Honors Course Criteria
The notes that follow are suggestions you may find useful in designing and conducting your Honors course.
Capability of the Students
The basic premise is that native intellectual ability and a generally strong high school education equip Honors students with greater than average potential for academic achievement at the University. They are typically bright, motivated, and conscientious students, disposed to mutually supportive sociality. They learn quickly and are often capable of sophisticated levels of performance. Still, they are not exempt from the need to master fundamental ideas and skills. Do not hesitate to challenge them, but do not assume that the fundamentals are already intact. Not all students in HONRS or H courses are honors students, but non-honors students will benefit from the Honors experience in your classes and should do all that is required of honors students, including the assigned Great Works responses.
Role of the Teacher
Those who teach Honors courses are acknowledged to be well prepared in the subject matter of the course; they "know their stuff." The real challenge in an Honors course is to further fan the passion for learning that students arrive with. In some cases this may require disquieting their preconceptions of their own abilities in order to help them to a more seasoned awareness of what it is to practice lifelong learning. Your creative capacity may be tested. It is important to provide imaginative ways for Honors students to respond to the subject matter. There are likely as many ways to achieve this as there are different teachers. Nonetheless, there are a few proven predictors of success. Group discussion should be included. Expect students to come prepared to share ideas gained through reading and other assignments. Also, hold them to a high standard. It is essential that the quality of Honors education not be compromised by teaching to the level of those who are only casually prepared.
The minimum standard for student performance should be higher in an Honors course. Students can be assigned a greater volume and diversity of material, and you can reasonably require higher quality in your students' work. There is particular need for opportunities that allow them to develop writing and quantitative skills. Honors students should write frequently, and their writing should be subjected to rigorous evaluation, preferably of more than single drafts. Likewise, Honors students should have multiple opportunities to apply quantitative skills with appreciable rigor.
Every HONRS and departmental H course should include a Great Works experience which is one of the Honors Learning Outcomes components. HONRS courses should also include at least one Great Works response. Making this an assignment in your class helps Honors students fulfill their Great Work experiences and responses which is a requirement for graduating with Honors. See the Great Works pages on this website for more information.
Most students come to the University perceiving themselves as consumers of, not as contributors to, the academic endeavor. Teachers of Honors courses should encourage original work and provide significant opportunities for involvement in innovative projects. The publication or other exhibition of the results of such projects is encouraged. Be aware of students' special needs. It is not unusual for Honors students to labor under the pressure of high expectations imposed by self, family and friends. Some may be particularly vulnerable to intimidation and unsureness. The teacher of such students has an important opportunity to help them develop self-confidence and poise. In addition, students need to be willing to expose their ignorance. They need to distinguish solid from superficial scholarship. They need to understand that reliance on jargon and glib talk about issues they really do not understand counts for very little.
Support from Honors
The Honors office welcomes requests for financial support of Honors courses. Funds are typically applied to hiring teaching assistants and purchasing books and other materials related to the course. They may also be used to defray the travel costs of attendance at concerts, other performances, and other out-of-class socializing to the extent that such activities complement the academic objectives of the course. Simply fill out the Request for Honors Course Enhancement Form found in the links and submit it to the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Honors, 350A MSRB.
One of the assumptions of teaching in Honors is that you are committed to your content area and also to the process of teaching. One of the advantages of teaching in Honors is the possibility of having resources made available to assist you in enhancing the learning climate of your classrooms. It is possible, for example, to get a grant from Honors to develop a course the first time it is taught. When you propose to teach an Honors, especially for the first time, you should submit materials documenting your teaching ability. See the Course Proposal page for more information. This page also outlines the types of Honors courses available.
The overall GPA in an Honors course is usually higher than that for corresponding non-Honors courses. However, an Honors student is not entitled to special treatment in grading if performance is disappointing; grades should reflect the quality of the work done by the students in the course. Furthermore, the majority of HONRS and H classes have other students besides committed Honors students enrolled. Honors courses should not have a grade curve imposed---even a truncated curve. Small differences among students that would not translate into grade differences in non-Honors courses should not be the basis for different grades in Honors courses. Put simply, grades in Honors courses ought to be distributed according to merit. If everyone deserves an A, give each an A; if no one deserves an A (or a C or a D), feel no compulsion to give one for the sake of "balance."