Transforming Thinking through Problem-based Learning in the News Media Literacy Class: Critical thinking as a threshold concept towards threshold capabilities


This paper considers the extent to which critical thinking might be conceived of as a threshold concept which unlocks threshold capabilities in learners. Utilising a problem-based learning approach to pedagogy the paper reports a small scale study which was designed to explore whether students in a Media Literacy class could be supported to develop their critical thinking capabilities. The paper argues that such capabilities represent a threshold transformation in learners, unlocking as they do a new way of engaging with media literacy. Using Baxter Magolda’s model of the development of critical thinking the study examines the extent to which students shift from a very egocentric view of the world to a more integrative and reflexive view of the world as their critical thinking capabilities become more sophisticated. The paper further argues that whilst critical thinking can be seen as a threshold concept it might also be viewed of as a threshold capability which is transferable across a number of domains - it transcends the discipline and might be considered to be a more complex threshold.      



Baillie, C., Bowden, J. A., & Meyer, J. H. F. (2013). Threshold capabilities: threshold concepts and knowledge capability linked through variation theory. Higher Education, 65(2), 227-246. doi: 10.1007/s10734-012-9540-5

Barber, J. P., King P. M., & Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2013). Long strides on the journey toward self-authorship: substantial developmental shifts in college students’ meaning making. The Journal of Higher Education, 84(6), 866-896. doi: 10.1353/jhe.2013.0033

Barradell, S. (2013). The identification of threshold concepts: a review of theoretical complexities and methodological challenges. Higher Education, 65(2), 265-276. doi: 10.1007/s10734-012-9542-3

Barrows, H., & Tamblyn, R. (1980). Problem-based Learning: An Approach to Medical Education. New York: Springer.

Baxter Magolda, M. B. (1992). Knowing and Reasoning in College Students; gender-related patterns in students’ intellectual development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass


Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2009). The activity of meaning making: A holistic perspective on college student development. Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 621-639. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0106

Beckton, J. (2009). Educational Development Units: The Challenge of Quality Enhancement in a Changing Environment. In L. Bell, H. Stevenson, & M. Neary (Eds.), The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy, and the student experience (pp. 57-68). London: Continuum International Publishing.

Bloom, B. (1956). A Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longmans Green.

Boes, L. M., Baxter Magolda, M. B., & Buckley, J. A. (2010). Foundational assumptions and constructive-developmental theory: Self-authorship narratives. In M. B. Baxtor Magolda, P. S. Meszaros, & E. G. Creamer (Eds.), Development and Assessment of Self-Authorship: Exploring the Concept across cultures (pp. 3-23). Sterling, VA, USA: Stylus Publishing.

Bowden, J. A. (2004). Capabilities-driven curriculum design. In C. Baillie & I. Moore (Eds.), Effective teaching and learning in engineering (pp. 36-47). London: Kogan Page.

Buckingham, D. (2003). Media education: literacy, learning and contemporary culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cottrell, S. (2005). Critical Thinking Skills. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cottrell, S. (2011). Critical thinking skills: Developing effective analysis and argument (2nd ed.). Basingstoke, England: Palgrave MacMillan.

Cousin, G. (2006). An introduction to threshold concepts. Planet, 17, 4-5. doi: 10.11120/plan.2006.00170004

Cousin, G. (2009). Researching learning in higher education. New York: Routledge.

Cousin, G. (2010). Neither teacher-centred nor student-centred: threshold concepts and research partnerships. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 2, 1-9. Retrieved from:

Davies, P., & Mangan, J. (2008). Embedding threshold concepts: From theory to pedagogical principles to learning activities. In R. Land, J. H. F. Meyer, & J. Smith (Eds.), Threshold concepts within the disciplines (pp. 37-49). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Lexington, MA: D.C. Health.

Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2010). Critical thinking: competency standards essential for the cultivation of intellectual skills, part 1. Journal of Developmental Education, 34(2), 38-39. Retrieved from:

Ennis, R. H. (1993). Critical Thinking Assessment. Theory into Practice, 32(3), Teaching for Higher Order Thinking (Summer, 1993), 179-186.

Fisher, A. (2001). Critical thinking: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnston, B., Mitchell, R., Myles, F., & Ford, P. (2011). Developing student criticality in higher education: undergraduate learning in the arts and social sciences. London: Continuum.

