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Teaching Discomfort: Facilitating Challenging Discussions in the Classroom

September 28, 2023 @ 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm CDT


Learn best practices on navigating challenging classroom discussions in this two-part workshop. In STEM disciplines, where knowledge is considered to be “objective,” instructors can be caught off-guard when challenging topics – especially ones that relate to social or cultural trauma – arise. In this workshop, participants will learn best practices for “difficult knowledge”—content that causes students to analyze social trauma (Britzman 1998)—in diverse disciplinary contexts, and apply those practices to design a pedagogical tool applicable in their own classrooms. In doing so, participants will gain a better understanding of how to address pressing ideological issues in their discipline and incorporate them in their teaching. By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to:

  • Define “difficult knowledge,” explain its impact on students, and identify examples from their own field
  • Describe and apply best practices for addressing difficult knowledge topics in their classrooms
  • Create a pedagogical tool that addresses a difficult knowledge topic in their field

This workshop is part of CIRTL’s fall programming on evidence-based teaching fundamentals.


Valerie Hsieh, Columbia University
Valeria Spacciante, Columbia University
Abby Schroering, Columbia University

Workshop Schedule

This workshop meets in Zoom on Thursdays, September 21 and 28 at 3:30-5PM AT / 2:30-4PM ET / 1:30-3PM CT / 12:30-2PM MT / 11:30AM-1PM PT.


This workshop is designed first and foremost for graduate students, faculty, and instructional staff in STEM/SBE disciplines, but generally relevant to anyone looking to learn approaches to facilitating challenging classroom discussions at the college level.

Registration & Enrollment

No cap. Registration opens on Monday, August 14, and closes Thursday, September 21.


If you have a disability, please let us know your learning needs. Contact Kate Diamond (, who is supporting this workshop, to let us know how we can help you have a successful experience. In addition to meeting individualized needs, we will also take measures throughout the workshop to support accessibility for all our students:

  • Using alt-text on images in reading materials
  • Sending pre-session reminders with upcoming assignments to all students
  • Sharing materials for synchronous sessions with students (slides, activity instructions, etc.)
  • Enabling live captioning in synchronous sessions
  • Incorporating multiple modes of interaction into synchronous sessions

Learning Outcomes

All CIRTL Network programming is designed to help participants achieve familiarity with our Core Ideas. This workshop is designed around the following learning outcomes.

Associate: Evidence-based teaching

  • Describe several known high-impact, evidence-based effective instructional practices and materials and recognize their alignment with particular types of learning goals

Associate: Learning-through-diversity

  • Describe and recognize the value of drawing on diversity in the development of teaching plans (including content, teaching practices and assessments) to foster learning
  • Describe how an instructor’’s beliefs and biases can influence student learning
  • Describe several learning-through-diversity (LtD) techniques and strategies
  • Describe the impact of diversity on student learning, in particular how diversity can enhance learning, and how inequities can negatively impact learning if not addressed
  • Describe the scope of diversity in learning environments, of both students and instructor