Teaching Honors Classes

Honors courses are expected to provide increased intellectual challenge through more sophisticated material, a higher level of intellectual engagement, and more responsibility for the learning process than would typically be expected in an undergraduate course.

Honors courses are intended to be more complex, not necessarily more difficult. Departments offering free-standing and embedded Honors courses are eligible to request supplemental funding for these at the rate of $125/credit hour. Faculty members may become involved in teaching Honors courses in several ways:

Free-standing Honors Courses

Free-standing and graduate courses already consist of Honors-level instruction and experience. Embedded and Honors Course Contracts require a student to participate in alternate or additional individual or group activities to provide an Honors-level experience. Honors Students who take graduate courses for undergraduate credit may count these courses toward their distinction requirements.

NB: while examples of different activities are presented below under different types of Honors offerings, Honors faculty are encouraged to “mix and match” as inspiration strikes.

Free-standing Honors courses are designed and offered as a stand-alone course for Honors students only. These are small classes (generally no more than 25 students) taught in a traditional manner by a faculty member. While the course material is often consistent with the non-Honors version of the same course, it should be taught at an increased level of sophistication. Faculty teaching Honors courses are encouraged to develop activities that:

  • Expand knowledge and deepen comprehension of course material by reading and discussing primary literature rather than textbooks.
  • Encourage students to consider the application of the course material to "real-world" situations or unexpected problems.
  • Ask students to synthesize different bodies of knowledge to solve problems.
  • Require students to evaluate information obtained from primary and secondary sources.
  • Invite students to create an in-depth, inquiry-based project that is focused on their individual intellectual interests and that requires significant research.

Stacked or Embedded Courses

Embedded Honors sections are large courses in which Honors and non-Honors students are mixed; Honors students have alternate activities or additional meeting times consist of a group of Honors students who periodically meet with the faculty instructor in addition to regular class meetings. This model would emulate the traditional "lecture and tutor" format often seen in small private colleges. Students in the embedded Honors section should also be expected to complete alternate assignments or activities that achieve the objectives described in the free-standing section above. Embedded Honors sections provide an opportunity for a number of unique options as well:

  • Embedded students could engage in small-group, inquiry-based projects that deepen their understanding of the course material and its contexts; the groups could present their findings to the entire class to enhance the normal course lectures.
  • Term projects could encourage students (either individually or as a group) to synthesize the material covered over the entire breadth of the semester. Projects could be significant presentations, demonstrations, group "wikis," portfolios, or substantial essays.
  • Meeting individually or as a group, students could read and discuss contemporary scholarly literature related to course material.

Graduate-level Courses

Graduate courses may be taken by Honors Students for undergraduate credit and have these count toward their distinction requirements. Many times, students do this when there is a graduate equivalent of an undergraduate degree requirement. No modification is needed in these cases since the ideal for an Honors course is a graduate-level seminar.

Honors Course Contracts

Honors Course Contracts are individual agreements established between an Honors student and a faculty member. An individual honors student "contracts" a non-Honors course for Honors credit; students must complete alternate or additional course activities that add breadth, depth, or complexity and are thus deserving of Honors credit. Honors Course Contracts must be approved by LAUNCH: Honors (other restrictions apply).

The "contract" will establish a plan for a scholarly experience that will enhance the student's learning experience and emulate a freee-standing Honors course. The student's application should clearly explain how their experience will differ from what is described in the course syllabus and how the student's work will be evaluated. Honors Course Contract applications should identify learning objectives, learning activities, and describe how the student's work will be evaluated.

Contracts could propose any of the types of activities described in the free-standing  and embedded sections above. Previous approved activites have also included the following:

Science or Engineering
  • Undertaking an undergraduate research project with the faculty member on a topic related to the class.
  • Designing a product to accomplish a given task using particular methods.
  • Analyze datasets related to classroom topic and faculty expertise and interpret outcome.
Social Science
  • Attending an exhibit, lecture, film or performance series and discuss its relevance to the classroom material.
  • Participate in community or service learning activity, keep a journal and discuss relevance to classroom material.
  • Become involved in a student group or organization you would normally not participate in (ethnic, cultural, interest), keep a journal and discuss relevance to classroom material.
  • Develop material (paper, presentation, group work) that brings an international perspective to the topic.
  • Produce a creative work (writing, music, art, performance) to illustrate a concept or technique.
  • Significant readings in contemporary critical theory related to the course topic.
  • Imagine a classic piece of literature written in a different context (gender, country, historical timing, socio-economic level, minor character).
  • Describe what a specific time frame would have been like if a major historical event had had the opposite or different outcome (WWII, Waterloo, Alexander’s conquests, creation of the auto industry in the US).
Interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary
  • Develop materials to teach a particular concept using three different modalities or teaching philosophies.
  • Produce a creative work that explains or illustrates a natural or man-made phenomenon.
  • Create or adapt a computer program to carry out a particular type of data analysis.
  • Propose a mechanism to convert a small-scale operation to a large-scale process.
  • Design a procedure to allow a laboratory assay to be carried out in the field.
  • Survey and analyze government policies or laws directly related to the course topic or its applications.