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Discussion-based Teaching as a Means of Improving the understanding of Threshold Concepts in Political Science

Development
Methods
Education
Alar Kilp
University of Tartu
Alar Kilp
University of Tartu
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Abstract

The paper examines how in-class discussions and structured debates are used as a means of improving meaning and increasing understanding of ‘bottleneck’ (Bernstein 2012) or threshold concepts (Korosteleva 2010; Timmermans 2014) of Political Science in the undergraduate courses of University of Tartu (Estonia). The first task of the teacher is to get to know how students make sense of the key terms of Political Science such as power, conflict, diversity, justice, equality, freedom, identity. When too idealistic, simplified, positive or negative understandings of these terms are being identified, the teacher explores these terms together with the students and organizes in-class discussions. The threshold is exceeded, when students understand the necessary conflicts in the political system, the workings of power in social and political relations, and the intersections of multiple types of inequality resulting from interconnecting identities (Rasmussen 2014). The paper argues that discussion-based learning helps students to make sense of the threshold concepts of Political Science from diverse perspectives and to attain thereby a more balanced and realistic understanding of political processes. In-class discussions enhance critical thinking (Oros 2007), make it possible to deal with themes and perspectives which otherwise would be ignored (Bligh 2000), and to argue a position contrary to one’s own opinion (Budesheim & Lundquist 1999).