On January 24th 2011 we were treated to a very thought-provoking seminar on “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: A Transformational Approach to Learning” as part of the University of Leicester’s Intrepid Researcher series. I won’t make extensive notes on the content of the presentation here because a very similar set of slides can be accessed here (Sept 2010, PowerPoint) and an older version here ( December 2008, pdf). A repository of resources related to the notion of Threshold Concepts is also available at this UCL site. I will reserve discussion here to a few of the main things that hit me.
Firstly, there is the notion that troublesome knowledge is really the key to maturing within a discipline – experiencing a certain amount of anxiety is a necessary part of moving on to deeper understanding. The concepts that trigger this experience within the majority of students may therefore be fundamental in their mastery of the topic. University education is analogous to gym membership (where work is required to reap the benefits) and not a stay at a luxury hotel.
Adherence to the ethical and legal guidelines can be problematic in any research. These difficulties are potentially compounded if the research involves adults who are lacking capacity to consent to their participation.
The National Research Ethics Service (NRES) have recently published an online toolkit to help researchers, members of research ethics committees, and institutional research managers to ensure that projects fit with the legal requirements (for example, adherence to the Mental Capacity Act in England and Wales). The toolkit was developed at the University of Leicester and is primarily the brainchild of Emma Angell and Mary Dixon-Woods, with input from Ainsley Newson at the University of Bristol and with a little help from me.
The toolkit is split into Clinical Trials Involving Medicinal Products (CTIMPs) and non-CTIMPs to reflect the fundamental differences in the structuring and administration of each type of activity. There is also a separate section on emergency research.
We would value your feedback on the toolkit – please feel free to post comments here.