Threshold concepts in the development of problem-solving skills


  • Shelly Wismath University of Lethbridge
  • Doug Orr University of Lethbridge
  • Bruce MacKay University of Lethbridge



problem solving, threshold concepts, persistence, novice-to-expert transition, transformative experience, liminal state


Problem-solving skills are often identified as a key component of 21st century education. This study collected data from students enrolled in a university-level Liberal Education science course called Problems and Puzzles, which introduced students to the theory and practice of problem solving via puzzles. Based on classroom observation and other qualitative data collected over three semesters, we have identified three significant changes in student behaviour at specific points in the course. These changes can be posited to reveal three underlying threshold concepts in the evolution and establishment of students’ problem-solving skills.


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Author Biographies

Shelly Wismath, University of Lethbridge

Shelly Wismath is a Professor at University of Lethbridge in the Departments of Mathematics and Computer Science and the Liberal Education Program.      

Doug Orr, University of Lethbridge

Doug Orr is the Teaching Development Coordinator for the University of Lethbridge Teaching Centre.    

Bruce MacKay, University of Lethbridge

D. Bruce MacKay is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Liberal Education Program in the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Lethbridge.


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How to Cite

Wismath, Shelly, Doug Orr, and Bruce MacKay. 2015. “Threshold Concepts in the Development of Problem-Solving Skills”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 3 (1):63-73.