Category Archives: Workshops and Events

Helpful Tools for Teaching Philosophies

Several graduate students and postdocs have asked me to review their teaching philosophies in the past week, and I think some of my colleagues have been providing similar help. Writing a teaching philosophy — whether we’re a grad student, postdoc, or faculty member — can be a difficult thing, since it’s such a personal document and since there’s no one set format. In this blog post, I’ll provide a quick overview of some resources that can make the job easier:

–If you’re like me and learn best by having examples to analyze, check out our compendium of philosophies submitted by Penn State faculty and graduate students. The philosophies are grouped by discipline. I find browsing through the examples to be helpful — I get to see the many different ways people organize their philosophies. You can find additional examples on the teaching-philosophy sites of the University of Michigan  and Ohio State.

–We’ve also provided a rubric you can use to evaluate the draft of your teaching philosophy. For a different rubric, see the University of Michigan’s site.

–The teaching centers at Vanderbilt University and Ohio State both offer a good overview of the process of writing a teaching philosophy.

–If you’d benefit from some small-group discussion about the process of writing a teaching philosophy, attend the Schreyer Institute’s workshop on “Preparing Your Teaching Philosophy for the Job Market,” which will be held on March 14 from 11:15 to 12:30. Lauren Kooistra and Andrew Porter, the graduate instructional consultants at SITE, will be leading the workshop.

–And finally, if you’d like some one-on-one feedback, we’d love to schedule a free consultation with you. Just drop us a line at to set up a time.

Fostering Inclusive Excellence in the Classroom: Thoughts from Inclusive Excellence Workshop #1

This academic year, the Schreyer Institute is sponsoring a workshop series exploring the topic of Inclusive Excellence, or how college instructors can harness the power of diversity in their classrooms. The series, which first ran in the Fall 2011 semester, is being repeated this Spring. The first of the three workshops was held last week:


In the workshop, we identified the benefits and characteristics of a welcoming classroom space, and we discussed practical ways to harness the power of diversity in service of student learning.

In this blog post, I wanted to build on some of the themes, suggestions, and tips generated in the workshop, and also post some resources for further reading on the topic.

First, here’s the workshop prezi:

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1. Know Your Students: Inclusive Excellence is all about harnessing the differences people bring to the table in a productive way to better student learning. Getting to know your students not only alerts you to the various qualities, life experiences, struggles, and proclivities that your students possess, but also strengthens the student-teacher relationship, which is proven to improve student engagement and learning.

  • Check out the Penn State Fact Book for current data on student enrollment.
  • Spend some time getting to know the students (especially their names!). Consider having students complete a pre-course questionnaire or a brief autobiographical essay for their first homework assignment – this can give you valuable intel about why students are in your class and what they hope to gain from their experience. Ask students about their background with the material, how they learn best, or their biggest hope/greatest worry for the class. 
  • Collect feedback from your students. Student feedback is helpful at all stages of the teaching and learning process, but especially when there’s time to make adjustments as the course goes on. The Penn State Teacher II (pages 113-122) has an excellent breakdown of various informal and formal ways to collect student feedback, including Minute Papers, the Background Knowledge Probe, and mid-semester feedback.

Boucke.jpg2. Know Your Resources: Inclusive Excellence promotes “the purposeful development and use of organizational resources to enhance student learning”. At Penn State, you are not alone in your efforts to help support students and make them feel welcome, but many instructors aren’t aware of the many resources, centers, and services available. Get to know each of these resources, join their mailing lists, facebook pages, or monitor their blogs, so that you can advertise upcoming events and refer students. Here’s a list of Penn State resources related to diversity, along with a short description of what they offer and a link to their website.

3. Know Yourself: One of the biggest barriers many of us face in making our classrooms more inclusive is that we “know not what we do” – we worry that we may be inadvertently offending a student, committing a microaggression like the ones we discussed in the workshop, or perhaps ignoring an important aspect of accesibility. Indeed, research shows that even our own gender or racial identity may make us appear to be more or less accessible to students, or even affect our student evaluations. How can we get a handle on how these unknown factors could be affecting student learning?

  • Let students know that you acknowledge that your background or identity may limit you in certain ways from understanding their experience in your class, and to please bring oversights to your attention if necessary (this works best in combination with a system for collecting feedback).
  • Pay attention to course content. Diversify sources of authority to the degree possible.
  • Consider having a Schreyer Institute Consultant observe one of your classes, and give you confidential feedback as to ways you might make your classroom more inclusive.
  • Be practical. Incremental changes are okay.

