What’s the big story?

what's the storyI had a supervision with Dr Julie Rattray and Dr Nicola Reimann on December 12th 2018.

I was concerned about keeping up with the literature as I have Google searches set for “Thresholds” “Threshold Concepts” and “Threshold Concepts and Entrepreneurship Education” and I get sent a considerable about of stuff that feels impossible to keep up with.

I was reassured that it’s OK to choose a point at which to stop looking at the literature.  Then return to it when everything else is done, just before submission, and add in the critical recent publications resulting from the interim period.

Prior to the supervision, I had sent through in advance a number of sections with draft titles such as Entrepreneurship Education, The importance of Entrepreneurship and Definition of Terms.

Next step is to start shaping these into Chapters.  I need to consider the story I’m telling – do I need Introduction, Context and Literature Review chapters, or just Introduction and Literature Review chapters for example?

Working out a structure will help me keep the big picture in mind.  I need to work out “what’s the big story?”  It won’t be the only story that’s told and can be supported by a number of little stories.  I have some “bits” now – but what’s the argument that’s being supported here?  What point am I trying to make? I need to be clearer about why I’m saying what I’m saying, what the argument is that I am making.

The literature review should be highlighting the gap in the knowledge.

I appear to be highlighting the gap in the literature concerning the conceptual side of entrepreneurship education, and how entrepreneurship education links to the purpose of higher education.  I need to pull out the conceptual change stuff and focus on concepts.  So its entrepreneurship education from a post- neo liberal perspective.  Has this perspective got a name yet?

Ultimately I am most interested in the “why?” of entrepreneurship education, the conceptual perspective, change and transformation.  That’s what the threshold concept framework enables and that’s why I find it attractive.

So as I’m reviewing the literature, I need to be critiquing it.  So I need to relate what other people are saying and highlight the perspective from which they are saying it.  And also highlight what’s missing from what they are saying and what other things might be said from an alternative perspective.  So I need to present one view, but highlight alternative views – for example using the threshold concept perspective.

Applying a new lens brings different things into focus.

I could argue that the current approaches miss a conceptual perspective and there are other things that could be considered if a more conceptual approach was taken.  For example – what programme success means and if and how it might be measured.

My supervisors felt I was too tentative in expressing my own perspective – and in pointing out the limitations of the perspectives of others.

They suggested I developed the sections a bit more and started threading them together with an argument.  All the time, I need to be clear WHY I am telling the reader what I am telling them, I need to be clear how what I am saying supports my overall argument.  I need to justify everything in the context of the main argument.

Julie suggested I wrote a paragraph or abstract that outlines what the arguments are going to be in each chapter – and then I have a way of testing each paragraph to see whether it builds the argument or is not relevant to it.  Every paragraph then makes a point.

I need to make the connections very explicit.

I need to be careful of using the term “measurement” – rather use “evidence” instead.  Measurement is a loaded term and implies other things I do not intend.

I can set out the various “schools of thought” regarding the overall purpose of higher education and then present my own and how it is different.    Entrepreneurship Education changes according to the overarching perspective of the purpose of Higher Education.

From a neo-liberal perspective – entrepreneurship education looks like this…..

However there is an alternative perspective – using the threshold concepts framework as a lens to look at it through….

I can talk about how things such as employability are affected by different perspectives of the purpose of Higher Education.  This would become a critique of the prevailing discourse of entrepreneurship education.

Presenting a neo-liberal perspective (I think) I could discuss the rise in entrepreneurship education in the context of Higher Education, the increase in the number of programmes over time, the rise of neo -liberalism and the obsession with employability.  The marketisation of Higher Education – entrepreneurship education has developed against this backdrop in this way (or perhaps because of this backdrop).

A backlash against neo-liberalism is coming..there are more people talking about social competence and social justice for example.  I could look at the UK Qualifications Framework where these things are only mentioned in passing and paid lip-service.

Julie suggested reading the counter discourse – writers such as Stephen Ball and Stefan Collini – Julie lent me “What are Universities for?”  She suggested reading Collini before Barnett.  These authors are presenting a critique of neo-liberalism and an alternative.

The way I am writing at the moment is too much as if the views of others are statements of fact.  Just as  I am too tentative about my own perspectives, I am not presenting the views of others as purely the views of others – I am presenting them as statements of fact.   It would be better to say “Here is what so-and-so thinks…” rather than “This is how it is”.  I can present Entrepreneurship Education from different perspectives – “this is how it is from a neo-liberal land and here’s an alternative through the lens of threshold concepts.”  So I could say “Entrepreneurship education has emerged like this, in this way…” I can present how it’s been constructed and not “this is how it is”.  I need to make the reader aware of the context that I am talking about it in and the perspectives I am presenting it from.  I can then frame things within a particular perspective and present my preferred alternative.

