Bridging the gaps in information systems: a threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge perspective
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Students entering third-level higher education undergo a transformational learning journey. Learning in this context is defined as the need to understand key concepts (threshold) to engage with the academic content of the course. This learning journey is moulded by their experiences not only within the context of the third-level institution but is also moulded by their experiences in work placement. Threshold concepts and the inherent troublesome knowledge associated with them represent significant barriers to transformational learning. This research uses a case study approach in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology to explore final year business information systems (BIS) undergraduate students’ understanding of information systems (IS). This research objective was developed following a comprehensive review of the literature which determined that there was a research gap in understanding how BIS students encountered and overcame threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge when learning about IS. The research objective was investigated using several research questions which were explored using a mixed-method approach combining lecturer interviews, a student questionnaire and a student focus group. The study adopts a social constructivist research approach encompassing four theories of learning which act as theoretical lenses: threshold concepts, troublesome knowledge, socio-cultural development and communities of practice. The findings reveal that the students find the theory, and terminology associated with technical aspects, used within the discipline relating to learning about IS challenging. Specific threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge associated with these concepts are identified under several headings. Additionally, it emerged that the students use specific coping mechanisms to assist them in their transformational journey to understand IS which include peer learning, independent learning, practical application, lecturer support, experience and language, work placement mentor support and work-place-based learning. Finally, the results suggest that IS, as social systems, constitute a threshold concept whereby the students struggle with the following troublesome knowledge considerations in their communities of practice: communication, ethics and social system versus technical system differentiation. The study concludes by offering recommendations on how third-level education institutes can enhance awareness of threshold concepts and troublesome to limit their impact on students’ transformational learning experiences.
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