Interdisciplinary threshold concepts in engineering

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Connections in Higher Education Vol. 35

July, 2012, 373 pages
Published by
N. Brown, S.M. Jones, & A. Adam
0 908557 89 2

To enrich interdisciplinary connections, in 2012 the University of Western Australia introduced foundation engineering units to transform and integrate the traditional engineering disciplines. In the curriculum design process we have adopted the theoretical and practical underpinnings of threshold concept theory. Threshold concepts, which do not know disciplinary boundaries, have been identified and given focus in the new curriculum. The focus on threshold concepts has allowed us to identify concepts that do not necessarily appear in traditional syllabi. In this paper we ask, “What are some threshold concepts that connect traditional engineering disciplines at the foundation level?” We identified these concepts through interviews, focus groups and workshops with students, tutors, and academics. Data collection occurred in two over-lapping phases. In the diverging phase, participants identified potential threshold concepts. In the integrating phase, participants in interdisciplinary workshops negotiated potential threshold concepts. Data were analysed for evidence of threshold concepts and how they can be transformative and troublesome. An inventory of threshold concepts was developed iteratively throughout the analysis. This paper outlines the data collection and analysis approaches and presents three identified integrating threshold concepts: system identification, modelling and abstraction, and dimensional reasoning. The approach could be used to integrate other disciplines.

Keywords: threshold concepts, curriculum design, engineering education 

Interdisciplinary threshold concepts in engineering

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Male, Sally A; Guzzomi, Andrew L & Baillie, Caroline A