October 2 – 5, 2013
Raleigh Convention Center
North Carolina
Critical Transitions in Teaching and Learning

Afternoon Workshops (1:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

Eliminating Zombies with Decoding the Disciplines and Threshold Concepts (Joan K. Middendorf, David Pace, Leah Shopkow, Arlene Diaz)

Content is the focus of teaching for many instructors, which is why lecturing is so prevalent. This is true for all fields, although it is particularly the case in the STEM fields (Hurtado, et al., 2012). However, content has no mind of its own; it is a product of the mental operations of the field. When content drives the pedagogy, courses can lurch along without much thinking, like zombies. Content is important, but concentration on content keeps instructors from focusing on crucial ways of operating in their disciplines; they need a meta-strategy to prioritize tasks in the classroom and to get away from less student-centered methods. Both Decoding the Disciplines (Middendorf & Pace, 2004) and Threshold Concepts (Meyers & Land, 2006) can prioritize what really matters to meaning making in a discipline. A shift is taking place in higher education so that teaching is approached not from content or from teaching methods, but from the mental operations that are crucial to functioning in a discipline. Participants will practice decoding the tacit knowledge of experts to identify crucial mental operations and the application of Decoding the Disciplines to get students through Threshold Concepts.

Relevant Experience: Middendorf and Pace developed the “Decoding the Disciplines” methodology, and Diaz and Shopkow joined them to apply it to the discipline of history; the four have published widely and led faculty workshops around the world in many disciplines. Honors include the 2009 McGraw-Hill and Magna Publications Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award and the 2008 POD Network Menges Research Award.

Learning Goals and Outcomes for the Workshop: Participants will be able to identify places where students get stuck, to use interviews and metaphors to uncover tacit knowledge and desired mental operations, and to use Decoding the Disciplines to move students through stuck places such as Threshold Concepts.

Plan for interactive and Creative Use of Workshop Time

  1. Decoding the Disciplines will be introduced with a videotaped example, including how bottlenecks, which mark where student cannot perform disciplinary operations, relate to Threshold Concepts.
  2. Participants in cross-disciplinary teams will practice a Decoding interview, in which an expert is interrogated about what he or she would do to not get stuck in a bottleneck.
  3. Teams will practice using metaphors to uncover the tacit knowledge in a bottleneck. The Decoding interview is like a nested doll puzzle for a series of ever more specific mental operations. The metaphor Decoding method is like a costume change for a specific mental operation.
  4. To summarize, we will show examples of Decoded thresholds along with the assessment of such efforts.
  5. Final discussion of the whole--Brainstorm examples of getting students through thresholds from participants’ own contexts using the Decoding process.

Literatures, methods, and evidence:  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. 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). Decoding the Disciplines, which employs scaffolding to lead students through the bottleneck, has been deployed to negotiate threshold concepts (Meyers & Land, 2006).

As a theoretical model, Decoding the Disciplines isolates the key thinking skills required in a discipline and the teaching techniques that will enable students to negotiate the threshold.  "Decoding the Disciplines" uses systems theory to choose teaching and assessment techniques and to judge results. It does so by showing faculty how to identify disciplinary assumptions and types of thinking, by linking disciplinary ways of knowing with teaching (Shopkow, Diaz, Middendorf & Pace, 2013).

The point of SoTL, since Boyer (1997) set it beside the scholarship of discovery, has been to bridge the gap between teaching and research. "Decoding" provides a bridge between research in a discipline, the ways of knowing in that discipline, and research into pedagogy that can infuse teaching with all of them (Shopkow, Diaz, Middendorf & Pace, 2013) so that faculty can eliminate the zombies from their classrooms.

Boyer, E. L. (1997). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hurtado, S., Eagan, K., Pryor, J.H., Whang, H., & Tran, S. (2012). Undergraduate Teaching Faculty: the 2010-2011 HERI Faculty Survey. Report published by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. [http://heri.ucla.edu/facPublications.php]

Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2006) Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. London: Routledge.

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.

Perkins, David. N. 2008. Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shopkow, L., Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2013). The History Learning Project “Decodes” a Discipline:  The Union of Teaching and Epistemology. In Kathleen McKinney (ed.) Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

"Landscapes of Learning": A Participatory Staged Reading of a New Theatre Piece (Deborah Currier)

What tensions and fault lines characterize relationships between teachers and learners? In what ways does each manifest and celebrate the humorous and touching moments that are also inherent in those relationships? How do we continually balance the triumphs and frustrations of teaching and learning together?  What are some of our most memorable teaching-learning moments and how might we share them? These are the guiding questions that were explored in the creation of a devised theatre piece that came to be called “Landscapes of Learning.” Over the course of two SOTL retreats in 2011 and 2012, approximately 30 diverse students, faculty and staff from Western Washington University participated in devising workshops aimed at addressing the above questions in an expressive, performative way. The original participants, whose work appears in the current script-in-progress, come from different disciplines, socio-economic, cultural and educational backgrounds. Their creative engagement and diverse responses to the material generated an excitement and desire to take this work-in-progress beyond the WWU “landscape” to engage scholars of teaching and learning from a broader range of voices.

