On recommendation of the head of the graduate program and with approval from the dean of the Graduate School, appropriately qualified individuals may be given special approval to teach specific graduate-level courses including:
- individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty to teach 500- and/or 800-level courses; and
- non-tenure-line Category P Graduate Faculty members to teach 500-level courses.
Such qualifications are defined by the college/school Graduate Faculty Nomination Evaluation Committee (GFNEC) based on the criteria defined by Graduate Council in its policy GCAC-101 Graduate Faculty Membership.
INITIAL APPROVAL TO TEACH (1 year)
For initial teaching of a graduate course, Approval to Teach may be granted for up to one calendar year (3 consecutive semesters) by the graduate program head. Programs must follow the college/school-specific qualifications when approving an individual to teach.
CONTINUING APPROVAL TO TEACH (up to 4 years)
After the initial year of teaching, graduate programs may request up to four years of Continuing Approval to Teach by submitting the Recommendation for Continuing Approval to Teach 500- or 800-Level Courses Form accompanied by:
- curriculum vitae;
- the most recent SRTE for each course for which approval is being sought;
- a peer evaluation of one graduate course taught during the initial year;
- and any other supporting documents required by the submitting unit’s GFNEC.
Requests for approval to teach SUBJ 596/896 Individual Studies, or SUBJ 597/598/897/898 Special Topics must include a course outline or syllabus.
Requests for Continuing Approval to Teach are submitted to the GFNEC of the college/school offering the course. The review and recommendation for continuation will be assessed by the GFNEC under whose guidelines the initial Approval to Teach was granted. Once approved by the GFNEC, the request for Continuing Approval to Teach will be forwarded to the Dean of the Graduate School for review, evaluation, and approval or denial.
PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS (up to 4 years with each evaluation; continually renewable)
Individuals with Continuing Approval to Teach are subject to performance evaluations by the Dean of the Graduate School every four years. Performance evaluations are completed via submission of the Recommendation for Continuing Approval to Teach 500- or 800-Level Courses Form including the most recent SRTEs of all graduate courses being taught and at least one peer evaluation from the most recent approval period.
RECOMMENDATION FOR ONLINE TEACHING
Individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty and who are approved to teach online should complete OL2000 and be encouraged to complete the full Online Learning Certificate program offered through World Campus Faculty Development.
DENIAL AND APPEAL
If the GFNEC denies a request for Continuing Approval to Teach, it must provide the reasons for its denial to the individual, the head of the graduate program who nominated them, and the Dean/Chancellor of their academic home unit.
- Individuals who are denied Continuing Approval to Teach by the GFNEC may appeal to the Dean/Chancellor of the academic home of the nominating graduate program.
- If the Dean/Chancellor chooses to override the denial and recommends the individual to teach, they should document the reason(s) and provide a copy to the individual, the GFNEC, and the Dean of the Graduate School, who will render a decision.
- Decisions by the Dean of the Graduate School are final.
When a request indicates performance difficulty based on SRTEs or multiple consistent concerns expressed by the students, the program should address this in their recommendation. If appropriate, a remediation plan should be included. The instructor may be referred to any of several resources available, including Schreyer Institute for Teaching and Learning, TLT, WC-Faculty Development and other teaching skills-related conferences, webinars and training.
If the Dean of the Graduate School and the GFNEC do not agree regarding the suitability of a candidate to teach the proposed course, the Graduate Council will be asked to review the nomination. The Graduate Council will provide a final recommendation to the Dean with a justification. The Dean of the Graduate School then renders the final decision.
Example of Approval to Teach Qualifications
These guidelines were originally developed by the Graduate School for request for approval to teach graduate courses accordance with policy GCAC-101. This document serves as one example. Colleges and schools are encouraged to articulate the metrics for approval to teach graduate courses that are best suited to their disciplines.
500-level Research Education Courses
Teaching 500-level courses is a privilege of membership in Category R of the Graduate Faculty. Minimum qualifications for membership in Category R are:
- A doctoral degree;
- A record of scholarly achievement and an active program of research/scholarly activity, appropriate to the field.
To maintain that standard across all 500-level courses, approval to teach 500-level courses requires a doctoral degree, a record of scholarly achievement, and an active program of research/scholarly activity, appropriate to the field.
A RECORD OF SCHOLARLY ACHIEVEMENT APPROPRIATE TO THE RESEARCH DEGREE FIELD
The requirement for an active program of scholarly research is based on the fundamental value proposition for graduate-level research education at a research-intensive University:
Students should be taught by individuals at the forefront of creating new knowledge, ensuring that students are exposed to not only the latest knowledge in the field, but the latest intellectual approaches as well.