We started talking briefly about the roots of academic frailty (Kinchin) and the impact a neo-liberal environment has had.

I was also warned to ensure that I was not including any unnecessary references as they can potential be “traps” in a viva.  For example – I referenced Biglan when talking about academic disciplines without acknowledging the fact that he had come in for a lot of criticism, or presenting alternative perspectives.

Remember there are multiple ways of understanding EVERYTHING and I should never just include one without expecting to be challenged!

So useful phrases will be …”One way to think about categorising disciplines is like this….” or “According to Biglan, disciplines can be categorised like this…”

Make it clear that I am presenting the arguments of others that I don’t necessarily agree with.  Anything like that can get me sidetracked in a viva.  I must make sure I don’t (inadvertently) own the work of others.  Also be careful of over using one author – use a range of authors unless I am seeking to present the particular perspective of one individual.

Additionally Nicola pointed out that when talking about “fields” and “regions” that is a reference from Basil Bernstein and potentially also contentious – to be avoided.  The take home message here is that if it is not important – don’t include it.

Likewise – I mention Problem Based Learning, but the way I talk about it reveals I do not have a good enough understanding of it to make the argument with it that I am trying to make.  PBL does not emphasise problem solving but using problems in pedagogy.  So do not include extraneous argument that could get me into unnecessary trouble.  It’s the stuff that’s mentioned in passing that can trip you up.

We concluded with a discussion about how to approach my sabbatical which is starting after Christmas.  I need to block out time for data analysis.

I need to have the headings (not necessarily all the details) and a skeleton structure and then I can start thinking about how to manage all my data.  It was suggested that I could set aside April/May to look at data and write up after sabbatical….


Thought I’d be able to get it more done than that during the sabbatical.  I was hoping to have written up.  We’ll see.

It was agreed I would come with a suggested plan for my sabbatical for discussion on 21st Jan (next supervision date) that we could firm up during the meeting.






The more I do, the more I realise that there is still to do

I met with just Nicola today 17th October 2018 as Julie had to attend another meeting.  I had sent through a first attempt at writing for my actual real life thesis – a positioning piece, called “context” and Julie sent me a few points of feedback on it in advance of the meeting today with Nicola.

My primary concern was getting a grip on my literature.  I read part of another thesis and was absolutely in awe of the rigour with which the author had conducted her systematic review.  Not only was there a review of the literature pertinent to her specific research question, but there were also systematic reviews of areas relevant to her conceptual framework and methods.  The mountain I had to climb was getting larger as larger as I was approaching it.  I feel like the more I do, the more I realise there is still to do.  Rather than the task getting smaller, it is getting larger.

Nicola pointed out that there is more than one way to conduct a literature review.  Literature reviews exist on a continuum between systematic and narrative.  She recommended a book on literature review – I need to chase up the exact title from her.

She felt that organising my papers was a worthwhile exercise so I will press on with that.  I am filing all the papers I have at home that currently look like this ( a big random pile in no order) so that I know what I have and can find it easily.  As I go through them I am checking I have each one on Endnote, and filing according to theme.  The themes I am developing include: entrepreneurship education, entrepreneurial learning, threshold concepts, learning theories, the purpose of higher education, employability, motivation and student attitude,  positive psychology and self determination theory, education for professions and practice….

Nicola was concerned that I needed to know the latest papers that are being published in threshold concepts.  This would indicate that I need to be more systematic in my literature review with respect to threshold concept research and can be a little less systematic on the other more peripheral areas.

Nicola suggested using the university library guidance on doing literature searches in both Durham and Northumbria, and then make an appointment to get some specific advice and help with what I am doing. Nicola mentioned Christine Purcell at Durham for Education and suggested I contacted the person responsible for Business in the library at Northumbria.  They can help me check my search logic and which data bases I am using.

Also not to forget the Mick Flannigan site too for all the Threshold Concept work bearing in mind that some of the inclusions are of variable quality.

Above all, it’s important to find the cutting edge stuff and get a sense of how the field has moved on.  Previously people were looking at the identification of threshold concepts, now they are more interested in….what?

