Threshold Concepts and Authentic Assessment: Learning to Think Like an Occupational Therapist

Elizabeth (Liz) Anne Springfield, Sylvia Rodger, Louise Gustafsson


Threshold concepts have been used to inform curriculum design in a number of disciplines including occupational therapy. Assessment is integral for effective learning within curricula, however, limited attention has focused on how assessment can be utilised to help students engage with threshold concepts.


This mixed methods research explored students’ and academics’ experiences of engagement with threshold concepts through assessment tasks. Authentic assessment activities were designed to engage students with the threshold concepts embedded within three consecutive pre-clinical child and youth courses of undergraduate and graduate entry masters occupational therapy curricula. All students completing these courses (n=224) were invited to participate in on-line surveys and focus groups. Academic staff (n=4) involved with the courses participated in an individual or group interview. These were transcribed and content analysed to establish emerging themes.


Results indicated that all assessment activities provided opportunities for students to engage with the five identified threshold concepts. Two key themes emerged. First, “Pulling it all together” related to how students viewed assessment activities as facilitating integration of knowledge, and development of identity as therapists. Second, “Moving from stuck places” reflected the supports that assisted them at different stages of their learning journey. Authentic assessment activities enabled students to engage with troublesome knowledge and demonstrate threshold crossing. Facilitators and barriers to student engagement with these activities were identified that can inform the development of assessment to support learning within a threshold concepts informed curriculum.

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