A bridge over troublesome water

Susie Cowley-Haselden, Senior Lecturer in EAP at University of Northampton. is going to focus on threshold concepts and challenges to learner identity.

The theory of threshold concepts “has advocated the idea that certain concepts, practices or forms of learning experience can act in manner of a portal, or learning threshold, through which a new perspective opens up for the learner” (Land, Rattray, and Vivian 2014: 200). This new perspective requires a change in ways of thinking and practising which “emphasise the sense in which learning is an entrance into a community. The act of identity formation” (Davies 2006: 71).

Threshold concepts are often knowledge that is ‘troublesome’ and the student has to endure the ‘liminal space’ in order to cross the threshold that is in front of them. The liminal space is characterised as “a space of transformation in which the transition from an earlier understanding (or practice) to that which is required is effected” (Land, Rattray and Vivian 2014: 200) and it is an area where students get ‘stuck’ in their acquisition of new knowledge or practices.

Threshold concepts are defined as being transformative (acquisition of these concepts requires an epistemological and ontological shift in the learner), irreversible (once acquired, there is no going back, a student’s view of the world has been forever altered), integrative (once acquired the threshold concept unlocks a web of meaning within the discipline) and bounded (confined within a discipline) (Meyer and Land 2005). As such, acquisition requires disruption of the student’s view of the world and of their very identity. This can of course be disturbing for the learner.

This talk will explore the impact on learner identity as students traverse the liminal space in EAP and discuss how, as EAP practitioners, we might be able to make this transition more palatable through talking openly with students about the troublesome nature of knowledge and through particular pedagogical approaches to be outlined in the talk.


Davies, P. (2006) ‘Threshold Concepts: How can we recognise them?’ in Overcoming Barriers to student understanding Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. ed. by Meyer, J. and Land, R. London: Routledge, 70-84.

Land, R., Rattray, J., and Vivian, P. (2014) ‘Learning in the liminal space: a semiotic approach to threshold concepts’. Higher Education 67 (2), 199-217

Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2005) ‘Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (2): Epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning’. Higher Education 49, 373-388.


The presentation slides can be accessed here [PDF].


susie-cowley-haseldenSusie Cowley-Haselden is a Senior Lecturer in EAP and BALEAP TEAP Senior Fellow, Mentor and Assessor. She teaches on pre-sessional and in-sessional programmes for international students and a Foundation programme for home students. She is currently a PhD student at Coventry University focusing on the importance of knowledge on pre-sessional courses. She is very active on social media; her Twitter handle is @susiecowley and her two blogs are: The EAP Archivist and Doctoral EAP.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s