My contribution

For the thesis it is not enough to take two existing concepts and claim that you are creating knowledge by applying one to the other in a way that has not been done before.  I could possibly make contributions to knowledge in entrepreneurship education, threshold concepts and in the design of my research (the method).  The actual contributions will emerge when I apply my conceptual framework to the analysis of my data.

So I am bringing several theoretical frameworks together (setting the scene, the context) and then looking for new things using this framework in my data.

We returned to the Context chapter I had written prior to the meeting.  Both Nicola and Julie had commented that each sub heading needed considerable fleshing out.  The sections on entrepreneurship education are likely to be fairly straight forward to write as they will be mainly descriptive.

In the section on threshold concepts I need to give an overview of the field.   I need to position what I am doing in the context of what other people have done.  I need to compare and contrast my work with the work of others and bring out what my contribution is.

There is potential gap in the literature on the student perspective – is this because there is an omission? or is it because it is impossible/difficult to research given that students do not know what they do not know…

We talked about the best way to use the remaining two and half months there are remaining before I have my sabbatical and agreed that sorting out the literature would be a useful thing to do in this time.

Some areas might need to take more of a back seat – entrepreneurial learning for example.  I need to address what “threshold concepts” is – is it an approach, a framework, a model?  Nicola felt it was not a theory –

I also need to unpick and explain the relationship between concepts and ways of thinking and practicing.  Nicola mentioned another PhD student who had  just focused on the troublesome nature of threshold concepts.

It occurred to me that my equivalent of troublesome was transformative.  A focus on change and transformation will provide a thread through my data.  I have data on how entrepreneurs feel that they are different from other people (what transformations have occurred), I have data on the changes and transformation educators are looking to see in their students, and I have data on the changes and transformation students regard as important to the study of entrepreneurship.  So when I go back to my data I will look for evidence of transformation and change.  That is the most important characteristic of a threshold concept for my research purposes.

Nicola suggested looking at the literature review sections of other thesis for a heads up on the latest thinking in a particular area.  We agreed three more dates for supervision meetings and Nicola suggested I write a section of literature review for our next meeting.






Take a deep breath and start writing the thing

high dive

I met today with Nicola and Julie.  I had been getting to grips with Communities of Practice according to Wenger (1998).  I had concluded that this learning theory was not really going to be a good fit for data analysis and my supervisors agreed.

We could go round and round discussing whether Entrepreneurs constitute a community of practice “strictly speaking” or not, whether “Entrepreneurship” is a “Profession”  but really we concluded that those aren’t important questions for me.  I can draw from all these frameworks and definitions without holding one or other of them up as more “true” or “better” than another.  Wenger contradicts himself in his own writing regarding whether whole professions can be regarded as communities of practice, Shulman speaks of professions as communities of practice, etc…But what is important is the Social Practice approach to learning – social practice is important (perhaps critical) when learning entrepreneurship.  I can take the principles that work from all these authors’ theories.

I was encouraged to look at other social practice approaches to learning – such as Activity Theory (the one with all the triangles), and Actor Network Theory (Julie will look out a new book on this by a colleague Jonathan Timmons).  All these authors make the point that learning and knowledge cannot be disembodied, stand alone things, separated from people.  Learning and knowledge must be embodied in practice to come into being, and they are social.

We then started to see how connections could be made between threshold concepts and social learning theories, and the tensions between theory and practice, the laboratory approach and the apprenticeship approach (Shulman after Dewey, 1998), acknowledging that there is a continuum not a dichotomy; there is a place for both, it’s an artificial divide.

People who subscribe to the extreme end of social practice learning theory maintain that there is NO knowledge (theory) without practice.

This is tricky in the context of entrepreneurship education.  If you leave the practice too late the students become fidgety and cannot see the relevance of what they are learning.  If you leave the theory too late or leave it out altogether – the students don’t know where to start and they don’t know what they don’t know, they feel abandoned.  The big questions are “When do you start to practice?”  “How do you start to practice?”, “When and what do you teach?”.