This workshop compliments, “Landscapes of Learning:” A Devised Theatre Presentation of a SOTL Work In Progress. This pre-conference session will demonstrate the principles of creating a devised theatre piece investigating a scholarship of teaching and learning question and also provide participants with an opportunity to try out a script-in-progress on a question regarding teaching and learning relationships. The preconference portion of this work is also intended to be a dedicated time/space for those interested in participating in the staged reading of the script during the subsequent panel presentation at the actual conference. The script-in-progress is currently about 50 minutes long. The three hour workshop time slot is sufficient to lead participants in a brief, demonstrative devised activity as well as direct the actual readers so that they are comfortable with the script and can re-read through if they wish before “performing” it at the conference.

As facilitator of this workshop, I have the relevant experience of being both the director and lead devisor of the piece, which has been written and workshopped with Western Washington University students, faculty and staff over the last two years. What we are ready for now is to share this unique approach to dialoguing the landscape of SOTL as it pertains to students/faculty/staff connections, expectations, co-inquiry and individual practice. The participants thus far in the project have not been limited to theatre people- in fact, only two theatre students and three theatre/dance faculty have been involved in the devising of the script. The process of devising, which entails starting from “scratch” with a dedicated group of interested people willing to investigate a topic/prompt, culminates in a wholly original script/performance written by, for and about the participants who have a message to share with others regarding their investigations. It is “on your feet,” cross-disciplinary and creative co-inquiry and the result of this project has been an engaging, multi-voiced script that looks at SOTL through the metaphor of a landscape we all interact with at varying levels.

The goal of this workshop is two-fold: to engage interested attendees in a hands-on creative activity that generates performance material addressing the potential tensions and triumphs that arise between teachers and learners in various educational environments, and to gather together the participants who will be reading the script during the panel presentation. The hope is that some of the material generated in the pre-conference workshop can also be shared as part of the staged reading panel during the conference, thereby linking the devised work done by the current conference participants to the script in progress.

The purpose of the conference panel presentation is to get feedback on the work in progress and start a dialogue about how we can open up this project beyond Western Washington University’s “landscape.” The hope is that students, faculty and staff from Elon and other pre-conference attending institutions would be willing to serve as the stage readers. I am planning on bringing one student (at least) with me, as this work did generate in large part from the Student’s As Co-Inquirer’s focus group. In fact, Kara Yanagida, one of the 2012 plenary speakers, has worked on the project and her writing is embedded in the script.

The plan for the 3-hour time allotted for the workshop is to engage participants in a short devised activity demonstrates how material for the script was generated followed by a read-through of the existing script and discussion of possibly adding what was just created by the participants. The last hour of the workshop will be dedicated to those who wish to participate in the conference staged reading. Those participants will receive some direction from me, meaning some character work is suggested and the readers become fairly familiar with the work in preparation for the panel reading and feedback session. I am also hoping that those who participate in the workshop and reading will lend their voices to the project as well at some point in the future or even during the conference as we dialogue about the piece and SOTL.

Going Really Public: Talking about Teaching and Learning Beyond the Academy (Sherry Lee Linkon, Jonathan Kaufman, John Russo, Randy Bass)

Scholarship of teaching and learning has the potential to create change not only in our classrooms but also in public discourse and policy.  As instructors, administrators, researchers, and students, we have a stake in the decisions made by policy-makers, funders, and politicians about the structures, funding, expectations, and evaluation of education. We also have much to contribute to the debate: theoretical insights, on-the-ground perspectives, and research-based arguments about what matters and what works.

But we can only make a difference if we can communicate what we know to people who don’t share our experience and expertise. Translating scholarly knowledge into engaging, persuasive, accessible commentary is an essential skill for scholars of teaching and learning.  If we understand how to frame an issue, speak persuasively to non-experts, and talk about research and theory in compelling ways, we may be better able to defend our programs, support our students, and advocate for the kinds of education change that we envision.

Unfortunately, academic training can too often get in the way of effective communication with journalists, funders, and policy-makers.  And many of us simply don’t know how to get started.  This workshop will help participants identify relevant issues, learn how to frame scholarly knowledge in ways that will make sense to non-academics, and practice some core skills, such as being interviewed and preparing talking points.  The workshop will combine brief presentations by experienced communicators and organizers with individual and small-group practice.

Learning outcomes:

Workshop participants will

  • Understand the process and significance of framing and reframing issues
  • Understand the perspective and needs of journalists and the process of reporting
  • Develop talking points and about a specific issue
  • Identify strategies for speaking about educational research in engaging, effective ways

Session Outline:

  • Introductions: why we’re here, reflection on our positions in educational and public networks
  • Discussion of key issues: the group will identify one or two issues to use as examples during the workshop
  • Brief overview of framing
  • Framing our issues: working in small groups, participants will describe existing frames and determine a strategy for framing an issue
  • Brief overviews of the needs of three key audiences: non-academic institutional leaders and funders, the media, policy-makers
  • Develop talking points: working in small groups, participants will develop a set of talking points for one issue
  • Brief overview of strategies for effective speaking and interviewing
  • Speaking practice: participants will prepare for and then deliver short presentations and/or engage in practice interviews about an issue
  • Debrief: Workshop leaders and participants will reflect on key insights from the session and identify areas for continuing work