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School of Education: Centre for Academic Practice

Threshold Concepts in Practice


Welcome to the home page of the 5th Biennial International Threshold Concepts Conference

9th – 11th July 2014, Durham, England

Papers are invited for the 5th International Biennial Threshold Concepts Conference. The ‘threshold concepts’ or ‘conceptual thresholds’ approach to student learning and curriculum design now draws from an empirical research base comprising hundreds of academic papers from over 120 disciplinary and professional contexts, and from authors in the higher education sectors of many countries (Flanagan 2013). This approach has advocated the idea that certain concepts, practices or forms of learning experience can act in the manner of a portal, or learning threshold, through which a new perspective opens up for the learner. The latter enters new conceptual terrain, which permits new and previously inaccessible ways of thinking and practising. 

These conceptual gateways are often the points at which students experience difficulty and are often troublesome as they require a letting go of customary ways of seeing. They provoke a state of ‘liminality’ – a space of transformation and transition from an earlier understanding or practice to that which is required. The latter tends to be uncomfortable. As Dewey observed eighty years ago, ‘The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs.’ (Dewey 1933)

 The approach continues to provoke debate in terms of its ‘truth’, its scientific validity, its usefulness and its practical applications. This 5th International Conference on thresholds theory seeks to further this debate, share experience of thresholds in practice and invite new and alternative perspectives. 

Peter Felten

Keynote speaker

Professor Peter Felten, Elon University, North Carolina

Professor Peter Felten is Assistant Provost at Elon University in North Carolina. He is also Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at Elon, and Executive Director of their Center for Engaged Learning. He is a Professor of History and was also recently President of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) in the USA. Peter has published widely on educational issues and organised the first conference on Threshold Concepts in the USA. He recently edited a special issue of the Journal of Faculty Development on the theme of Threshold Concepts.

Durham castle


The conference will be held in the pretty medieval city of Durham, famed for its spectacular Norman cathedral, its eleventh century castle and one of England’s leading universities. It takes place from the evening of 9th until the afternoon of 11th July 2014.