Threshold concepts in business school curriculum – a pedagogy for public trust

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Education and Training, 2016, 58 (5), pp. 540 - 563
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© 2016, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the implications for curriculum design by operationalizing threshold concepts and capabilities (TCC) in subject delivery. The motivation for undertaking this exploration is directly related to addressing public concerns for the business school curriculum. Design/methodology/approach – A post facto analysis of a compulsory subject in finance that is part of an Australian business degree and the impact on a subsequent finance subject. Findings – Customary approaches to granting part-marks in assessing students, (fractionalising) understanding of content can mean students pass subjects without grasping foundational concepts (threshold concepts) and are therefore not fully prepared for subsequent subjects. Research limitations/implications – Students passing subjects through fractionalization are poorly equipped to undertake deeper explorations in related subjects. If replicated across whole degree programs students may graduate not possessing the attributes claimed for them through their qualification. The implications for undermining public trust and confidence in qualifications are profound and disturbing. Practical implications – The literature has exposed risks associated with operationalizing threshold through assessments. This highlights a risk to public trust in qualifications. Originality/value – Operationalizing threshold concepts is an underexplored field in curriculum theory. The importance of operationalizing customary approaches to assessments through fractionalising marks goes to the legitimacy and integrity of qualifications granted by higher education. Operationalizing assessments for TCC presents profound, inescapable and essential challenges to the legitimacy of award granting institutions.
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