Honors Seminars Revisited

Recently, I was a guest speaker in Joe Fracchia’s HC 431H: Bodies and Artifacts seminar at the Clark Honors College. The focus for the afternoon was, “What’s in a Word”: The Interior Structure of Semiotic Artifacts: Those “agitated layers of air” (Marx) fashioned into the “mouthy little things we call words” (Suzanne Langer).

Joe Fracchia

Joe Fracchia

I was there with Lauren Deegan to read our poetry and talk about our writing processes as well as answer questions from the students.

It was an interesting experience to be back in a CHC classroom having just the day before taught in Lane’s honors seminar, Invitation to Inquiry. I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting the two classes and the general honors experiences at the CHC and at Lane.

I admired the rigor of Joe’s course. Here is the day’s reading from the syllabus:

February 19

“What’s in a Word”: The Interior Structure of Semiotic Artifacts: Those “agitated layers of air” (Marx) fashioned into the “mouthy little things we call words” (Suzanne Langer)

Read:    Marshall Sahlins, Excerpt on the Arbitrariness of Linguistic Signs

Geoffrey Pullman, “The Great Eskimo Snow Hoax”, 159-167

Mary LeCron Foster, “Body Process in the Evolution of Language”, pp. 208-229

Lev Vygotsky, “Thought and Word” in Thought and Language, pp. 210-256

Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, “Language” in Contact, pp. 22-38

Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, “Language as Work and Trade” in Language as Work and Trade, pp. 35-        64

HC 431H is an upper division class, so I did not expect Lane’s lower division seminar to do the same type of work. What struck me was simply the thoughtfulness and intelligence that students exhibit when they have an environment in which to push their thinking and their creativity. We see this in Lane’s honors seminars, as well, but I would like to see a wider range of seminar experiences available to Lane’s students.

Mara Fields, the Grants Coordinator at Lane, occasionally sends me information about grants for “great ideas” courses, and I’ve always hoped to be able to build such a course for the Honors Program. I think the students would gain as much from that type of seminar as they do from our two interdisciplinary research seminars.

The challenge is that a “great ideas” course, like our seminars, would count as an elective and the students have limited space for electives given the constraints of financial aid and the need to complete the courses required for their majors. Still, after participating in Joe’s HC 431H history class, I plan to think more about ways to create a similar experience for the honors students at Lane.

Tricia Rose on Educational Equality in an Unequal World

I had the wonderful opportunity to hear a presentation by Tricia Rose. Professor of Africana Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University, Rose gave an exceptional talk entitled “Educational Equality in an Unequal World: Creative Strategies for Making All Students Successful.”

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Rose spoke at the Lane Longhouse. Her subject matter resonated for me in many ways, and I continue to think about her statement that the goals of education are to create “fully developed human beings and healing.” This statement articulates the essential work that honors programs do at two-year colleges. As I watch more students move through our program, I see the choices students make because of their honors experience. They challenge themselves in their classes and they ask more of their instructors. They engage in co-curricular activities. They apply for and receive scholarships. They transfer to, and graduate from, four-year institutions.

The above accomplishments are impressive, especially as students have commented in person, in their ePortfolios, and in other reflective writing about the challenges of attending college many years after high school; returning to college after unsuccessful first attempts; attending college while raising children sometimes with a partner and sometimes on their own; and trying to balance multiple jobs while succeeding in their coursework.

They have acknowledged the ways in which they were discouraged by high school teachers to even consider college, the comments by otherwise supportive instructors that misread language barriers as intellectual deficiencies, and the sometimes resentful and disparaging attitudes of family members and friends when they chose to go to school.

I repeatedly see the value of a cohort of peers who can relate to these many obstacles, peers who support each other in facing them, and who recognize to the sense of achievement in overcoming them. I see the value in having a faculty willing to design classes that provide even more challenging and creative opportunities for this cohort. I see the value in having an instructor tell a student to disregard the ways that they have been underestimated in the past or in having one student tell another that they, too, should consider the Honors Program. I see the value in extending what our college does every day – showing students that they matter and that their success matters – to make sure that there are opportunities here for every student.