We started to formulate a spherical model where the learning destination was the “core”, the ultimate purpose of the learning.  In this case “entrepreneurship”.  The core is a bit fuzzy and evolves over time.  It is moulded and developed by the practices which surround it.  Around is there is a kind of force field or solar system, or community of practice like an onion with many layers.  Threshold Concepts appear like pathways from one layer to another – but progress is not necessarily linear although the general direction of travel is towards the core.   The gravitational pull of the core has different effects on different people, some really want to get there and find it very attractive, others do not.  Some students get stuck at a particular threshold concept and make no further progress, they will remain at cross purposes to the rest of the community of practice mimicking an understanding which they do not fully possess.  Their discourse will continue to be at cross purposes with others closer to the core than they are, they will continue to see the world differently.  At each layer there will be elements of legitimate peripheral participation and the role of the educator is to design a social entity, with a powerful learning community where opportunities to learn and understand the threshold concepts of entrepreneurship are optimised, designing a heightened version of reality.

solar-system 2

We discussed that this discussion likely needs to be towards the start of the thesis in a context chapter or a section of a chapter.  I need to set out the premise of the study – “…Entrepreneurship Education needs to look like THIS…”.  If this is accepted then these are the dots that need to be connected, these are the threshold concepts that need to be understood.  The social practice approach becomes very relevant as there is no accepted practice knowledge in entrepreneurship, only enacted practice.

Or another metaphor would be a transport network.  There are many stations, some with no connections, others with many.  Any many different routes to the same destination.  Some students may not ever arrive at a particular destination – either because their desire to get there is not sufficient, or because they “get stuck” at a particular station and can’t make the right connection.  All the while they are in contact with other members of their community of practice, engaging, developing practice, interacting…

London transport

It’s important to distinguish the journey towards becoming a member of the entrepreneurship profession (becoming a member of that particular community of practice) and the journey towards becoming a graduate of the EBM programme at Northumbria (and becoming a member of that particular community of practice).

My task now is to attempt to write a “context chapter” explaining these premises, where I am coming from.  Conceptualising my thinking.  Using the transport map analogy – the threshold concepts are the major interchanges and my research is setting out to explore what they might be.  The perspectives of the entrepreneurs, the educators and the students may all be different because they are concerned with different parts of the map.  A complete map may not be possible to construct, but in this way, it’s a bit like the periodic table; we know that there are some gaps where there will be elements but no one has managed to isolate all of them yet.  However the more we ask entrepreneurs, the more detailed their part of the map will be, the more we ask educators and students, the more details their parts of the map will be.  The maps may overlap in some areas.

The idea of crossing a threshold does lend itself to the idea of making a connection.  You have to get off one train to get on another.  You can get stuck in the station. There will be other people at the station that might be stuck too or might be able to direct you. However the train will wait for you – it is not so time dependent. The train will be there for as long as you take to find it. However, while being stuck at the station you might lose interest in getting to the initial destination, it might just be too hard and difficult and no longer as appealing as it once was.  So you might get on a different train going somewhere else. Or you could get on the wrong train and end up somewhere you did not intend.  Or tell everyone you’re at Station A, when you’re still really only at Station B.  You could try getting to A a different way, that might work.  But there are always going to be some stations that can only be accessed via a particular interchange (threshold concept).

Using threshold concepts in this way, as a “lens”; means that I don’t need to worry about whether or not entrepreneurship is a discipline because it “just is”.  I can  use social learning theories to explain how students get from station to station.  There is something very interesting here to be explored around the relationship between social learning theories and threshold concepts which could have wider application vis a vis the introduction of two year degrees and degree apprenticeships for example.


Cupcakes and Chihuahuas

cupcakes and chiwawas

Things look different in different circumstances – so you might not recognise them.  And some things look the same when they are very different – like muffins and dogs 🙂

Met with Julie and Nicola yesterday.

Julie got promoted!  Whoop Whoop!  and now is Associate Professor.

Julie kindly mentioned my work at the Thresholds Conference in Ohio and it was followed up by another researcher interested in entrepreneurship threshold concepts in Waterloo, Ontario contacting me.  It would be so good to get an international collaborative project going, I hope it turns into something.

My quest for a way into the educator data looks like it might be turning into two possible papers for publication.  One outlining the conceptual framework I am developing for the analysis of the educator data, and the other actually doing the analysis.

We spent most of the session talking through my thoughts on a conceptual framework and how the nature/ form of thresholds might be different in different disciplines and easier to see in some places than others.

The recent Ohio conference proceedings will be useful as perspectives were becoming more critical and more people were starting to talk about “complex thresholds”.  Julie will send me her paper that was presented there.  Shame I wasn’t there….

De-coding the disciplines might be worth revisiting again as they talk about bottle-necks, places which are troublesome but are not necessarily all threshold concepts.

The role of the student voice will also be interesting to chew over as there are opposing views on the value of including them – Felton vs Barradell.  Barradell argues not just for the voices of the educators and the students but for the stakeholders as well.

Perhaps a systematic review of the literature is called for (PT – post thesis) looking at methods used to identify TC’s and criteria used consistently to define whether something was one or not.

