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Higher Education

, Volume 65, Issue 2, pp 227–246 | Cite as

Threshold capabilities: threshold concepts and knowledge capability linked through variation theory

  • Caroline Baillie
  • John A. Bowden
  • Jan H. F. Meyer
Article

Abstract

The Threshold Capability Integrated Theoretical Framework (TCITF) is presented as a framework for the design of university curricula, aimed at developing graduates’ capability to deal with previously unseen situations in their professional, social, and personal lives. The TCITF is a new theoretical framework derived from, and heavily dependent upon, the ideas of the Threshold Concepts Framework (Meyer and Land 2003a; Land et al. 2006) and Capability Theory (Bowden and Marton 1998; Bowden et al. 2000; Bowden 2004). Capability theory is firmly based in phenomenography and variation theory, is concerned with the development of knowledge capability, but has had limited application in practice. The threshold concepts framework has enjoyed greater acceptance by a large range of academics in many fields. This acceptance has initially focussed on analytic studies of what constitutes a threshold concept—and the location and distribution of such concepts—in a given domain. In many instances subsequent attention has focussed on issues of pedagogy and assessment, including the design of curricula. We propose a merging of capability theory and the threshold concepts framework and argue that capability and variation theories provide the ideal mechanism for developing a strong pedagogical approach based on newly emerging knowledge of the critical features of threshold concepts within different domains.

Keywords

Threshold concept Knowledge capability Unknown future Variation 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors express their thanks to Michael Flanagan and Ray Land for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Baillie
    • 1
  • John A. Bowden
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jan H. F. Meyer
    • 4
  1. 1.Environmental Systems Engineering M015, Faculty of Engineering, Computing and MathematicsUniversity of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Professor EmeritusRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Swinburne ResearchSwinburne University of TechnologyEaglemontAustralia
  4. 4.Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information TechnologyThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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