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Keynote Speakers:

Jude Carroll (Oxford Brookes University, UK) and Dr Janette Ryan (Monash University, Australia)


Dr Janette Ryan is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Monash University Australia and is currently a visiting scholar and research associate at Oxford University’s China Centre. She is also the Director of the ITALIS (Improving Teaching and Learning for International Students) project for the UK Higher Education Academy (with Jude Carroll of Oxford Brookes University). She has written A guide to teaching international students (OCSLD, 2000), Teaching international students: Improving learning for all (co-edited with Jude Carroll, Routledge, 2005), International education and the Chinese learner (co-edited with Gordon Slethaug, Hong Kong University Press, in press), Education reform in China and China’s higher education reform and internationalisation (editor, Routledge, forthcoming). Her interests include cross cultural teaching, internationalising the curriculum, the Chinese learner, and pedagogy and scholarship in Confucian-heritage cultures.

Jude Carroll is an Educational Developer at Oxford Brookes University. For a decade, she has focussed on issues linked top student plagiarism and international students and was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2009 in recognition of her work in these fields. She is the author of A Handbook for Deterring Plagiarism in HE (2nd edition, 2007)and jointly edited Teaching International Students: improving learning for all with Dr Janetee Ryan (Routledge, 2005). Jude and Janette work together in the ITALIS project based at the HE Academy in the UK.

Abstract Overview:

Learning across cultures: Opening our minds as well as our doors
Pedagogic literature abounds with discussions of difference in academic cultures and in learning approaches. So-called Confucian and Western education are commonly cast as divergent and sometimes even opposing models. This presentation will illustrate some of the radical changes in learning contexts in countries such as China, and demonstrate what can be learnt from the increased flows of people and ideas across cultural academic traditions if we open our minds as well as our doors to international students and scholars. This new approach could allow a wide range of teaching and learning strategies to be recognised as valid and valuable. We draw upon the specific example of academic writing (and its distaff side, copying and plagiarism) to illustrate how this more general positions could be made to work in local, specific practices.


Graham Gibbs

The importance of context in understanding teaching and learning: reflections on thirty five years of pedagogic research


My own disciplinary background is as a psychologist, and as in psychology, much pedagogic research seeks to establish general truths about teaching and learning that apply to all students, to all teachers, to all disciplines and to all institutions of higher education. Empirical pedagogic research that is largely atheoretical often assumes that a finding in one context will also be found in another context. The unspoken belief is that “this finding in my study also applies to you” or that “as this method was found to work better, you ought to use this method”. Theoretically based pedagogic research often assumes that the phenomenon being theorised about will be evident in all pedagogic contexts, with the unspoken belief that “this phenomenon is also prominent in your teaching”, and that the explanations being propounded about these phenomena will be similarly useful in understanding all contexts. I will argue that these assumptions are not sound. Many context variables are so influential that extrapolation from one context to another is fraught with difficulties and leads to many errors and confusions, including the adoption of contextually inappropriate educational practices, wrong-headed explanations of local pedagogic phenomena, the alienation of teachers who know more about the crucial features of their context than do the pedagogic researchers, and a retreat into methodological obscurantism on the part of researchers, in an attempt to explain apparently inconsistent findings which are more likely due to unnoticed contextual variables.

I will examine a range of pedagogic phenomena that have been thoroughly researched, including the effects of class size on student performance, the relationship between research and teaching, the way students respond to their assessment environments, the assessment of groups, and leadership of teaching, in order to explore the way context variables change the extent to which empirical findings and pedagogic phenomena are evident or relevant in different contexts. I will argue that different pedagogic principles have different ‘salience’ in different contexts, having more or less ‘explanatory power’ in understanding what is going on, given the context. In any particular context we need to be aware of key contextual variables that help us to identify where the pedagogic leverage is likely to be if we wish to intervene and make a difference. The nature of a range of these contextual variables will be explored through a series of anecdotes based on my career blundering around contexts I did not at the time understand.

I will urge ISSoTL to pay more attention to contextual variables in its research, to provide more contextual information when describing studies, so that readers can be aware of the potentially limited range of applicability of the findings, and to be more cautious about claiming generalisability of theory or evidence from one context to another, when potentially crucial differences in context are unknown. I will also urge the adoption of a both a more theoretically based approach to pedagogic research, because theory tends to enable wider generalisability than does atheoretical data, and a more eclectic and flexible adoption of theory, in order to encompass the extraordinary range of pedagogic phenomena we all of us encounter.

Graham Gibbs is retired and is currently an Honorary Professor at the University of Winchester where he is undertaking applied pedagogic research in support of innovations in assessment. During his career he has held Professorships at the Open University, Oxford Polytechnic and most recently the University of Oxford. He has undertaken pedagogic research in many disciplines and institutions, and has consulted in over 150 universities in over 20 countries. He is the founder of the Improving Student Learning Symposium and the International Consortium for Educational Development in Higher Education. His contributions to the development of university teaching world wide have been recognised by the award of a Doctorem Honoris Causa by the University of Utrecht.