ST.jpg4. Continue the Conversation: Continue attending workshops like this one! Educate yourself about issues relevant to the groups that populate your classes. Attend talks sponsored by the organizations/centers mentioned above. By nature the best teaching is inclusive teaching – making these types of incremental changes will improve your teaching for all students.

On that note, there is Campus-Wide Straight Talk Program coming up on February 29, 2012 at 6pm in the HUB Auditorium. You’re welcome to attend and feel free advertise the program to your students!

Straight Talks are panels of speakers comprised of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally students from a wide range of beliefs and background who educate the university community on sexual orientation, gender identity, oppression, and diversity at Penn State University.

If you have thoughts or ideas about this material, or know of other useful resources, please post them in the comments section!

Offerings Galore

At the Schreyer Institute, we try to offer a varied schedule of workshops, and I think we succeed. Just in the next week, our workshops include the following:

–Assessing Student Learning at the Program Level: Three Faculty Members Share Their Plans

–Discussions and Strategies: Working with TAs in Large Classes

–Getting through the Stack: Grading for Learning

–Best Practices for Designing Effective Multiple Choice Tests

–Evaluation in Three Acts (for faculty at Penn State Fayette)

One thing I’d like to point out: If you or your department would like us to customize a workshop for your particular participants, we’d be happy to do so. Just email us at For more details about the events listed above, or other upcoming events, go to our events page.

Making Excellence Inclusive in STEM Classes – Barrier #1: Stereotypes

This fall and spring, the Schreyer Institute is sponsoring a workshop series exploring the topic of Inclusive Excellence, or how college instructors can harness the power of diversity in their classrooms. The series is comprised of three workshops(1), the third of which was held on November 7th:


Many thanks again to Andres Tellez for the beautiful mandala image used in the flyer for our event.

In this research-based workshop, we discussed the characteristics and benefits of an inclusive classroom, identified common barriers to inclusivity in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) classes, and discussed some new strategies for tackling these barriers constructively in STEM classes.

This blog post is the first in a series of follow-ups to the workshop intended to build on some of the themes, suggestions, and tips generated in the session, and also make resources available for further reading on the topic. When possible, in the discussion of specific scholarly works I have linked to both public summaries and journal articles so that those with and without fulltext journal access can read about this research.

But first, here’s the workshop prezi:

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Note: at the time of this first post, the references sections in the prezi for Barriers #2 and #3 are still being compiled, and will be completed when I post the blog entries for these barriers (forthcoming). This embedded prezi will automatically update. 

As you can see in the prezi, the bulk of the workshop was organized around three barriers to making excellence inclusive in STEM classrooms. The first barrier we identified was Stereotypes.

Wherefore art thou stereotype?
At its most basic level, of course, a stereotype is merely an oversimplified conception of a group of people. Stereotypes develop out of longstanding cultural assumptions and tend to self-replicate and become rooted in popular belief. In the workshop, we brainstormed a number of stereotypes specific to STEM including which types of people “naturally” possess STEM-specific abilities and skills, which types do not, and who STEM practitioners are and are not. The stereotypes we came up with involved categories of gender, race, learning style and ability. Images like the “mad scientist” were invoked – male, white, out of touch with the world, cares only about work, has no social skills, and can’t get a date to save his life:

Image credit:

While at times humorous, this activity highlighted the proliferation of problematic images involving STEM – stereotypes that involve both the perception of STEM fields by those outside the disciplines, as well perceptions of who “belongs” in a STEM field. Research shows that these perceptions form early – for instance this 2011 study (journal article here) found that children started linking math with gender as early as the second grade:

The kids, 247 children (126 girls and 121 boys) in grades one through five in Seattle-area schools, sat in front of a large-screen laptop computer and used an adapted keyboard to sort words into categories.

As early as second grade, the children demonstrated the American cultural stereotype for math: boys associated math with their own gender while girls associated math with boys. In the self-concept test, boys identified themselves with math more than girls did.

In our workshop, one participant asked “How are children picking up these stereotypes so early?” Many scholars who study the social construction of gender and race argue that these cues are embedded in the fabric of our lives from a very young age (for a well-researched and accessible introduction to some of this work, check out the excellent Sociological Images blog. Specifically, here’s a primer on the Sociology of Gender). For instance, children’s toys often incorporate subtle (or not so subtle) visual cues about what jobs are performed by men and which are performed by women:


Image credit: Caroline P. via Lisa Wade, Sociological Images

Or which intellectual skills girls are okay to possess or not possess:

and stir” approach to diversifying course materials is not a magic elixir for addressing the impacts of stereotypes in STEM classes. As some have no-doubt experienced, a ham-handed application of this tip can be ineffective, or worse, lead to awkward and counter-productive “diversity moments” that succeed only in singling out diverse learners and distracting the class from course material. Thus, this tip works best as a thoughtful complement to tips 1 and 2, and in cooperation with the goals and objectives of your lessons and course more broadly.

