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.