Thursday, February 19, 2009

What are the Sticking Places?

As part of the second Learning Spaces seminar, we talked about whether the concept of 'sticking places' - or to use the proper term, Threshold Concepts - is a useful idea for art and design education. This is the proposal that particular concepts are key to the development of mastery in a discipline but are often problematic because they are counter-intuitive and difficult to grasp. For Meyer and Land (2006. p22) learning involves the occupation of a liminal space.... a kind of teenagehood, where they fluctuate backwards and forwards between different kinds of understanding.

So - what are the things that art and design students have 'to get'; and how can that process be supported? I suggested that, from my experience the first thing an architectural student has to 'get' is how to look differently; not just noticing landmark buildings or making commonsense divisions between what is ugly and what is beautiful, but viewing every single space/object with a critical and creative eye, for its potential to inform their own creative work.

As the groups talked, they were most interested in what students themselves bring to the process - in who defines when you 'get it' and in the broader processes of becoming/being a learner and becoming/being a practitioner, rather than, say, the problems of learning specific concepts. For one group a key set of sticking places was about the identity of becoming a student - the desire to engage in learning - understanding/acquiring a subject culture/ethos - which is bound up in teaching and learning approaches and methods. Another was the process of developing critical awareness - seeing multiple perspectives - positioning self/gaining ownership - communicating ownership/position using (and possible subverting) the conventions of the discipline. Both groups came to a similar conclusion - that the key threshold concept is being able to articulate their subject well and therefore pass it on (beyond the boundaries of their own discipline).

Rather than a series of individual 'moments' then, sticking places seemed to be more like a journey over a very uneven terrain, with learners (and tutors) bringing different kinds of more or less suitable equipment.

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