“…fully developed human beings and healing.” Those of us involved with the Lane Honors Program agree and we’re working on it. Every student. Every day.

See Rose’s TED Talk at Brown University: “Creating Conversations on Justice.”

Seminar Students Visit UO’s Special Collections Library

This week, Katie Morrison-Graham and I visited the University of Oregon’s Special Collections Library with the students currently taking the Honors Invitation to Inquiry seminar. We are always looking for ways to enhance the seminar’s focus on interdisciplinary research and on thinking critically about the research process. An introduction to archival research proved to be a great addition to the course.

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Manuscripts Librarian, Linda Long, brought out several items from the Gertrude Bass Warner Collection including Japanese lantern slides and Warner’s travel diaries.

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I’ve worked with this collection in the past and it was a nice surprise when she emailed to say these were the materials she would be using. I enjoyed the chance to see the materials again and to share them with my students.

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Linda explained the purpose of a special collections library, described some of the collections in this library’s holdings, and encouraged the students to feel welcome there and use the library as a resource. I was especially appreciative of this invitation because the campus and its libraries can seem overwhelming to someone unfamiliar with them. The honors students now know they have access to excellent scholarly resources and can feel comfortable and confident about using them.

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When we left, one student was already registering so that she could use the library in the future. Others gathered outside to talk over their experience. Linda and I decided based on the students’ response that we will make the Special Collections Library visit a regular part of the honors seminars each year.

Sharing Our Research with Students

When Sarah Ulerick and I taught the first section of what became the Honors Capstone Seminar, I found that my experience with my own academic project at that time paralleled some of the students’ experiences in the class. The seminar focused on group research projects and culminated in a student-led, public symposium featuring panels of experts. I was also organizing a panel on American haiku for the American Literature Association’s conference held in San Francisco near the end of the term.

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As the students were preparing to present their research findings, I was preparing to present mine in a paper on the American haiku panel. When the students became stressed that not all of their invited panelists were going to be able to attend the symposium, I shared with them that one of my panelists had cancelled at the last minute. In short, they came to see that they were part of the scholarly community and their experiences were consistent with what often happens to all scholars involved in research and in professional activities.

Over the past few years of teaching Lane’s two honors seminars, both of which focus on research, I have consistently seen how beneficial it is for the students and instructors to share their work with one other. To be honest, I am sometimes surprised that sharing my work in literary studies is of interest to them since very few of our students are English majors; however, I recognize that it is simply interacting with someone who is researching in their field, whatever that field may be, that most interests them.

One benefit for the students, I think, is to recognize that what they are doing in the seminars is not a rote exercise. It is both training for the work they will do in upper division and graduate courses and an opportunity to answer real research questions and share their findings with relevant audiences. It is also consistent with what all scholars do and what they see their instructor doing outside of the classroom.

The sharing of our research-related work offers many benefits to me, but one was particularly emphasized this past weekend. Last term, I worked on a paper about Richard Wright’s haiku and American Imagism for the Modern Language Association’s convention. As we began this term and the Honors Invitation to Inquiry Seminar, I traveled to Vancouver BC to present my paper. What I discovered as I worked on the paper was that I kept running into dead ends. I knew I wasn’t getting at what I wanted to say. It was only as I finished revising the paper and presented it at the conference that I finally arrived at the question I really wanted to answer.

With Toru Kiuchi and Yoshinobu Hakutani after our panel.

With Toru Kiuchi and Yoshinobu Hakutani after our panel.

This experience was such a basic research experience that it took me by surprise. It has been a long time since I’ve done that much work only to arrive at my actual starting place in the conclusion of my paper. I was reminded that the obstacles my students face each year in the seminars are also the obstacles and the process I experience in my own work. I’ll be sharing this insight with them this week as they hone their research questions and I begin the line of inquiry my conference paper ultimately directed me to.

