Decoding the Disciplines model

For the last decade the Indiana University Freshman Learning Project has taken faculty through a two-week seminar designed to help the participants find new ways to increase learning in their undergraduate courses. This “decoding the disciplines” process allows professionals in departments from across the university to develop ways to identify the kinds of operations that are required for success in their fields and to more effectively initiate students into these ways of thinking. To facilitate this process the FLP fellows go through the following steps:

Cover of book "Decoding the Disciplines"

Step 1
Define a Bottleneck
Identify a place in a gateway 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.

Step 4
Create Occasions for Students to Practice These Steps and Receive 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.

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
 FLP Fellows who have gone through the first five steps then share what they have learned informally with colleagues or more formally in SOTL articles and presentations.

The History Learning Project has adapted this process to particular challenges facing history instructors in an effort to define and to develop better means of presenting the basic operations required in courses in our discipline.