Joan Middendorf is a long time scholar of teaching and learning who serves as Lead Consultant at the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning and Adjunct Professor in Educational Leadership at Indiana University Bloomington. Her early publications concerned the adoption of innovations in teaching and faculty culture change. Along with David Pace, she developed the Decoding the Disciplines method for helping students learn disciplinary thinking and has led over 150 faculty in learning communities. She has published numerous articles about college teaching and learning and is a frequent guest speaker on making the ways of knowing as central to teaching as it is to research. She is a co-Director of the History Learning Project, recipient of the 2008 Robert Menges Research Presentation Award from the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education and the 2009 McGraw-Hill – Magna Publications Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award. Joan likes to camp, garden, and practice T’ai Chi.

Workshop Title: Decoding the Disciplines:  Bridging the Gap between Disciplinary Thinking and Teaching Practice

Thirty years of the scholarship of teaching and learning have resulted in two juxtaposed problems:  Many students struggle to learn at the university level, while ever more techniques are being developed to help students learn and to measure their success.
Since the 1990s Decoding the Disciplines has helped instructors define and overcome specific bottlenecks. Besides providing a framework for analyzing the reasons for students “stuckness”, the model employs a systematic scaffolding to lead students through the bottleneck.
Decoding the Disciplines (Pace & Middendorf, 2004) arose from the realization that there is a “disciplinary unconscious,” automatic moves learned tacitly by experts. Teachers expect, however, that students will be able to make these moves equally automatically, without being told to do so, much less how or why they should (Perkins, 2008). As a pedagogical theory, Decoding the Disciplines provides a strategy to isolate the key thinking skills required in a discipline and identify the teaching techniques that will enable students to negotiate them.
The identification of bottlenecks to learning is the first step that leads directly to specific classroom interventions.  The latter steps of Decoding provide a clear model for instructors to devise concrete strategies to help students overcome bottlenecks to learning by modeling the necessary operations, giving students practice at these skills, motivating them to remain involved in the process, assessing their success at mastering each procedure, and sharing what has been learning by the instructor.
The point of SoTL, since Boyer (1997) set it beside the scholarship of discovery, has been to bridge the gap between teaching and research. Epistemology is the link between teaching and research; to the degree that instructors in any field are conscious of the ways they themselves make meaning in their field they will be both better scholars and better teachers. "Decoding" provides a such a bridge because by making the epistemology visible. (Shopkow, Diaz, Middendorf & Pace, 2012).


Learning Goals and Outcomes for the Workshop:

Participants will be able to identify places where students get stuck, to conduct interviews of subject matter experts to uncover their tacit knowledge and desired thinking operations, and to use Decoding the Disciplines to move students through learning bottlenecks.

Plan for interaction

  1. Participants will get an overview of Decoding the Disciplines, with particular attention to bottlenecks, as well as examples of “decoded” thinking in different disciplines and assessments of such efforts.
  2. Working with their own materials, workshop each will choose a particular student bottleneck to learning.  They will practice the decoding of tacit knowledge through interviews in small groups.
  3. They will develop metaphors to model the crucial operations for their own bottleneck concepts. 
  4. They will plan assessments to see if students have mastered crucial disciplinary operations.
  5. Depending on the participants’ desires, the final session will be devoted to follow-up planning or the issue of emotional bottlenecks.