But I need to keep ploughing through the literature and note the people that are saying what I’m saying and the people that are disagreeing.  Julie noted that there’s not much out there critiquing the framework (threshold concepts) so my research could be very timely.

It will also be important to refer to “the framework” rather than the “theory”; as a framework can be context specific, which is what I am looking for here.

Nicola raised an important comparison with the work of Sue Bloxham who is looking at assessment practice.  She contrasts two perspectives concerning assessment: one approach where two markers are searching for the perfect mark – techno rationalist (the mark is out there somewhere) and the other where two markers construct the agreed mark between them – social constructivist.  Nicola noted that there is almost an obsession with the “correct” identification of TC’s similar to the techno -rational approach to assessment.  To go out looking for TCs implies they are sitting there waiting to be found.

I’m arguing for a more social constructivist approach – where the learning thresholds are constructed by the community of practice.  I am investigating different communities, or different communities within one big community, and exploring how they have constructed their understanding/s of entrepreneurship.  My role in the thesis is to understand how these various communities have constructed themselves.

I need to ask if they think about entrepreneurship differently from each other and if that matters?  I need to ask if it is important that the three communities understand each other and interact at all?  What are the linkages?  Where are they the same and different?  If standards are socially constructed by the groups there needs to be dialogue between them that I need to understand – it’s not the job of the researcher to “find them out”.

I may not to be able to answer all these questions in the thesis, but I can pose the questions and move later to propose answers perhaps in other research.

We then moved to discuss the possible ways in which learning thresholds can be different between the disciplines and why.  Does understanding maths require less “letting go” than understanding entrepreneurship?  Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle, a practice, it needs to be embodied to be understood.  Therefore you likely have to let go of more of your old self to understand it.  Theoretical subjects require less embodiment – but there is a greater cognitive load.  There’s more to entrepreneurship than the acquisition of knowledge.  There’s something qualitatively different about entrepreneurship.

I need to research more into what other people have said about learning in the professions.

Also if you don’t have to go to university to be an entrepreneur – why is there a need for entrepreneurship education?  Because we can’t solve the world’s problems fast enough relying on the natural course of affairs, we need to accelerate the process.  We can’t rely on market forces, and the natural emergence of entrepreneurs, we need universities to help.  Also universities might lead to  more responsible entrepreneurship, more sustainable entrepreneurship, more diverse entrepreneurship, more team based entrepreneurship.  We hope.




I can see (a bit) more clearly


Rilke, R. M. (2011). Letters to a young poet. Penguin UK.



OK so at 45 your eyesight deteriorates badly.  Don’t worry the optician says – it happens to everyone.  There’s nothing you can do about it.  It’s nothing to do with the hours and hours you spend staring unblinkingly at your computer screen.  I could hardly see my computer screen any more!  But  – now I have my new glasses and well, I can see a way forward with my thesis too…

I met with just Julie on 24th May as Nicola was taking some research time.  In my previous supervision, Julie had suggested going back to the Threshold Concept conference proceeding books and the Flanagan website.  I borrowed the ones Julie had got and started ploughing my way through from the beginning.  What a good idea that was!  I read each chapter and made quite extensive hand written notes.  I found that as I was thinking and writing and reading, thoughts would emerge around how I might interrogate my data.  So as well as developing the bones of a literature review chapter, I was developing a methodology too.  Then I went over my hand written notes and started to assemble a chapter on the computer, shuffling bits around and being assiduous with my referencing.  I sent this to Julie before our meeting, along with a confirmation review document that I thought I needed after 33 months into the PhD process.

I was amazed that Julie had printed out my work in Braille – it really gave it a level of importance I wasn’t certain it deserved.  However Julie was really positive about what I had written.  She also liked the things that I had called “hypotheses” although questioned the use of the word.  She thought it was a nice place to start and had been really useful in distilling the key bits that were relevant to me from the literature.

She recommended a further critical piece by Sarah Barradell – I think it might have been this one:

Sarah Barradell & Tai Peseta (2016) Putting threshold concepts to work in health sciences: insights for curriculum design from a qualitative research synthesis, Teaching in Higher Education, 22:3, 349-372, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2016.1248390

It seems fruitful to treat entrepreneurship as a PRACTICE.

We wondered if VALUE was perhaps a threshold concept within this practice – entrepreneurs have to see value in a different way.  The concept of value could make the practice of entrepreneurship bounded.  I suggested moving it on to VALUE CREATION.