Beyond the Barriers

As always, incremental steps are steps in the right direction. If you are unsure how best to approach making these kinds of changes, you can always contact us at the Schreyer Institute for an individual consultation, a classroom observation, or a custom workshop. Our services for Penn State teachers are always free and confidential.

This article was written by Destiny D. Aman, a Ph.D. candidate in geography, and a graduate student affiliate of the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at Penn State University. Originally posted 1 December 2011. How to cite a blog post.

(1) Notes from Workshop 1 and Workshop 2 are available elsewhere on the SITE blog.

(2) Indeed a recent survey by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), found “sense of fit” to be the single most important climate factor predicting job satisfaction in STEM faculty positions, with women significantly less likely to report satisfaction in this category.

Image credits for photos on the right:
Scantron (stock.xchng)
Physics classroom (Science Daily)
Homer brain (
Too pretty t-shirt (
Engineer (

Scientist (

Difficult Dialogues in the Classroom: Thoughts from Inclusive Excellence Series Workshop #2

This academic year, the Schreyer Institute is sponsoring a workshop series exploring the topic of Inclusive Excellence, or how college instructors can harness the power of diversity in their classrooms. The series is comprised of three workshops, the second of which was held last week:


In the workshop, we imagined the ideal class discussion (the one we each dream about), and we tackled some common issues, or “scary scenarios” that arise in facilitating inclusive discussion.

In this blog post, I wanted to build on some of the themes, suggestions, and tips generated in the workshop, and also post some resources for further reading on the topic.

First, here’s the workshop prezi:

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1. Cultivate a Sense of Community: It’s hard to stick your neck out in front of a group of people you don’t know – or worse, people you suspect might not care about you or what you have to say. In a class discussion, both teachers and students can have these feelings – sometimes simultaneously (crickets, anyone?). In the fantastic Brief Guide to Facilitating Discussion, Katherine Gottschalk gives some great tips for creating rapport in a class. In our workshop, I recommended the following: 

  • community.jpgSpend some time getting to know the students (especially their names!), and letting them get to know one another. Getting to Know You activities and Ice Breakers are clich� for a reason – they are often a quick and effective way to begin building trust and a sense of teamwork between people who don’t know each other.
  • Consider having students complete a pre-course questionnaire or a brief autobiographical essay for their first homework assignment – this can give you valuable intel about why students are in your class and what they hope to gain from their experience (which you can then use to design activities that may be more engaging and relevant to students). Ask students about their background with the material, how they learn best, or their biggest hope/greatest worry for the class.
  • Consider having students generate themes and topics for discussion – this increases the chance that material will be relevant to the students, and gives them a stake in the discussion being successful.
  • Build in multiple ways for students to participate (besides speaking extemporaneously in front of the entire class). Not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of a large group. Short individual writing activities (like Minute Papers or the Critical Incident Questionnaire), Think-Pair-Share activities, or small group discussions can be used alone or in combination with a larger group discussion. Doing so gives students a chance to chew on the material and formulate their thoughts before being asked to speak to a larger audience.

2. Build a Safe Space for Students to Practice New Skills: Think about your expectations for the students and for yourself, and build a suitable space to practice the skills they need to succeed. 

  • SBTrapeze.jpgDon’t assume students know (or agree upon) what a good discussion looks like. Consider having the class talk about what makes a good discussion, and then develop ground rules together to encourage participation. Revisit or reevaluate the rules if needed as the semester goes on.
  • Allow students to rehearse skills needed for high-stakes discussions earlier in the semester, with lower-stakes topics. For example, a discussion about the banning of caffeinated alcoholic beverages like 4Loco would likely lead to a spirited (ahem) class discussion, and would provide an opportunity for students to practice constructing an argument, using “I-statements”, showing respect for others’ views, storytelling, and avoiding personal attacks. A discussion like this would be best-placed before one on immigration policy or abortion.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of warm-up and ritual. Give students an easy question or simple activity at the beginning of the class to get the juices flowing. Repeat certain activities regularly (for example: a warm-up activity, a Think-Pair-Share activity, a large group discussion, a summary of the main points, and a minute paper at the end of every class). Over time, these rituals will enable the class to spend less time on process and jump into the content more quickly.

