Discipline Based Pedagogy

This section of the website contains some resources for examining the nature of disciplinary based teaching and learning. You may wish to ask yourself such questions as:

  • What is fundamental to a grasp of your discipline?
  • What do your students find difficult to understand in your discipline?
  • What interventions and enhancements in your teaching and learning methods can help your students to master these difficulties? 

Starting Points

Good starting points can be found in:

Cleaver, D., Linton, M. and McLinden, M. (2014) Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: disciplinary approaches to educational enquiry, London: Sage. 

Fry, H., Kettridge, S., and Marshall, S. (2008) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice (3rd edition.), London: Routledge Falmer.

HEA Disciplinary Resources

Discipline-based Approaches to Supporting Learning and Teaching: A selected bibliography. Available at: www.mickhealey.co.uk/resources

Krishnan (2009) What are academic disciplines? (download from linked web page)

QAA page on Subject benchmark statements

Trowler (2013)  What is a discipline?

Pedagogic Content Knowledge and Signature Pedagogies

The roots of disciplinary based teaching and learning can be traced back to the work of Lee Schulman (1987: 8) and his concept of ‘pedagogic content knowledge’ which he defined as:

“that special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding”

Schulman's original paper Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform

His later work focused on the notion of ‘signature pedagogies’

Schulman, L. (2005) The Signature Pedagogies of the Professions of Law, Medicine, Engineering, and the Clergy: Potential Lessons for the Education of Teachers

Schulman, L. (2005) Signature Pedagogies in the Professions, Daedalus, vol.134, no. 3 the American Academy of Arts and Science, pp.52-59.

Also, with links to Amazon website:

Ciccone, A.A., Gurung, A.R., Chick, N.L., Haynie, A. (2008)Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind

Chick, N.L. (2012)Exploring More Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind

Classification of Disciplines

Ruth Neumann built on Shulman and Biglan’s classification of disciplines:

Biglan, A. (1973a). The characteristics of subject matter in different academic areas.Journal of Applied Psychology 57(3): 195–203.

Biglan, A. (1973b). Relationships between subject matter characteristics and the structure and output of university departments.Journal of Applied Psychology 57(3): 204–213.

And the Neumann sources:

Neumann, R. (2001) Disciplinary differences and university teaching, Studies in Higher Education, 26 (2) 135-146.

Neumann, R., Parry, S. and Becher, T. (2002) Teaching and Learning in their Disciplinary Contexts. Studies in Higher Education. 27 (4), pp.405-17

Disciplinary Cultures and Practice

Useful research on the nature of disciplinary cultures and practice can be found in:

Becher, T. (1989) Academic Tribes and Territories (Buckingham, Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press).

Donald, Janet G. (2002). Learning to Think: Disciplinary Perspectives. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Becher, T. and Trowler, P. (2003) Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. 2nd Revised Edition. Open University Press.

Kreber, C. (2009) The university and its disciplines: teaching and learning within and beyond university boundaries, Routledge: New York and London.

Trowler, P., Saunders, M. & Bamber, V. (2012)  (eds.)Tribes and territories in the 21st-century: Rethinking the significance of disciplines in higher education. London: Routledge.

Threshold Concepts

In recent years there has been a strong emphasis on the notion of  ‘threshold concepts’; ones which are central to students mastery of their discipline. Useful resources on the nature and implications for teaching and learning of threshold concepts can be found at:

Land and Meyer (2003) Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge

Cousin (2006) An Introduction to Threshold Concepts