Collaboratively-Created, Task-Specific Rubrics

This week, the latest issue of JNCHC arrived in the mail. It included my essay, “Collaborative Design: Building Task-Specific Rubrics in the Honors Classroom,” which is part of the issue’s forum, “Rubrics, Templates, and Outcomes Assessment.” In the essay, I focus on how students in the honors seminars help create the task-specific rubrics we use for different assignments and argue that this activity enhances learning and empowers students.

I did not come to this approach in isolation. Sarah Ulerick and I engaged students in creating rubrics during the first Invitation to Inquiry Seminar in the spring of 2012. My participation in a Faculty Interest Group on critical thinking, led by Siskanna Naynaha and Kate Sullivan, introduced me to an invaluable resource that I used to further develop this approach: Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, by John C. Bean.

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My co-instructor in the honors seminars, Katie Morrison-Graham, and I continue to refine our approach to developing rubrics with our students. We are planning to work with Lane’s Assessment Team this year to develop more ways to incorporate Lane’s Core Learning Outcomes into our collaboratively-produced, task-specific rubrics.

 

 

NCHC Conference 2014

This has been a very busy day at the NCHC conference in Denver. Several panels at the conference have focused specifically on topics related to two-year colleges, and today there were meetings as well as panels. I am continually convinced that this organization and conference are valuable resources for anyone working in honors education.

This morning, I attended the Two-Year College Issues meeting run by Elaine Torda and Frank Provenzano.

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For two hours, we shared ideas, discussed challenges, and brainstormed solutions. The meeting was well-attended by directors of two-year college honors programs from around the country.

This meeting was immediately followed by the Two Year College Committee meeting, which also ran for two hours. The meeting was led by Committee Chair, Elaine Torda. The agenda included leadership issues, committee reports, articulation agreements, and conference planning for next year among other things.

I left a few minutes early to get to my panel, “Two-Year College Capstones: Transitioning Students from New to Established Scholars.” I was joined by my two fellow panelists: Alannah Rosenberg of Saddleback College and Bruce Thompson of Frederick Community College. Unfortunately, Melody Wilson of Portland Community College couldn’t attend the conference this year. Rain Freeman, an honors student at American University, moderated the panel.

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The panel went well and generated some good questions from the audience. I just hope that in the future, so many sessions focusing on two-year college issues won’t be scheduled opposite each other. There aren’t that many sessions on these issues, and it seems like they could be spread out over a few days or at least over the course of a day.

After a quick lunch and walk through downtown Denver, I returned to the hotel for the Western Regional Honors Council meeting.

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Much of the conversation centered on where the regional conferences will be held in the next few years (2015 University of Nevada, Reno; 2016 UC Riverside; 2017 Southern Oregon University). I’d like to see the conference come to Lane at some point. I also had a chance to talk with Mark Clark from the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT). We are both interested in a possible articulation agreement between our honors programs, and he will put me in touch with the person who handles these agreements for his institution. All in all, a great meeting!

Next up: the reception for the Assessment and Evaluation Committee, which met Wednesday evening. The reception is for this year’s graduates and alumni of the NCHC Summer Institute on Assessment and Evaluation.

I’m heading home tomorrow with a lot of ideas and plans after this year’s conference.

 

ePortfolio Developments

The Lane Honors Program begins its fourth year! And as the program continues to develop, so does our work with ePortfolios. The many benefits of these portfolios, including the impact they have on their creators’ critical thinking skills, make them an ideal fit for the Honors Program.

Our program benefits from the work of our two ePortfolio leads, Sarah Lushia and Eileen Thompson. Both attended the AAEEBL conference in July 2013.

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They have also made ePortfolios a central part of their honors writing courses, and they can work with other faculty who are just beginning to explore ePortfolios.

