, two important issues do not appear to have received much attention. ...
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... Zendler and Spannagel (2008) mapped the concepts around which the curriculum should be organized, Ben-Ari (2001) explored mental models of the computer, and Simon et al. (2006) explored students' pre-conceptions . A recent addition is research on threshold concepts, namely concepts one is required to master in order to become a practitioner in the CS community (Rountree and Rountree 2009). The socio-cultural approach, expressed through the metaphor of enculturation emphasizes that becoming a CS professional requires, in addition to theoretical, conceptual knowledge, the development of a unique viewpoint, that is, valuing the processes professionals carry out during their work and having a propensity to use them (Schoenfeld 1992). ...
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This study demonstrates the power of the cultural encounter metaphor in explaining learning and teaching difficulties, using as an example computer science education (CSE). CSE is envisioned as an encounter between veterans of two computer-oriented cultures, that of the teachers and that of the students. Forty questionnaires administered to CS teachers, as well as in-depth interviews with four leading CS teachers, revealed those teachers perceived their students as having a different perspective on the domain, on what constitutes a beneficial approach to problem-solving and on the nature of satisfactory solutions. In fact, the teachers portrayed their teaching as a continual battle in which their success is limited. Yet, their instruction was characterized as a composite of enforcement and compromise, with few and isolated attempts at building on students’ cultural capital. The cultural encounter metaphor, while still viewing students as novices to the professional CS culture represented by their teachers, emphasizes that good teaching requires building upon students’ cultural capital to create zones of fertile cultural encounter. KeywordsCultural encounter–Teaching difficulties–Computer science education–Students’ cultural capital
... Object-oriented programming has been recognized as a Threshold Concept in CS education [31]. Threshold Concepts is a framework which has recently received more attention in CS, and used to refer to parts of the curriculum that students must understand in order to make progress in the field [176]. These concepts are potentially troublesome for students [31]. ...
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Yes, and Yes.We are currently undertaking an pirical investigation of "Threshold Concepts" in Computer Science, with input from both instructors and students. We have found good pirical evidence that at least two concepts---Object-oriented programming and pointers--are Threshold Concepts, and that there are potentially many more others.In this paper, we present results gathered using various experimental techniques, and discuss how Threshold Concepts can affect the learning process.
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This paper describes Threshold Concepts, a theory of learning that distinguishes core concepts whose characteristics can make them troublesome in learning. With an eye to applying this theory in computer science, we consider this notion in the context of related topics in computer science education.
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This paper describes Threshold Concepts, a theory of learning that distinguishes core concepts whose characteristics can make them troublesome in learning. With an eye to applying this theory in computer science, we consider this notion in the context of related topics in computer science education.
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Yes, and Yes.We are currently undertaking an pirical investigation of "Threshold Concepts" in Computer Science, with input from both instructors and students. We have found good pirical evidence that at least two concepts---Object-oriented programming and pointers--are Threshold Concepts, and that there are potentially many more others.In this paper, we present results gathered using various experimental techniques, and discuss how Threshold Concepts can affect the learning process.
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