We discussed the complexities of hearing the student voice in the investigation.  There is a problem here…some criticise the literature because the student voice is not included sufficiently.  Others say you can’t ask students as they don’t know the answers – how can they know what they don’t know?

Am I looking for alignment in perspective between entrepreneurs, educators and students?  Perhaps I am looking for alignment and misalignment.

There is a methodological challenge here in gathering a valid student perspective.

Moving on to curriculum design – this also has implications for when the student are asked to face up to the threshold concepts – what needs to be in place first?  If they are asked to face up to the “jewels” straight away – I’m not sure that will deliver the best learning outcome for them.

Consider also the assessments – maybe we don’t need to assess the thresholds, maybe we can’t.  Maybe the thresholds of the practice are not crossed until after graduation – maybe much, much later after graduation.

So if we are treating entrepreneurship as a practice – perhaps what we are talking about here are threshold practices.  This would mean I need to bring the literature in on communities of practice front and centre.

As you move from the more traditional academic disciplines – you could argue that the nature of the knowledge changes.

Entrepreneurship as a practice needs to be embodied, enacted.  Crossing the threshold is achieved in the embodiment of the understanding.

We also discussed troublesomeness.  And how important it is to make the student comfortable, accepting and tolerant of the difficult bits.  Students need to be OK with troublesomeness – to be assured that it will be all right in the end.  This might link to psychological capital.  They need to remain engaged despite coming across problems in their learning journey.  They need the courage to believe it will be alright in the end.  It reminded me of a quote from Rilke,

“I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Rilke, R. M. (2011). Letters to a young poet. Penguin UK.
Designing a curriculum around thresholds is helpful because students have to confront troublesome knowledge and become accustomed to liminality.  It is equipment for life.
This links to Shulman – pedagogies of uncertainty.
Relevant also is the discourse on “snowflake students” and also “snowflake academics” – and the concept of academic frailty – the current work of Kinchin.
This is challenging for students today because the rest of their lives they are surrounded by services and products which are about making things more convenient.  It raises an expectation that nothing should be hard, and hard is bad.
The process of book research will allow me to identify themes which I can then research in more depth from other wider sources.
With the entrepreneur data (which is more woolly than perhaps a more traditional subject might be) I might discern or interpret threshold concepts or practices from their discourse.  Julie mentioned Phenomenological analysis – hmmm not sure I want to go there!
The educators seemed to have been more concerned with the disposition of the students.
The students – it will be difficult to get at what they find difficult.
But if practice of venture creation is the ultimate goal – then the curriculum needs to lead to it.  Learning entrepreneurship without venture creation doesn’t work.
If learning entrepreneurship is in the doing of entrepreneurship, courses that don’t require venture creation don’t work.
Parallels with History of Art and Fine Art courses.
Entrepreneurship courses have to be designed and taught as if all students on them want to become entrepreneurs and venture creation is the measure of entrepreneurship.  The course needs to be about becoming an entrepreneur and the students learn entrepreneurship by becoming entrepreneurs, and they do that by creating new ventures.
Julie mentioned E. Wenger; to become part of a community of practice, you need to envisage yourself being part of it at some point.
So we should only have students on the EBM course that can see themselves creating a new venture at some point.
You’d never go to study medicine if you didn’t want to become a doctor.  At least at first.
It would be miserable to be a student on a course leading to an outcome you didn’t seek.
We started to discuss the concept of threshold-ness.  Some writers talk of confronting multiple thresholds, or of complex thresholds.  Some threshold concepts might be linked – or entangled.  To imply that any threshold concepts in entrepreneurship might be separated and treated in insolation in a linear fashion is misleading – it’s much messier than that.
So perhaps the final threshold is the practice.  And there are others on the way…
Threshold Practice of Entrepreneurship.pptx
I must test each one for integrativeness – how many other things does it allow you to make sense of, once you have understood it?
It is necessary to understand the basic (threshold?) concepts before you can enact the threshold practice.
My job for now is to carry on reading the books and material on the Flanagan website and to develop a FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS.

Stick to the knitting

Just a quick on following the supervision I had on 30th April 2018.  See I’m not so far behind myself now, am I!

The conversation started with Threshold Capabilities – the latest “new thing” – I liked it, but I was warned that not everybody does…What’s the difference between a certain way of practicing and a threshold capability?  Threshold Capabilities integrate practice.

How does this fit with Signature Pedagogies? – they are about professional practice

See ways of thinking and practicing – Hounsell & McCune – and links to Communities of Practice.

But Entrepreneurs aren’t a community of practice are they?