The Graduate School recognizes that the breadth of fields of study offered at Penn State means that no simple standard can be applied to evaluate a proposed instructor’s “record of scholarly achievement”. Each individual is evaluated according to the standards of their particular field of study.
In recognition of the short-term commitment typically represented by a request for approval to teach graduate courses, the Graduate School provides some additional flexibility in considering evidence of “an active program of research/scholarly activity”. Illustrative examples sufficient for approval to teach 500-level courses typically includes one or more of the of scholarly activities listed. NOTE: None of the specific examples in the lists presented below are intended to be exhaustive.
- Scholarly written works
- Books (common in the arts and humanities)
- Peer-reviewed journal articles
- Scholarly activities
- Invited talks
- Presentations at academic meetings
- Curating exhibitions of artistic work (common in the arts)
- Presenting in academic workshops
- Serving on advisory committees
- Formal consulting activities
- Professional activities
- Organizing academic meetings
- Participating in funding review panels (common in the physical sciences)
- Leadership positions in professional organizations
AN ACTIVE PROGRAM OF RESEARCH/SCHOLARLY ACTIVITY
The primary goal of the requirement for an active program of research or scholarly activity is to ensure that the proposed instructor is current in their field. For individuals recommended for approval to teach specific courses, evidence of activity in the field at any time over the last 5 years is generally acceptable. This could include any of the activities listed above.
800-level Professional Education Courses
Teaching 800-level courses is a privilege of membership in Category P of the Graduate Faculty. Minimum qualifications for membership in Category P are:
- A master’s degree;
- Professional experience relevant to the professional degree program field.
The requirement for professional experience relevant to the professional degree program field is an extension of the fundamental value proposition for graduate level education at a research-intensive University:
Students should be taught by individuals who are expert practitioners at the forefront of their professions, ensuring that students are exposed to not only the latest practices in the field, but the latest intellectual approaches as well.
To maintain that standard across all 800-level courses, approval to teach 800-level courses requires a master’s degree, and professional experience relevant to the professional degree program field.
Accordingly, with the recognition that fields evolve quickly, and with a goal of preparing our students to practice their chosen profession at a high level based on the education we provide, individuals recommended to teach 800-level professional education courses should be familiar with the current state of practice in the field.
In recognition of the short-term commitment typically represented by a request for approval to teach, the Graduate School provides some additional flexibility in considering evidence of “professional experience relevant to the professional degree program field”. With the recognition that professional practice evolves quickly, we generally expect professional experience to be within the last 3-5 years; individual graduate programs may have higher standards.
Illustrative examples of professional experience follow. NOTE: The specific examples presented below are NOT intended to be exhaustive.
- Licensure or Certification
- Formal consulting activities
- Exhibitions of artistic work
- Presentations at professional workshops
- Serving on professional advisory committees
An expectation of professional degree programs is that they incorporate new practices derived from new discoveries in their field of study; thus, individuals with ongoing scholarly work in the field can also be appropriately be approved to teach 800-level courses.
Peer evaluations should focus on aspects of the instructor’s skill in teaching the course that are not apparent from the SRTE. Programs are welcome to use any rubric that focuses on the instructor’s teaching ability. While there are many tools available to guide such peer evaluations, a
particularly useful one is available from the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Dutton e-Learning Institute:
A Peer Review Guide for Online Courses at Penn State
Although initially developed for online courses, this rubric is valuable for both resident and online courses.
Similarly, the review of the Student Rating of Teacher Effectiveness (SRTE) for renewal of Approval to Teach focuses on the instructor’s skill in teaching the course, not on course content. While the value and limitations of student evaluations of teaching are well known, years of reviewing SRTEs of graduate courses have revealed the following:
- Graduate students are generally happy with the instruction they receive at Penn State;
- Overall scores for the question “A4. Rate the overall quality of the instructor.” are rarely below 5.0
- When the overall score for question A4 is below 5.0, there are always multiple detailed student responses to question “Open 2: What changes would improve your learning?”
Thus, the Graduate School looks carefully at questions A4, Open 2, and any other questions related specifically to instructor skill, and to specific comments from students. Multiple scores below 5.0 and/or multiple specific, detailed comments on the same concern result in a follow up discussion with the program. The typical outcome is renewal for one year (instead of three years, if the latter was requested), with an expectation of demonstrated improvement for future renewals
Approved by The Graduate School, June 27, 2022
Approved by The Graduate School, Aug. 30, 2018