Decoding the Disciplines

Decoding the Disciplines

Most instructors notice places in their courses where students find it difficult to learn. Decoding the Disciplines holds that these stuck places, or “bottlenecks” to learning, mark the important ways of knowing in a field. By “Decoding” what an expert does so that they do not get stuck at the bottleneck, we can spell out the expert’s mental process, the “critical thinking” of a discipline. Decoding the Disciplines is a theory of pedagogy with principles for identifying bottlenecks and decoding tacit disciplinary knowledge. With expert tacit knowledge “Decoded,” we can make it available to students.

A graphic showing the 7 steps of decoding in a circle, indication an iterative process

Where can you learn Decoding at IUB?

Every year CITL offers learning communities in which faculty can explore new ideas about teaching in community. Some of them use the Decoding the Disciplines framework. Also, several graduate pedagogy courses use Decoding the Disciplines method:  Mimi Zolan (Biology Z620: Mentored Teaching class); George Rehrey (CITL V621:SPEA’s Seminar on Teaching Public Affairs); Joan Middendorf (CITL HESA’s C750:Learning and Teaching on the College Campus--for graduate students from ALL disciplines)


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Lahm, S. & Kaduk, S. (2016). Essay on Decoding the Disciplines as a starting point for research-based teaching and learning. (Mieg , H.A.; Lehmann, J., eds.) Learning through Research: A Practical Handbook. FHP -Verlag.

Michaelsen, Larry; Knight, Arletta Bauman; and Fink, L. Dee (2004). Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. Miami: Stylus. 

Middendorf, J., & Shopkow, L. (accepted). Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks: Decode Your Disciplinary Critical Thinking. Stylus: Sterling, VA. 

Miller-Young, J., & Boman, J. (2017). Uncovering ways of thinking, practicing and being through decoding across disciplines. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 148.

Novak, G. (2011). Just-in-Time Teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (128) p. 63-73, Wiley Online Library DOI: 10.1002/tl.469.

Pace, D. (2017). The Decoding Paradigm. Indiana University Press. 

Pace, D., & Middendorf, J., Eds. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: Helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shopkow, L., Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2013). From bottlenecks to epistemology: Changing the conversation about the teaching of history in colleges and Universities. In R. Thompson (ed.), Changing the Conversation of Higher Education. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.


For More Help or Information

Contact Joan Middendorf.