They’re a (blank) of practice but I’m not sure what collective noun I need in the blank.  On reflection I think there is an argument to say that they are a community of practice – there are a lot of commonalities.

Entrepreneurship is more vocational perhaps than Mathematics…Geography…

Read Linda Martindale’s thesis – especially the conclusions.

She says that students have not achieved a full understanding of a threshold concept on graduation.

Read Kreber’s book about Disciplines – there’s a Chapter about theory and a Chapter about practice.

See what’s happening here – TOO MANY AVENUES TO GO DOWN.  TOO MANY THEORIES.


The risk is that I try to pull too many in.  Keep it simple.  Understand the theories better then I will have a better idea when I go back to the data about how to approach it.  I will be able to see which one’s fit best.

Other people have just concentrated on one aspect of a threshold concept – troublesomeness and used one theoretical framework in depth.

Stay narrow and go deep – don’t spread out and be forced to stay shallow.

Other people have chosen three theories and looked and the data in these three different ways.

I have three data sets and I don’t know which lens to look at them through.

Could be worthwhile “just” looking at the data – getting to know it better.  Trust that things will emerge from there.

1st thing – read and make observation notes – anything bizarre, interesting, relevant.  A sense of possible codes might start to emerge.

2nd thing – ask myself “What are they saying that’s important about becoming an entrepreneur?”  Remember my research questions.

Which to look at first though?  Should I get more familiar with the theory or closer to my data?

Julie suggested it might be a good thing to do a bit of writing about theories  – up to a point.  Keep reminding myself of my research questions.

Concentrate on Threshold Concept theory – duh!

Read the books of the conference proceedings and Mike Flannagan’s site.

Look at Robottom’s paper on criticisms of threshold concept theory.  Remember I will need to critique the literature – I need to give an honest appraisal of the theory.

Get back to what I was trying to achieve with the stages of the research study.  The Educator stage is the more standard approach.  Is there a difference between the educators and the entrepreneurs?

Think about how to approach the student data – read Peter Felton.  Can students know what the threshold concepts are?  Are they the right people to ask?  Are they the best people to ask?

How do the theories of others shed light on what’s different about threshold concept theory?  What’s special about threshold concept theory that’s different or builds on other theories?  How are they linked?  How are they different?

Look at some theories that have relationships – such as transformative learning (Mezirow)

Consider transformation

Consider difficulties – Perkins – troublesome knowledge

Some theories might be more relevant to some data sets than others.

Perhaps don’t stray as far as signature pedagogies, decoding the disciplines, philosophy of education etc etc…

Limit the literature to entrepreneurship education literature – not education as a whole.

I need to demark the territory – and acknowledge I cannot cover it all.  Narrow it down.

(…but I could use the notion of discourse when analysing the concept maps…!)

So – my job is to write a literature review chapter around threshold concepts and bring in threshold capabilities – draft it, ready for going back to the data.

The discussion could be around the relationship between the nature of the discipline and how clear the threshold concepts might be.  Discuss if entrepreneurship is a content free discipline, and what the implications of this might be.



The Blues

Only now have I found a space to breath and write up a supervision meeting held on 26th March.  A month of meeting deadlines, but little or no progress on the main event – my thesis.  The real writing plan was meant to start in April – 2,500 words a week.  Huh.  I wrote 2,500 ish for a conference abstract over Easter so that makes me 7,500  words down.  Boo.

the blues

However, getting back to the supervision I’m meant to be writing up.  On the plus side – the good news is….I don’t need any more data!  As long as I’m clear about the limitations of what I’ve got emphasising context specific perspectives, it’s a qualitative study in any case – it’s not about numbers.

We discussed the responses in the concept mapping sessions.  How much of their response is influenced by the curriculum they have been exposed to – have they just told me what they’ve been told?  Have the told me what they think is the “right answer” – what I want to hear?

This is a perennial issue of asking students about the curriculum.   Collecting more data from more students wouldn’t resolve this problem.

I will need to discuss this issue in the methods section – it appeared to me that students were interacting as if there was a right answer and the game was to answer the question “correctly”.

It will be interesting to look at any convergence between what the students were saying and their concept maps and what the other groups (educators and entrepreneurs) have said.

We moved on to discuss some of the concept maps that I have translated into electronic format so far.  Some maps look like just a list of “buzz” words – it could be argued that this is mimicry and indicate they are in a pre-liminal space.

On one map – the way they have treated “team work” might be a bit more threshold-y – it looks like they might be changing how they think about working in teams.

