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6th Annual Symposium on Teaching and Learning

Deep Learning through Decoding the Disciplines

Presented bySpeaker

Arlene Diaz
Associate Professor
Department of History
Indiana University, Bloomington


Joan Middendorf
Lead Instructional Consultant
Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
Adjunct Professor in Educational Leadership
Indiana University, Bloomington

Thursday, January 7, 2016

  • Keynote Address: 10:00–11:45 a.m., Liberal Arts Building, room 159
  • Lunch: Noon, Walb International Ballroom North
  • Workshop: 1:00–3:00 p.m., Walb International Ballroom North 


Lecture: Decoding the Disciplines is a theory about the gap between expert and novice thinking. In-class assignments and assessments reveal bottlenecks, the places where students get stuck. More often than not, bottlenecks are created when the tacit knowledge of the field is not made explicit to the students. With the expert thinking decoded we can model it, give students practice, and assess to the specific mental move. Students operating within a decoded class are not only more likely to get past specific bottlenecks, they begin to understand the underlying epistemology of the discipline, which facilitates deep learning.


Arlene J. Díaz is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Indiana University, Bloomington. She has published articles on the history of Venezuela, Cuba, and Brazil. Her book, Female Citizens, Patriarchs, and the Law in Venezuela, 1786-1904 was published in 2004 and she is now working on a book on espionage during the Spanish-Cuban-American War (1868–1908).  As a principal investigator for the Indiana University History Learning Project (HLP), she has co-authored articles on the scholarship of teaching and learning including one in The Journal of American History that won the McGraw-Hill and Magna Publications Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award in 2009. Another article was part of the volume The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and across the Disciplines (2012).  More recently, she co-authored with Leah Shopkow “A Tale of Two Thresholds,” which analyzed the connection between the understanding how history functions as a discipline and the teaching of historical thinking among pre-service teachers, which will appear in a special issue of Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education edited by Ray Land in 2016. 

Joan Middendorf is Lead Instructional Consultant at the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning and adjunct professor in Educational Leadership at Indiana University, Bloomington (IUB). Middendorf’s specialty lies in leading faculty groups to make disciplinary ways of thinking available to students. With David Pace (history, IUB) she developed the “Decoding the Disciplines” approach to define crucial bottlenecks to learning, dissect and model expert thinking, and assess student performance on these skills. As co-principal investigator of the History Learning Project (HLP), she has focused on emotional bottlenecks to learning and devised strategies to help instructors address them. Along with Professors Arlene Diaz, David Pace, and Leah Shopkow, the HLP won the 2008 Menges Research Award from the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education and the 2009 McGraw-Hill – Magna Publications Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award. Middendorf likes to camp, garden, and practice t’ai chi.

Sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences

The College of Arts and Sciences would like to thank the deans of VPA, ETCS, CEPP, DSB,  HHS, and the Library for their generous support of this year’s symposium.