Poster Presentation Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Applying threshold concepts to unlock the ‘hidden’ core of a multifaceted health sciences curriculum (#334)

Lynne Petersen 1 , John P Egan 1 , Mark Barrow 1
  1. University of Auckand, Auckland, New Zealand

Abstract Content


In 2014, a curriculum implementation plan was developed to map the existing Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) curriculum so as to inform a cohesive workforce-related vision for the future. Prior to mapping the curriculum, staff first needed to agree upon what the future-focused set of graduate capabilities across their diverse programme should be.  To do so, we applied Meyer and Land’s (2003) notion of threshold concepts[1] to enable us to unpack what felt like a complex, at times hidden, core curriculum. 

Research/evaluation method:

The existing programme was analysed using the frame of threshold concepts through a series of staff and student focus group sessions.  This led to a refining of six central threshold concepts for the degree and revision of a set of programme-wide capabilities.  Pre-review course outlines (n=24) and assessments (n=104) were analysed using thematic coding, then mapped against the proposed graduate capabilities and thresholds for the revised BHSc. Lecturers validated these data using co-constructed matrices to explore coverage of these thesholds concepts.  At the end of 2014, teaching staff involved in the curriculum project (n=14) completed an evaluation analysing their perception of the effects of applying threshold concepts to the BHSc programme development. 


Evaluation results indicate that staff now report a greater common sense of purpose and a more shared overarching vision for the  programme.  By applying the frame of threshold concepts to the programme curriculum, many staff reported surprise that ‘taken for granted’ competencies such as academic, information and professional literacies were not being systematically built upon across the programme.  This has been the springboard to a programme-wide redevelopment of the BHSc core courses and the new capstone course development, assisted by external health sector representatives.

[1] Meyer, J.H.F. & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (1): linkages to ways of thinking and practicing. In C. Rust, (Ed.), Improving Student Learning – ten years on. Oxford: OCSLD.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference

This poster focuses centrally on conference theme one by exploring how threshold concepts can assist the process of establishing what capabilities are required of (BHSc) graduates and how we can ensure these are responsive to (health) sector needs.  It highlights examples from practice in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme.  We first show how an overarching programme purpose was reframed in conjunction with external sector input by utilising Meyer & Land’s notion of threshold concepts.   Next we illustrate examples of effective tools and processes (co-constructed matrices) that were applied by academic staff to shed light on gaps and overlaps in existing core course content and assessment tasks.  Related to this we address questions from conference theme three concerned with how we can assess, embed and evaluate these graduate capabilities once we have mapped them across our courses. 

Examples also illustrate the processes utilised in designing stage three ‘capstone’ courses to embed and assess these graduate capabilities.