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Developing Honors Courses

Developing Honors Courses

What makes a course "Honors"?

Because Honors courses are offered across the disciplines, there is no magic formula for transforming a regular course into an Honors course. While an Honors course needn't be more difficult or accelerated, it should be a rigorous enriched classroom experience for students and faculty alike.

If you are a faculty member preparing to offer an Honors course, ask yourself, "What does a smaller classroom of high-achievers allow me to do that I couldn't do otherwise?"

Features of an Honors Course

There are many ways to enrich a course to create a qualitatively different experience. Your course might:

  • Approach the material/subject from an interesting or unconventional perspective
  • Emphasize discussion and student/instructor interaction
  • Encourage students to develop specific skills necessary for graduate school, professional school, and/or life after the University
  • Incorporate leadership and service skills and opportunities into the coursework
  • Foster specific opportunities for teamwork and collaboration
  • Apply theories from the page to real-world problems and phenomena
  • Explore interdisciplinary connections across various fields of study
  • Provide a platform to conduct independent research, attend and/or present at conferences, or even publish their work
  • Incorporate experiential learning opportunities through an internship connection or a companion study abroad
  • Facilitate meetings between students and leaders in the field
  • Emphasize interdisciplinary skills needed in the field: e.g. writing and oral communication for STEM fields, professional applications in humanities fields, quantitative methods in the arts, philosophical investigations in the social sciences
  • Provide access to exciting primary sources

An Honors course can be a laboratory for educational innovation. You can think of Honors courses as a gigantic sandbox for adventures in teaching exploration. The discoveries that happen in the Honors classroom are most often transferable to other classrooms. Make them challenging, make them fun, and use them to instill a love of learning in and beyond the classroom.

Faculty can use the Honors Foundations course framework as a reference for developing their own Foundations course.

Learn More

National Collegiate Honors Council

Find helpful NCHC resources to use while developing your Honors course

The National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) maintains a page of sample Honors course syllabi. Please visit their site for examples of courses at all levels of development.

Additionally, NCHC publishes and archives two free publications - Honors in Practice and the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council. Both of these publications are useful when planning an Honors course.

Visit the NCHC Website

What is an Honors Education?

There are many ways to enrich a course to create a qualitatively different experience. Your course might:

According to the National Collegiate Honors Council, Honors education is a general term that covers a wide variety of courses, teaching styles, and even educational objectives. While an introductory chemistry course may be basically the same everywhere, one Honors course may be very different from another equally distinguished Honors course, even if they have similar titles or subject matter. This is because Honors programs and Honors courses may attempt to fulfill diverse goals, utilize different teaching approaches, and employ a variety of ways of mastering subject matter.

While the pathways to Honors education are many, the central goal of Honors education is always academic enrichment. The pathways to this goal are defined by the specific institutional context, the faculty teaching in the program, and the needs of the particular students. In general, Honors programs are based on the belief that talented students profit from close contact with faculty, small courses, seminars or one-on-one instruction, course work shared with other talented students, individual research projects, internships, foreign study, and campus or community service.

While Honors courses should always be unique, unique does not always equal harder.

Honors courses should be designed to provide students with an academically different experience than they would receive in a traditional classroom. Students should learn how to think and write clearly, to be excited by new ideas and perspectives, and to become independent, creative, and self-motivated learners. Honors courses should challenge students to "think beyond the textbook" and give them authentic, professional skills, and knowledge they will be able to use when they attend graduate school or begin their career.