3. Plan for Conflict: Conflict is inevitable in the classroom, but it’s not always a bad thing. Depending on its nature, conflict can add energy to a class, increase student engagement, and promote critical thinking.

    • Think about how you typically respond to conflict, and plan some strategies that work for you. If you know you tend to avoid conflict, then focus on coming up with ideas for how to revisit a situation later, if needed (a Critical Incident Questionnaire or a post-class anonymous ANGEL survey could be used here). If you tend to freeze up, practice having students write their thoughts or answer a Minute-Paper question while you gather yourself and decide how to move forward. If you tend to get defensive or respond very intensely in conflict, be sure to have some good questions in your pocket (“I’m not sure what you mean by that, could you explain?”) to soften your response.
    • In Working With Strong Emotions in the Classroom, Heidi Burgess from the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium offers great tips for de-escalating and resolving planned and un-planned emotional situations, like reframing an attacking student’s comment into a less personal statement, and asking the student to explain the reasoning behind their comment.
    • As we discussed in the workshop, it’s important to distinguish between a comment made while legitimately discussing and working through course material, and offensive remarks or jokes made to distract from the discussion or purposely alienate others. The intent of the commenter in each situation is different, and strategies for handling them typically differ as well. In Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom, Lee Warren presents several examples of finding the “teachable moment” in otherwise difficult situations. 
    • If a remark is made that is unrelated to course material, or is purely meant to disrupt, attack, or alienate, it becomes an issue of classroom incivility. The UC Santa Cruz Center for Teaching & Learning has a number of recommendations for handling student incivility. Here at SITE, we periodically have workshops on classroom management, or if you have a specific situation you’re dealing with, you can always talk to one of our consultants.


The inspiration for this workshop came from materials and presentations generated by the Difficult Dialogues Initiative. Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, this 2-year initiative focuses on promoting civic engagement, academic freedom and pluralism in higher education. The Start Talking handbook was developed out of the initiative by faculty from University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University.

The handbook (available for FREE in pdf format here) includes specific chapters on developing ground rules, facilitating debate, teaching about race, class and culture, reconciling science and religion, and others.

If you have thoughts or ideas about this material, or know of other useful resources, please post them in the comments section!

Fostering Inclusive Excellence in the Classroom: Penn State Resources & Further Reading

This academic year, the Schreyer Institute is sponsoring a workshop series exploring the topic of Inclusive Excellence, or how college instructors can harness the power of diversity in their classrooms as a function of good teaching. The series is comprised of three workshops, the first of which was held last week:


The other two workshops will be taking place over the next few weeks, with the whole series to be repeated in the Spring semester:

Register for this workshop here.

Register for this workshop here.

As a follow up to the first workshop, and to spread the information more widely, I’ve posted the workshop Prezi here and included information below on some of the resources available at Penn State in support of student and faculty diversity. If you know of other campus resources that can be used in support of teaching, please feel free to post them in the comments section!

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There are several offices/organizations on campus that provide diversity-related support for students and faculty. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with these resources so that you can refer students (or yourself) for support.

  • Affirmative Action Office – offers diversity education programs, provides links to policies, statements and definitions related to diversity, and responds to complaints of or concerns about prohibited harassment or discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status.
  • Center for Women Students – provides information to students about gender-related violence, personal health, body image, and classroom climate. The Director, Peggy Lorah, provides free workshops for faculty, staff and graduate students on improving classroom climate for women in higher education. If a student is having relationship problems or has experienced abuse or violence, refer them to talk with Dr. Lorah.
  • LGBTA Resource Center – provides a safe space for LGBTQ students to hang out; maintains a library of literature related to gender, gender expression, sexuality and relationships; runs the Straight Talks program (panels of speakers comprised of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally students from a wide range of beliefs and background who educate the university community on sexual orientation, gender identity, oppression and diversity); coordinates events and support groups related to LGBTQ issues.
  • Center for Ethics & Religious Affairs – CERA offers an inclusive environment to “explore a multitude of faith traditions in a compassionate, open-minded setting [and] aims to promote an environment that stretches beyond tolerance to a genuine appreciation of and respect for religious and spiritual diversity.” CERA also puts on workshops related to faith and spirituality.
  • Penn State Office of Global Programs – provides a hangout space and community-oriented programming and activities for international students. Maintains a clearinghouse of practical information and can put students in contact with tutors or spoken-language-improvement programs (like conversation buddies).
  • Office of Disability Services – Coordinates academic accessibility for disabled students, tests students for learning disabilities and works with faculty to provide accommodations for such students (they provide a quiet place for students to take exams, extended-time, etc). Provides a handbook for faculty.
  • Office of Veterans Programs – Helps veteran students negotiate the campus system, provides resources for such students to apply for benefits/financial aid, provides support personnel to answer questions.
  • Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) – Provides counseling services, support groups, and outreach for students, faculty, and staff experiencing crisis or mental-health-related concerns. Provides information to faculty and staff about worrisome student behaviors, and how to intervene when you are concerned about a student. CAPS will consult with you about a specific student issue, and CAPS staff also provides workshops to the greater campus community.
  • Penn State Learning – provides free tutoring (math, writing, language), guided study groups, and work spaces for students. You can contact them to have a tutor visit your class (say, if you have an upcoming essay assignment) and discuss the services they offer.

