Decoding and Disclosure in Students-as-Partners Research: A Case Study of the Political Science Literature Review


  • Mary Rouse At the time of this research, Mary was a fourth year political science student at Elon University. After graduating in May 2015, she spent a Fulbright year in the United Kingdom obtaining her MSc. She now works as a special assistant at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
  • Julie Phillips At the time of this research, Julie was a fourth year history student at Elon University. She is currently a juris doctor candidate at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, VA.
  • Rachel Mehaffey At the time of this research, Rachel was a fourth year undergraduate at Elon University majoring in dance performance and choreography. Since graduation she has worked as a professional dancer, actor, and choreographer.
  • Susannah McGowan King’s Learning Institute, King’s College London, London, UK
  • Peter Felten Elon University



Student partnerships, decoding the disciplines, political science, literature reviews, SoTL


The Decoding the Disciplines (DtD) methodology has been used to study bottlenecks to student learning in a range of disciplines. The DtD interview process involves conversations between faculty regarding disciplinary practices. This article analyzes the use of the DtD approach in a student-faculty partnership to explore questions about disciplinary learning in political science. The research team compared how faculty and two cohorts of undergraduates decode a specific disciplinary bottleneck—the task of writing a literature review in political science. Results from the interviews reveal fundamental differences in how faculty and undergraduates conduct literature reviews in this discipline, including a troubling disjuncture as undergraduates become more expert in this process. Because the research team included both students and faculty, we also explore issues of disclosure and power in student-faculty partnerships in SoTL research.


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Author Biographies

Susannah McGowan, King’s Learning Institute, King’s College London, London, UK

Dr Susannah McGowanis a Teaching Fellow in the King’s Learning Institute at King’s College London. Prior to this position she worked at the University College London Arena Centre for Research-Based Education and the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University. Her research interests include fostering engagement in educational development, digital learning and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Peter Felten, Elon University

Peter Felten is assistant provost for teaching and learning, executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, and professor of history.  His recent publications include the co-authored books Transforming Students: Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) and Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching (Jossey-Bass, 2014). From 2010-2011, he served as president of the POD Network, and in 2015-2016 he is president-elect of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. He also is a co-editor of the International Journal for Academic Development.


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How to Cite

Rouse, M., Phillips, J., Mehaffey, R., McGowan, S., & Felten, P. (2017). Decoding and Disclosure in Students-as-Partners Research: A Case Study of the Political Science Literature Review. International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(1), 53–66.



Research Articles