Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University
Later this week, faculty at Illinois State University have the opportunity to learn about an approach to SoTL known as “Decoding the Disciplines.” Dr. David Pace, Emeritus Professor of History from Indiana University and co-creator of Decoding, will be joining faculty for two separate events:
- Thursday, 3/29/18: Pace will lead a Decoding event tailored specifically for historians on campus. This 2-hour session will focus on the importance of systematic study of learning and will introduce Decoding to faculty. Happily, we have 25 faculty who have volunteered their time to attend this session!
- Friday, 3/30/18: Pace will facilitate a full-day workshop for faculty from across campus. Attendees who RSVP’ed for the event include 22 faculty representing five colleges and 13 different academic departments. Faculty will take a deep-dive into Decoding, identifying bottlenecks, experiencing a mock Decoding interview, identifying ways to share Decoding work, and discussing next steps for developing faculty learning communities to begin Decoding work on campus in the next academic year.
What is Decoding? It’s defined by Pace and his colleague (and co-creator of Decoding) Joan Middendorf as:
a process for increasing student learning by narrowing the gap between expert and novice thinking. Beginning with the identification of bottlenecks to learning in particular disciplines, it seeks to make explicit the tacit knowledge of experts and to help students master the mental actions they need for success in particular courses.
Decoding represents a structured process of inquiry with seven distinct steps:
Step 1 — Define a Bottleneck
Identify a place in a course where many students encounter obstacles to mastering the material.
Step 2 — Define the Basic Learning Tasks
Explore in depth the steps that an expert in the field would go through to accomplish the tasks identified as a bottleneck.
Step 3 — Model these Tasks Explicitly
Let the students observe the instructor going through the steps that an expert would complete to accomplish these tasks.
- Provide a metaphor or analogy for the desired thinking
- Perform the desired thinking in front of students with a disciplinary example
- Explicitly highlight crucial operations in the example
- Repeat this process and make it an integral part of every aspect of the course.
Step 4 — Give Students Practice Feedback
Construct assignments, team activities, and other learning exercises that allow students to do each of the basic tasks defined above and get feedback on their mastery of that skill.
Step 5 — Motivate the students
Decide what approaches encourage students to excel and then utilize them to create an environment that fosters a positive learning environment. Identify any emotional bottlenecks that arise from students’ preconceptions of the field or of the material being studied.
Step 6 — Assess How Well Students Are Mastering These Learning Tasks Create forms of assessment that provide you specific information about the extent of student mastery of the particular learning tasks defined in Step 2 above.
Step 7 — Share What You Have Learned About Your Students’ Learning
Share what you have learned informally with colleagues or more formally in SOTL articles and presentations.
Why did I decide to bring Decoding to ISU? The best answer is…faculty interest! I had two faculty members specifically request a Decoding workshop, based on their own experiences learning about Decoding at recent ISSoTL conference meetings. Additionally, across a variety of SoTL workshops in the last year, I noted that several faculty members were considering projects that seemed to be variations of Decoding work. I felt that exposure to this systematic method for understanding novice-to-expert learning might be very helpful. Pace will be the perfect person to draw faculty together and encourage Decoding-style SoTL at ISU!
Pace developed an informational handout to be shared with attendees at this week’s workshops. Graciously, he has agreed to for me to share the information contained in this handout in today’s blog. This information includes the steps summarized above and the following list of resources to learn more about Decoding. Thanks, David! We are excited to work with you this week!
Decoding the Disciplines Web Resources:
Decoding the Disciplines website and access to the Decoding list serve — http://decodingthedisciplines.org/
History Learning Project http://www.iub.edu/~hlp/
- David Pace. (2017) The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm (Indiana University Press).
- Janice Miller-Young and Jennifer Boman, eds. Using the Decoding the Disciplines Framework for Learning Across Disciplines, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 150. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
- Joan Middendorf and Leah Shopkow, Decoding the Disciplines: How to Help Students Learn Critical Thinking (Stylus)
- David Pace and Joan Middendorf, eds., (2004). Decoding the disciplines: Helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
- Díaz, Arlene, Joan Middendorf, David Pace, and Leah Shopkow (2008). The history learning project: A department “decodes” its students. Journal of American History 94(4).
- Shopkow, L., Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2013). The History Learning Project “Decodes” a Discipline: The Marriage of Research and Teaching. In Kathleen McKinney (ed.) SoTL in and Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
- Middendorf, Joan, Jolanta Mickutė, Tara Saunders, José Najar, Andrew E. Clark-Huckstep, David Pace with Keith Eberly and Nicole McGrath (2015) ‘What’s Feeling Got to Do With It? Decoding Emotional Bottlenecks in the History Classroom’ Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, vol.14: 166-180.
- Shopkow, L. (2013). From Bottlenecks to Epistemology in History: Changing the Conversation about the Teaching of History in Colleges and Universities. Changing the Conversation about Higher Education (Robert Thompson, Ed.). Rowman and Littlefield
(A more extensive bibliography of Decoding publications may be found at the Decoding the Disciplines web site (click on “Resources” and then “Bibliography”)
Please contact David Pace, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions or if you would like to be part of the Decoding the Disciplines Listserv