On most maps it’s clear that they cannot separate the idea of an entrepreneur from entrepreneurship.  There might be a shift when they move from not seeing, to seeing a separation between entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur.

Maybe the realisation that networking is more than a SKILL, team working is more than a SKILL.  The difference might be where the threshold lies.  That’s more of a socio-cultural thing.

Perhaps think more about PRACTICES than SKILLS.

Practices could be regarded as skills applied in a particular way.  Skills might be said to be used more mechanistically with consideration of context and means of application.

The idea of INPUTS and OUTPUTS might be quite interesting – as a way of analysing the concept maps.  What I have done by way of analysing the concept maps is interesting and looks like it might be generating something but it’s not clear what yet.  A lot more will come through comparison – comparing one concept map with another.  Looking at the differences between years of study of the students.

My positionality will be important – what I see in the maps will be different because of who I am and what I do.  I teach this stuff to people like them.  It gives us a glimpse of how difficult the maps will be to interpret without further explanation – i.e. interviewing the students.  We’ll never know what they really meant when they chose to put “that” “there”.

I need a structured way to approach them, combined with a qualitative, interpretavist approach – “this is what I think it means.”

Some criticisms of Threshold Concept research has been around how thin it was on the student side of things.  It could be because it’s so difficult to research – as I’ve found.  This is worth while discussing.  There could be limitations in the methodology.  All sorts of things were thrown open about researching Threshold Concepts from a student’s perspective.

Are entrepreneurship educators the furthest away from their practice – the practice of entrepreneurship?  Compared to Law – Lawyers, Medicine – Doctors.

We’re trying to teach more than knowledge – it’s more about practice.  Do educators need to have more experience in practice to have credibility in the classroom?  I could raise this as a question for discussion.

Coming round to Wenger and communities of practice again.  To become a member of a community of practice, you have to be able to see yourself there – like Mr Ben.

Mr ben

You have to be able to imagine it first.  Dream it then be it. Legitimate peripheral participation.  I might be able to extend this theory a little?

This ability to imagine their future selves could be what separated the students in the workshops.

I was reassured that my analysis of the concept maps so far was on the right track and will facilitate cross map analysis.  There will be some mileage in comparing the student and the entrepreneur data – in a discussion chapter.  There will be other things to say about the impressions that the maps make  – the raw data on the flip chart paper.

It was suggested that I get hold of Peter Davis’ chapter in one of the conference proceeding books on “Threshold Practices.” I need to ask again for the reference as I cannot find it.

What we’re talking about is disciplinary yes but possibly more complex.  Entrepreneurship as a way of doing and being and practising.

I need to remind Julie to send me some of the abstracts that she has that have been submitted to the Ohio conference this summer – as she said they are moving away from the traditionally disciplinary side to it.

I was also directly to Eric Meyer’s chapter in the book of the proceedings of the Durham conference (2014/5?) where he talks about threshold capabilities.

Also see

Baillie, C., Bowden, J.A. & Meyer, J.H.F. High Educ (2013) 65: 227. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-012-9540-5

There might also be a link to Dai Hounsell Wales who is looking at physiotherapy, bringing together threshold concepts with ways of practicing and the work of Caroline Baillie above.

We ended the discussion there.  I think there is a path emerging around communities of practice, practice and capabilities in entrepreneurship education.

Subsequently I have worked on a conference abstract – looking at entrepreneurship as a practice, drawing on the educator interviews.  Rather than referring to entrepreneurs, the call encouraged me to call them “entrepreneurial practitioners” – which is an interesting distinction.  I am engaged in “entrepreneurial practitioner learning” – and argued that it starts or can start in higher education for some.  I also drew on the work of Shulman and signature pedagogies for the professions and started to examine entrepreneurship as a profession.  What is the relationship between professions and practices?  Is it always implied that a professional practices their profession?  Also exploring the process of becoming – so in order to be an entrepreneur, first you need to become one.  Also link to taxonomies of knowledge – Bloom and Higgs’ SOLO taxonomies.

This has implications for curriculum design – and a need to focus on the cultivation of desirable attitude and how these might be measured and assessed.

Then it also links to the overall purpose of higher education – I am increasingly of the view that the purpose of entrepreneurship education is to enable students to become entrepreneurial practitioners – so it is about increasing the number and sustainability of new ventures.

By doing so, even the students that do not ultimately become entrepreneurs will also benefit from coming on the journey as it will improve graduate outcomes across the board and other measures of well being and flourishing.