Wednesday, 22. November 2017, 12:30-16:30

Decoding the Disciplines

This workshop presents a technique, Decoding the Disciplines, for surfacing the hidden assumptions of expert competence. This technique is of benefit to all researchers and teachers who wish to improve their ability to reflect critically on their domain expertise.


Experts in a discipline, especially researchers and teachers, are good at what they do and they often do it naturally, without conscious effort. Their knowledge and expertise can be held in tacit and implicit ways which have become so automatic that they no longer question them and may not even be aware of them. Psychologists call this the “expert blind spot” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking 2000) which can make it difficult to identify new areas for research and also to teach students how to operate in their discipline.

To address the problem of expert tacit knowledge, an interview protocol was developed for Decoding the Disciplines (Pace and Middendorf 2004), which is designed to help experts make explicit the mental operations they use when thinking in their discipline. Through a series of probing questions by interviewers who are explicitly not experts in that field, Decoding provides a process for uncovering the interviewee’s thinking processes and hidden assumptions which then can inspire their research and inform their teaching.

Decoding begins with a “bottleneck” – a difficult or threshold concept. This concept is often most easily identified in partnership with students who may find the concept difficult to master. Following this, two trained interviewers from outside the discipline interrogate the expert about his or her thinking about that concept, in order to assist the expert in articulating the concept in as much detail as possible. This interview yields important insights for experts about their discipline, helping them to become more conscious of, and thus better able to critically reflect on, conceptual aspects of their discipline (Miller-Young and Boman, in press).


After an introduction to the Decoding the Disciplines model, workshop participants will work in small and large groups to:

  • Identify bottlenecks in their own disciplines
  • Learn and observe Decoding interview techniques
  • Practice Decoding as an interviewer and interviewee
  • Brainstorm how to put their decoded mental actions to use in research and teaching
  • Consider how Decoding might be further used in their research and teaching contexts

Learning Outcomes

Participants who complete the workshop will possess the following competencies:

  • Describe the characteristics of a bottleneck and how to identify one;
  • Conduct a Decoding interview and experiment with different interviewing questions and techniques;
  • Coach others interested in learning and practicing Decoding interviews;
  • Collaborate with others in using the Decoding interview to uncover critical aspects of their thinking about a disciplinary concept.


Participation is limited to 20 people. No fee is charged.
Enrollment by informal Email to:

Participants from TU München:

Participants from HSWT and other institutions:


The workshop will be held in the seminar room of the Graduiertenzentrum Weihenstephan, Alte Akademie 8a, Freising.