An Example of the Decoding Process

Below you will see the steps of the Decoding the Discipline process, as they were used to respond to a persistent bottleneck in a junior-level history course.  There were 22 students in the course in the fall of 2010, and it was taught by David Pace in the History Department of Indiana University.

For a more complete description of this course and a more though description of the process see Leah Shopkow, Arlene Diaz, Joan Middendorf, and David Pace, “The History Learning Project “Decodes” a Discipline: The Marriage of Research and Teaching” in Kathleen McKinney, ed., Ebbs, Flows, Rips, and Waves: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning across the Disciplines, Indiana University Press, Forthcoming.

1. Defining the Bottleneck: Where in my courses do many students consistently fail to master crucial ideas or actions?

Bottleneck Category:  Argumentation
Bottleneck:  In creating a thesis students do not go beyond a restatement of the question

2. Identifying the Operations: What are the steps or operations that a student must have mastered to get past this bottleneck to learning?

Three of the operations required:
* Recognizing that artifacts from the past might have been created in a different way
* Identifying the assumptions implicit in a historical documen
* Identifying the values implicit in a historical document

3. Modeling these Operations: How can I show students how to do these operations?

* Showing students how the same situation can be viewed from multiple perspectives
* Showing students how different thinkers foreground different parts of the human experience
* Showing students how to identify the values and assumptions in a particular thinker

Examples of modeling

4. Practice and Feedback: How can I give my students an opportunity to practice and get feedback on each of these operations?

In-class collaborative exercises
Weekly on-line assignments

Examples of practice and feedback

5. Motivation: How can I motivate them to continue through this process?

Breaking tasks expected of students into manageable chunks that they could imagine mastering
Expecting students to master many of these operations across the semester
Anticipating preexisting student narratives that might conflict with the material in the course
Leaving students lots of room to develop and express their own views of the material.

6. Assessment: How can I tell whether students have mastered these operations by the end of the process?         
Letters to an imaginary friend giving advice about how to succeed in the course
Systematic comparison of on-line assignments early and late in the semester
Interviews with students about their experience of the course videotaped by third parties and later analyzed

Examples of Assessment

7. Sharing: How can I share what I have learned with others?