Kipping, P. (2000). Think TV: A Guide to Managing TV in the Home. Nova Scotia Department of Education, iv-vii.

Land, R., Cousin, G., Meyer J. H. F., & Davies, P. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (3): implications for course design and evaluation. In C. Rust (Ed.), Improving Student Learning — equality and diversity (pp. 53-64). Oxford: OCSLD.

Land, R. (2011). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. Paper presented at the Threshold Concepts Symposium, Cork, Ireland.

Lipman, M. (2003). Thinking in education (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

McGregor, D. (2007). Developing Thinking, Developing Learning. Buckingham, GBR: Open University Press.

McPeck, J. E. (1981). Critical Thinking and Education. Oxford: Martin Roberston.

Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2003a). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking and practising. In C. Rust (Ed.), Improving student learning — Theory and practice ten years on (pp. 412-424). Oxford: OCSLD.

Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2003b). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines. ETL Project Occasional Report 4. Edinburgh. Retrieved from:

Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49 (3), 373-388. doi: 10.1007/sl0734-004-6779-5

Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (Eds.) (2006). Overcoming barriers to student understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. London, New York: Routledge.

Meyer, J. H. F., Land, R., & Davies, P. (2008). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (4): Issues of Variation and Variability. In R. Land, J. H. F. Meyer, & J. Smith (Eds.), Threshold concepts within the disciplines (pp 59-74). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Moon, J. (2008). Critical Thinking: An exploration of theory and practice. Oxon, New York: Routledge.

Moseley, D., Baumfield, V., Elliott, J., Gregson, M., Higgins, S., Miller, J., & Newton, D.P. (2005). Frameworks for Thinking: A Handbook for Teaching and Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paul, R. (1985). McPeck’s Mistakes. Informal Logic 7, 35-43.

Paul, R. (1987). Dialogical thinking: critical thought essential to the acquisition of rational knowledge and passions. In J. Baron & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Teaching Thinking Skills: theory and practice (pp. 127-148). New York: W. H. Freeman.

Perkins, D. (1999). The many faces of constructivism. Educational Leadership, 57(3), 6-11. Retrieved from:

Perkins, D. (2008). Beyond Understanding. In R. Land, J. H. F. Meyer, & J. Smith (Eds.), Threshold Concepts within the Disciplines (pp. 3-19). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Rattray J. (2014) Tools for Navigating the Liminal tunnel. Paper presented at 7th Higher Education Close-up (HECU 7) conference. Lancaster, UK.

Rattray, J. (in press) Affective dimensions of Liminality

Rowbottom, D. P. (2007). Demystifying threshold concepts. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 41(2), 263-270. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9752.2007.00554

Savin-Baden, M. (2006). Disjunction as a form of troublesome knowledge in problem-based learning. In J.H.F. Meyer and R. Land (Eds.), Overcoming barriers to student understanding: threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (pp. 160-172). London: Routledge Falmer.

Scheja, M., & Pettersson, K. (2010). Transformation and Contextualisation: Conceptualising Students’ Conceptual Understandings of Threshold Concepts in Calculus. Higher Education, 59(2), 221-241. doi: 10.1007/sl0734-0O9-9244-7

Siegel, H. (1988). Educating Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education. New York, London: Routledge.

Silverblatt, A. (2001). Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Wesport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Smith, J. (2006). Lost in translation: Staff and students negotiating liminal spaces.

SEDA Annual Conference, Liverpool, 2006.

Unrau, N. (2008). Thoughtful Teachers, Thoughtful Learners: Helping Students Think Critically (2nd ed.). Toronto, ON, CAN: Pippin Publishing.

Vernon, D. T., & Blake, R. L. (1993). Does problem-based learning work? A meta-analysis of evaluative research. Academic Medicine, 68, 550-563.

Walker, G. (2013). A cognitive approach to threshold concepts. Higher Education, 65(2), 247-263. doi: 10.1007/s10734-012-9541-4

Wilson, L. (2014). Foreword. In H. Eggins (Ed.), Drivers and Barriers to achieving quality in higher education (pp. ix-xi). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Authors retain the copyright for their work, while granting the journal the exclusive right of first publication. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.