Below is a list that I have been working through of texts related to the topic of Inclusive Excellence, in case you’re interested in exploring specific avenues related to the topic. This is by no means an exhaustive list! I’ve included links wherever possible. 

General Diversity



  • Chesler, S. 1997. Perceptions of Faculty by Students of Color. CRLT Occasional Papers Series. Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan, No. 7
  • Kardia, D.B. & M.C. Wright 2004. Instructor Identity: The impact of gender and race on faculty experiences with teaching. CRLT Occasional Papers Series. Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan, No. 19
  • Rockquemore, K.A. and T. Laszloffy. 2008. The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure – Without Losing Your Soul. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
  • Sue, D.W, A.I. Lin, G.C. Torino, C.M. Capodilupo, and D.P. Rivera. 2009. Racial Microagressions and Difficult Dialogues on Race in the Classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 15(2): 183-190
  • Sue, D.W., G.C. Torino, C.M. Capodilupo, D.P. Rivera and A.I. Lin. 2009. How White Faculty Perceive and React to Difficult Dialogues on Race: Implications for Education and Training. The Counseling Psychologist July 30, 2009.


  • Cress, C.M., and J. Hart. 2009. Playing Soccer on the Football Field: The Persistence of Gender Inequities for Women Faculty. Equity & Excellence in Education 42(4), 473-488
  • Fisher, B.M. 2001. No Angel in the Classroom.
  • Gender & Student Evaluations: An Annotated Bibliography
  • Madera, J.M., M.R. Hebl, and R.C. Martin. 2009. Gender and Letters of Recommendation for Academia: Agentic and Communal Differences. Journal of Applied Psychology 94(6) 1591-7599.
  • Touchton, J. 2008. A Measure of Equity: Women’s Progress in Higher Education. AAC&U.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)

Talks by Dr. Jeremy Black, U of Exeter History prof.

I saw in the CDT an announcement of some talks that sound really interesting, but that might also give Institute consultants an opportunity to become a little more visible in The College of the Liberal Arts.  Receptions follow all talks.

Mon Oct 11, 5:15 pm, Paterno Library, Foster Auditorium
Western world relations with Africa

Tue Oct 12, 4:30 pm, Paterno Library, Foster Auditorium
War and Instability in the 21st Century”

Wed. Oct 13, 4:30 pm, 262 Willard
“Slavery: An Introduction to a Theme in World History”

Online teaching and promotion and tenure

Yesterday the Institute hosted a panel discussion dealing with “How can the teaching of online courses be evaluated for P & T? A Panel Discussion with Keith Bailey, David DiBiase, Diane Parente and Angela Linse”.
Many PSU folks joined us, both face-to-face in 315 Rider Building as well as people over polycom from Brandywine, Fayette and Erie.  Dave and the folks from the eDutton Institute created a nice peer review guide for online courses that the college of EMS utilizes. One thing Dave mentioned is that, using this guide, non-online teachers would still be capable of providing a quality review of an online course.  This sparked some interesting debate among both panelists and attendees.  Keith Bailey and Diane Parente offered their methods of online course peer review as well.  Both Dave and Diane encourage faculty members to be ‘in’ the online environment the teacher is leveraging for the course for at least a month, sometimes for the entire semester. Keith indicated this could be a tough sell for faculty, when they already have a great deal of commitments vying for their time.  Another interesting point was raised from Brandywine, where they mentioned the guideline they established that keeps most tenure-track instructors away from online instruction.  Some of this is due to SRTE ratings typically being 6/10s of a point lower for online instructors vs. resident instructors. 

All in all, a great discussion and you could tell the panelists and some of the participants were passionate about the dialog.  Hopefully we can build off this enthusiasm and continue working towards a consistent, quality-driven method for evaluating the growing number of online courses offered around PSU.