Sarah attended the AAEEBL conference again in July 2014 and gave a presentation, “Reflections on a Pedagogical Chrysalis: Incorporating ePortfolios in My Honors Writing Course.” She writes about this experience in her own ePortfolio. Building on her experiences at the conference, and the knowledge gained and ideas generated there, she launched Lane’s ePortfolio Theory Reading Group. The group is designed to build an ePortfolio community at Lane and is not limited to honors faculty. It will meet twice each term for discussion, and I’m looking forward to the first two readings Sarah has selected: “ePortfolio as a Catalyst for Change in Teaching: An Autoethnographic Examination of Transformation,” by Carson, McClam, Frank, and Hannum (for October) and “Mapping Student Learning Throughout the Collaborative Inquiry Process: The Progressive e-Poster,” by Takayama and Wilson (for November).

I’ll have more posts on ePortfolios over the next several months during what promises to be a very important year for this aspect of our Honors Program.

UPDATE: August 9, 2014: Sarah’s first ePortfolio reading group blog post is now up.

Honors For Sale

The latest issue of the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council features a forum, Honors For Sale, that considers for-profit honors organizations.

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The essays in this forum approach the topic from various perspectives and with a range of pros and cons. While there is general consensus in the essays (and in the honors community) that it is financially challenging for two-year colleges to create and sustain fully developed honors programs, there is disagreement about whether for-profit organizations such as American Honors is the best way to address this challenge. I personally am not persuaded that it is the right response for Lane.

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In reading the lead essay, “The Profit Motive in Honors Education,” I share Gary Bell’s concerns that “the company will be offering, for a hefty price, a stripped-down version of the honors experience while, if more is offered at all, local personnel will be arranging the variety of activities associated with honors while the company profits from their efforts” (25). And the dollar amount is definitely a concern. Benjamin Moritz of American Honors says that their program adds an average of $2800 per year to a student’s tuition (32), although Moritz also states that the “increase is usually low enough to keep the overall tuition close to the maximum Pell Grant amounts (emphasis added)” (32).

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Most of our students are already using their full allotment of financial aid and working to make ends meet. If we only provided an honors education to students who could afford almost $3000 extra in tuition, then I would have to concede that honors education truly is the elitist enterprise that some critics have claimed.

Nevertheless, there are aspects of American Honors worth examining, especially as our college faces decreased funding and our honors program faces challenges in the very areas that American Honors addresses. Two areas in particular, recruitment and advising, have been difficult for us. I found Lisa Avery’s discussion of the benefits experienced by Community Colleges of Spokane especially important to consider. It is one of the only actual examples of what happens when a college works with this organization, and she addresses recruitment and advising specifically. She notes that the assistance with recruitment resulted in 147 students enrolled in the program in the first year after the pilot program launched in 2012-2013, and she states that more than 700 people applied for admission to the program (36). She also describes the advising, explaining that “From the day students enroll, they are paired with an honors mentor, provided by American Honors, who is their single point of contact throughout their duration in the program” (36). Furthermore, the “mentors provide academic, personal, and intensive transfer support in a ratio of less than 100:1” (36). Moritz also describes the advising, noting that it involves “weekly contact with each student” and interventions “when red flags arise from low attendance, low grades, or financial aid issues arise” (31). These appear to be excellent benefits to the students and to the college.

As much as I would like to see our students receive more one-on-one advising, and as much as I would like to see higher numbers in response to our recruitment efforts, it is important to remember that students bear the cost of the recruitment and advising provided by American Honors. Avery acknowledges that honors students pay approximately 40% more in tuition (36), a cost that would certainly have prevented some of Lane’s best honors students from participating in the program.

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Spokane’s relationship with American Honors is also still very new, and it remains to be seen how it will evolve and what student population it will end up serving.

After reading through all of the essays in the forum, I concluded that joining with an organization such as American Honors is in conflict with our mission statement. We are the community’s college yet we would be asking students to pay a company to provide services, such as advising, that our college should provide. This isn’t partnering, as American Honors would like us to describe it. It’s outsourcing. And it’s paid for by students. It limits the people who would receive a “Lane” honors education to those who could shoulder almost $3000 more in tuition rather than including many of the exceptional people who are currently in our program or who have graduated from it. That’s a financial cost for the students and an ethical cost for the college I don’t think either can afford.

