Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Troublesome Knowledge, Troubling Experience: An Inquiry into Faculty Learning in Service-Learning

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Troublesome Knowledge, Troubling Experience: An Inquiry into Faculty Learning in Service-Learning

Article excerpt

In this article we share the theoretical framework of threshold concepts--concepts on which deep understanding of a field of practice and inquiry hinges and which, once understood and internalized, open a doorway to otherwise inaccessible ways of thinking--and explore its relevance to learning how to teach, learn, serve, partner, and generate knowledge through service-learning. We extend the focus of work on threshold concepts beyond student disciplinary learning to faculty pedagogical learning, in particular to learning about service-learning; and we contribute to theory on how threshold concepts are learned by developing the idea of threshold experiences--reflective encounters with dissonance that give rise to deeper understanding and sometimes internalization of threshold concepts. In line with the exploratory nature of this piece, we use an example of an instructor learning a threshold concept in service-learning through a threshold experience to ground our extension of current work on threshold concepts, our consideration of implications, and our identification of questions for ongoing inquiry. Examining faculty learning through the lens of threshold concepts and threshold experiences can help us understand, address, and embrace dissonance-related challenges and opportunities involved in learning the why s and how's of-service-learning pedagogy.

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Dewey (1933, in Hickman & Alexander, 1998) theorized about the role of a "troubled, perplexed, trying situation" (p. 140) as an essential part of inquiry and learning and thereby informed understanding of the power of service-learning and how it needs to be designed to realize that potential: Service-learning presents students with experiences of dissonance by putting them into complex roles in unfamiliar and often challenging situations, and critical reflection on those experiences enables them to test and refine their knowledge and skills, to pose and examine new questions, and to learn about themselves as learners. Do faculty practitioners of service-learning not have "troubled" and "trying" experiences of dissonance in using this pedagogy, perhaps especially at moments of significant transition in pedagogical practice? What might examining those experiences of dissonance reveal about what faculty (1) need to learn to undertake service-learning effectively and about how that learning might proceed?

Our exploration of this question in this essay responds to two recent calls: (a) to bring theory from cognate areas into service-learning to help advance research and practice (Bringle, Clayton, & Hatcher, 2013) and (b) to advance inquiry into faculty learning by asking: "How do and might faculty use what they know about student learning to conceptualize, generate, and investigate their own learning?" (Clayton, Hess, Jaeger, Jameson, & McGuire, 2013, p. 268). Specifically, we examine the relevance of work on threshold concepts in student disciplinary learning to faculty learning about service-learning.

Meyer and Land (2003, 2005) coined the term threshold concepts to refer to those concepts on which deep understanding of a field of practice and inquiry hinges and which, once understood, open a doorway to otherwise inaccessible ways of thinking. Often "troublesome," because they challenge previous understanding, threshold concepts are generally learned in the dissonance-filled context of liminality, "a state in which [we] realize that the ways [we] have seen things up to now are no longer sufficient and there are other ways to see things that [we] have not encountered yet" (Land, 2011a).

Although developed in the context of student learning within the disciplines, theory on threshold concepts is also being applied to faculty as learners of innovative pedagogies (e.g., Bunnell & Bernstein, 2012; King & Felten, 2012a). This development bodes well for advancing understanding of faculty learning about service-learning. …

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