Integrating threshold concepts with reflective practice: Discussing a theory-based approach for curriculum refinement in dental education

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Introduction: The theory of threshold concepts (TCs) is a burgeoning area of educational research and curriculum reform. This study describes and reviews the TCs literature, describes the differences between TCs and threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) and seeks to promote discussion on using an integrated reflective practice approach to facilitate the translation of TCs into fulfilment of TLOs. A worked example is included in this study to explore the challenges inherent in this task but also the learning gains to be made for both staff and students in this endeavour. Intersection of reflective clinical practice and threshold concepts: Reflection is intrinsic to all aspects of learning and is a vital characteristic of developing competence in the health professions. Further, the need for explicit teaching and assessment of reflection in health professions education is recognised. We suggest that the identification of TCs can help to scaffold reflective processes in dentistry and argue that TCs may achieve a bridging function between theory and practice when used in conjunction with reflective writing and dialogue. This study provides a discussion of the complexities and challenges involved as well as an explicit example of the process involved for 1 TC in 1 particular discipline-removable prosthodontics. Discussion: Reflective practice is recognised by the authors as a pedagogical tool to support the acquisition of threshold concepts. An example is provided of integrating reflective practice tasks with identified TCs in curricula which shows the potential of reflective dialogue and discourse as vehicles to make TCs explicit as well as facilitate the attainment of threshold learning outcomes or graduate attributes. This is an ongoing process, and although the fully revised curriculum is not ready to be translated to other contexts, we suggest it is beneficial to start working towards the integration of reflective practice tasks and identified TLOs as part of curriculum refinement-rather than adding to a crowded curriculum. We suggest such an integrated approach can harness the challenges inherent in discipline-specific contexts to bridge the theory-practice nexus for students and permit staff greater flexibility in the teaching and assessment of such traditionally difficult areas. Summary: We propose a way of thinking about curriculum change by integrating threshold concepts with the explicit use and assessment of reflective practice tasks as a means to achieve threshold learning outcomes and professional attributes identified by accrediting bodies. We provide an overview of the literature in this area and an example of our approach in linking reflective practice with newly identified threshold concepts in our School. We welcome further discussion, debate and collaboration in this area.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Dental Education
Issue number4
Early online dateJul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


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