Michèle Lamont


Michèle Lamont is the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies and Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is the co-director of the Program on Successful Societies of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. She also serves as senior advisor on Faculty Development and diversity in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She received her doctorate from the University of Paris in 1983. An expert in the sociology of evaluation and higher education, she chaired an international blue-ribbon panel charged with evaluating peer review practices at the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council in 2008. An expert on French racial and class boundaries, her broader scholarly interests center on shared concepts of worth and their impact on hierarchies in a number of social domains. Her publications comprises over seventy articles and nine books, including How Professors Think: Inside the World of Academic Judgment (Harvard University Press 2009), Successful Societies: How Culture and Inequality Affect Health (co-edited with Peter Hall, Cambridge University Press, 2009), The Evaluation of Systematic Qualitative Research in the Social Science (with Patricia White, National Science Foundation, 2008), The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class and Immigration (Harvard University Press and Russell Sage Foundation 2000; French Translation: Presses de Science Po 2002), Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology: Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States (with Laurent Thevenot, Cambridge University Press, 2000), and Money, Morals and Manners: The Culture of the French and American Upper Middle Class (University of Chicago Press 1992; French translation: Anne-Marie Metaille 1994). A former Guggenheim fellow, she has received grants and fellowships from the Center for Advanced Research in the Behavioral Sciences, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Institute for Advanced Studies, the Lilly Endowment, the National Science Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council, and the French Government. She chaired the Council for European Studies from 2006 to 2009.   

Abstract Overview:

Reconsidering How Professors Think

I am planning to engage conversations that have emerged in the wake of the publication of my book How Professors Think. I will address whether and how the analysis developed in this book applies to contexts other than that of the American grant peer review system. I will discuss the French crisis of research evaluation, which I have studied in collaboration with Bruno Cousin. I will also compare the US panels I studied with funding panels organized by the Academy of Finland panels, which I have studied in collaboration with Katri Huutoniemi. Some of these panels focus on the sciences, as opposed to the social sciences and the humanities. They engage in rating, instead of ranking proposals. They also have an advisory as opposed to a decisional role. I will show how such variations in the structure and composition of panels affect the customary rules that panelists follow. I will also analyze the characteristics of American higher education that enable and constrain the American peer review system, as well as the role of available cultural repertoires concerning meritocracy and democracy, in feeding an audit culture. Finally, I will advance a broader agenda for the comparative study of the evaluation of research, building on my forthcoming book (with Charles Camic and Neil Gross), Social Science in the Making. In contrast to more cognitively-centered approaches to evaluation and interdisciplinarity, this agenda emphasizes the role of emotion, interaction and expertise in evaluation, as well as how the self of reviewers shape funding decisions.


Erik Meyers


Jan Meyer is a Professor of Education and the Director of the Centre for Learning, Teaching, and Research in Higher Education at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. Much of his research career has been devoted to exploring mechanisms for developing metalearning capacity in students, to the modelling of individual differences in student learning, and to the construction of discipline-centred models of student learning. He has more recently developed, in a series of seminal papers with Ray Land, Peter Davies, and Glynis Cousin, the theoretical framework of threshold concepts – a framework that provides a new lens through which to focus on critical aspects of variation in transformative learning experiences and accompanying ontological and epistemic repositioning in terms of disciplinary, and inter-disciplinary, aspects of thinking, reasoning and explanation.


Ray Land

Ray Land is Professor of Higher Education and Head of Learning Enhancement at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow UK. His research interests include academic development, threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, research-teaching linkages and the development of graduate attributes, and theoretical aspects of digital learning. He is the author of Educational Development: Discourse, Identity and Practice (Open University Press 2004) and co-editor of Education in Cyberspace (RoutledgeFalmer 2005), Overcoming Barriers to Student Learning: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (Routledge 2006), Threshold Concepts within the Disciplines (Sense Publishers 2008) and Research-Teaching Linkages: Enhancing Graduate Attributes (QAA 2008). A new volume, Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning (Sense Publishers, Rotterdam) was published in 2010.

Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge
Jan H F Meyer and Ray Land

At the lower end of the ancient Canongate in Edinburgh there is a worn sandstone lintel over a small seventeenth-century doorway. It bears a Latin engraving on which is inscribed: ‘Pax intrantibus, salus exeuntibus’. Peace to those who are entering, and safety to those about to depart. It is a modest reminder that a threshold has always demarcated that which belongs within, the place of familiarity and relative security, from what lies beyond – the unfamiliar, the strange, the potentially threatening. It reminds us too that all journeys begin with leaving that familiar space and crossing over into the riskier space beyond the threshold. So, too, with any significant transformation in learning. All threshold concepts scholarship is concerned (directly or indirectly) with stepping into the unknown and the discomfiting conceptual and ontological shifts which that entails.

Jan Meyer and Ray Land first presented their notion of threshold concepts at the 2002 ISL conference in Brussels. In the intervening decade they have published three volumes of studies of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, with three international conferences on this theme, in Europe, Canada and Australia. There is now substantial empirical evidence for threshold concepts, drawn from some 150 scholarly papers in a large number of disciplinary contexts and from authors in the higher education sectors of many countries. It is an interesting example of a global theory instantiated in local practices and through disciplinary variations.

The approach builds on the notion that there are certain concepts, or certain learning experiences, which resemble passing through a portal, from which a new perspective opens up, allowing things formerly not perceived to come into view. This permits a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something, without which the learner cannot progress, and results in a reformulation of the learners’ frame of meaning. The thresholds approach also emphasises the importance of disciplinary contexts. As a consequence of comprehending a threshold concept there may thus be a transformed internal view of subject matter, subject landscape, or even world view. The transformation, which involves a letting go of a prevailing view, is frequently troublesome.

The approach is neither teacher-centred nor student-centred and invites disciplinary academics ‘to deconstruct their subject, rather than their educative practice, thus leaving them within both safe and interesting territory’ (Cousin 2007). It is now being used as a curriculum design tool, a mode of pedagogical research and an approach for the professional development of new academics. This presentation will explore how recent scholarship around the world has challenged and extended the theoretical boundaries of the thresholds framework in relation to our understanding of transition, liminality and students’ experience of difficulty.





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