Student Voices

I am often asked what distinguishes an honors class from a non-honors class. There are many ways to answer this question, but one characteristic we have emphasized in our program is the degree to which students have ownership over what happens in class.

In the Invitation to Inquiry and Capstone seminars, students are responsible for much of what takes place each term. For instance, they choose their individual research questions in Inquiry and their group research questions in Capstone. This year’s Capstone students created idea maps when narrowing down their topics.

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In Inquiry, students participate in a two-hour, student-driven round table discussion. In Capstone, they decide on their group dynamics and group member responsibilities, and they determine the entire structure of the symposium at which they share their research findings:

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Capstone students Maria Sullivan, Mike Dann, Dakota MacColl, and Brandi Tekell in an early group-work session.

In both seminars, students discuss how their learning should be assessed and the rubrics we use are created based on their decisions. Also, each year we revise the seminars based on student feedback and suggestions.

Another way in which students impact honors courses is through the ePortfolio requirement. One of our ePortfolio leads, Sarah Lushia, teaches the honors section of WR 122, and she built a substantial ePortfolio component into her class. Last term, she invited several former students to coffee. For three hours they discussed the ePortfolio assignment and general guidelines, determining how these could be improved. She then made the changes they had discussed, which impacts how students in her class will increase their learning through the ePortfolio assignment and how all students in the program will benefit from this requirement through changes to the general guidelines.

We have extended the student ownership and input that takes place in the classroom to the administrative level, as well. As noted in a previous entry, the Honors Leadership Team included in its charter the requirement to have a student member, and our first student member, Cheyne Dandurand joined the team. Cheyne is currently creating a document outlining the specific responsibilities for this position.

Honors students are also contributing to the ways in which faculty think about Lane’s new Core Learning Outcomes:

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I’ve mentioned these CLOs in other blog entries, but here I want to discuss the honors students participation in a CLO workshop held last month. Tricia Lytton organized a panel of students who could share with faculty the ways in which they have engaged the CLOs and the impact this engagement has had on their learning experience. Cheyne, Mike, and Dakota each presented on the panel and then answered questions. Tricia had a scheduling conflict, so I moderated the panel but after all of the preparation Tricia and the students had done, little moderation was needed.

Mike recently started a blog as part of his ePortfolio, and he discusses the panel in his first post. I’ll end this entry to my own blog with Mike’s voice about his panel experience.

 

Collaborations 2014, Bonnie Simoa, Michio Ito, and Honors

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Collaborations 2014, a dance recital at Lane Community College. The program featured works by multiple choreographers and dancers. I was particularly interested to see my friend and colleague, Bonnie Simoa’s performance.

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Bonnie performed Yamada Tone Poems I & II originally choreographed by Michio Ito in 1928.

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My interest in Yamada Tone Poems I & II came in part from the fact that one aspect of my academic research involves the relationship between modernist poet, Ezra Pound, and Michio Ito, as well as their shared interest in Japanese noh drama.

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I never thought that I would see my friend perform Ito’s 1928 work on Lane’s campus in 2014. It became quickly apparent that Ito’s choreography resonated with the modernist aesthetics found in Pound’s Imagist and Vorticist poems. When I learned at the end of the evening that Ito’s work had also been performed at Lane in 2013, I was incredibly disappointed to have missed the event.

It occurred to me, however, that either of these dance recitals would have been excellent honors events. The Honors Program sponsors at least one large-scale event each term and tries to include smaller events throughout the year, although funding is a challenge as is time given the busy schedules of both students and faculty. This weekend I recognized the missed opportunity to bring students to a wonderful performance that could also demonstrate the interrelatedness of different spheres of art from a previous era, and I realized that obstacles such as funding and busy schedules need to be surmounted. I hope to initiate a conversation with our Honors Leadership Team about increasing the number of events we sponsor and the type of preparation we give the students prior to the events so that they get the most out of them.