International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014
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Tools for navigating the liminal tunnel

Julie Rattray, University of Durham, julie.rattray@durham.ac.uk


Within the domain of threshold concepts a considerable body of literature has built up in relation to  what might constitute specific disciplinary thresholds. Central to the notion of the threshold concept is the issue of liminality, the space we inhabit prior to passing through the threshold and emerging transformed. The current paper explores the issue of liminality in relation to the affective dimension of learning. It utilises the metaphor of the liminal tunnel and draws on existing work on emotional capital and positive affect from within the field of threshold concepts and positive psychology. The willingness of learners to inhabit this liminal space, or tunnel, in search of new understandings is now occupying researchers who have become increasingly interested in how one comes to pass through the tunnel and emerge transformed. Research makes evident, that not all learners experience this transformation and questions are now being asked as to why this is. Several researchers have explored this issue from a pedagogical perspective considering the extent to which particular forms of pedagogy might facilitate movement through the tunnel and which might be restrictive. The current paper is similarly concerned with movement through the liminal tunnel but rather than taking a pedagogical focus it draws on notions of affect in relation to learning and explores the extent to which psychological characteristics might support movement through the liminal space. It explores the notion that the acquisition of threshold concepts involves both a cognitive, or conceptual shift, in understanding and an accompanying ontological shift that involves an emotional or affective transformation. Using psychological capital (PsyCap) as one measure of the affective dimension of learning, the paper explores firstly the potential relationship it has to academic performance before moving on to a consideration of any potential utility it might have as a means of explaining why some learners remain trapped in, or fail to enter, the liminal tunnel and others emerge from the tunnel to inhabit a new place of being. It argues that the malleable nature of some psychological characteristics render them meaningful in a learning and teaching context not only because of their explanatory function but as a potential source of intervention to support a positive learning experience.     

Link to Full Paper (If submitted)

Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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