Using audio diaries to identify threshold concepts in 'softer' disciplines: a focus on medical education
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Within Medical Education students more readily engage with the ‘hard’ sciences seeing sociology, psychology and ethics as ‘nice’ rather than ‘need’ to know. Yet within the published literature, there has been little research into students’ experiences of these subjects. In this paper we discuss a research method that allows the application of threshold concept theory to the exploration of the process of ‘non-biomedical science learning in medical education’. 16 students from a UK medical school were asked to record on their smart phones, their experiences of ‘doctor facilitated’ small group sessions. The students uploaded their recordings to a secure drop box facility and recordings were removed daily and transcribed. 68 transcripts were analysed for both substantive concepts and exemplars (within students’ language) of threshold concept criteria. Concepts were then cross-referenced against threshold criteria. Where concepts appeared to meet the criteria of transformation, liminality, integration and troublesomeness we speculated that these might be ‘threshold’. Audio diaries appear to be a promising methodology for applying threshold concept theory to understanding learning. The study provided an insight into students’ experiences. We learned that our students currently re-appropriate sociological ideas to the medical setting often finding new terminologies situated in their own ‘student speak’. We were able to spot gaps in their learning and notice how and where students get ‘stuck’. A resolvable limitation is we were unable to test for irreversibility. We also found little evidence of boundedness leading us to speculate about the nature of threshold concepts in the non-biomedical sciences.
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