Bottlenecks and Thresholds Initiative

Teaching Disciplinary Thinking

Threshold Concepts describe ideas that are fundamental to progressing beyond elementary thinking in a discipline.

Meyer and Land

Where do students get stuck? What keeps them from progressing beyond basic understanding? How might faculty better teach disciplinary thinking?

The Bottlenecks and Thresholds Initiative (BTI) began during 2011's Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Summer Institute with a program inspired by historian David Pace, co-director of Indiana University’s History Learning Project, where he has pioneered an approach called “Decoding the Disciplines." This approach is designed to help professors identify the stumbling blocks in their courses where students get stuck and to devise ways to break these bottlenecks down into smaller components. Though the method was originally developed for history courses, it has since been adapted for a range of subjects across the curriculum.

Sometimes, these bottlenecks represent “threshold concepts,” a term coined by Meyer and Land to describe ideas that are fundamental to progressing beyond elementary thinking in a discipline. The idea of threshold concepts has been explored in CNDLS’ pilot “Thresholds of Writing” project, which brought together faculty from various departments to discuss strategies for integrating disciplinary writing practices into introductory level courses. The “Bottlenecks & Thresholds” Initiative builds on these discussions.

BTI faculty fellows commit to rethinking a component of a course by focusing on one or more significant stumbling blocks that regularly prove challenging for students. Participating faculty work together as a cohort during TLISI and continue to meet as a community of practice throughout the year.