Tag Archives: seminars

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.

 

Rethinking Honors Research Papers

After a library workshop for the Honors Invitation to Inquiry Seminar last week, the honors librarian, Jen Klaudinyi, sent me a link to an article by Marc Bousquet in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Keep the Research, Ditch the Paper.” Jen said it resonated with the approach to research we were taking in the honors seminar. It did, and I agreed with many of Bousquet’s points. He encourages faculty to have students “address real research questions, and to compose in the same wide range of media actually used by scholars and professional writers.” He also notes that, while this doesn’t require throwing out the research paper altogether, it “might mean elbowing it to the side, and reimagining it as part of a broad band of complex, carefully composed professional communications.” This certainly is consistent with the approach we are taking in our honors seminars.

While the seminar students do pose research questions, write prospectuses, find and evaluate sources, create annotated bibliographies, and ultimately answer their research questions, they do not write a research paper. Instead, they write a thesis-driven reflective essay and participate in a two-hour round table discussion. In both of these activities, they address not only the research process but ALSO the critical thinking they engaged in while undertaking academic research.

Much of Bousquet’s article is actually his response to a piece published last December by Rebecca Schuman on Slate, “The End of the College Essay, An Essay.” Schuman (who it turns out is the daughter of my former Clark Honors College colleague, Sharon Schuman, and the niece of honors educator, Samuel Schuman, whose work informed the design of the Lane Honors Program) satirically argues that we should throw out the traditional college paper: “We don’t have to assign papers (emphasis hers), and we should stop. We need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure.” Instead of papers, Schuman argues for a “return to old-school, hardcore exams, written and oral (emphasis hers).” She states that students plagiarize, buy their papers, or write papers with a focus on page count rather than on constructing thoughtful arguments. According to Bousquet, Schuman’s ideas so outraged academics around the country that many of them began calling for her termination from her position as an adjunct instructor.

I have to say that not every instructor or program takes the approach to writing Schuman criticizes, and Bousquet accurately points out that the fields of rhetoric and composition are ahead of many other fields in designing new approaches to the college research paper.

In terms of honors education, rethinking how to teach research without the traditional paper is an area in which honors classes can and should make a contribution. Honors classes are places where faculty can try out new pedagogical approaches and engage students in discussions about the old and new approaches. We’ve taken that step in our honors seminars by creating interdisciplinary research classes that, without the traditional paper, contribute to students’ ability to meet Lane’s five Core Learning Outcomes: Think Critically, Engage Diverse Values with Civic and Ethical Awareness, Create Ideas and Solutions, Communicate Effectively, and Apply Learning. They also engage the students in conversations exactly like the ones taking place on Slate and The Chronicle, which is why the Invitation to Inquiry students will be reading both the Schuman and the Bousquet pieces next week. If the ensuing discussion goes the way of our past discussions, I suspect they will have some pretty cogent ideas about how our future seminars might want to approach scholarly research, ways that will probably build on and diverge from what we’ve asked them to do this term.

 

Honors Seminars Panel at NCHC

This morning I participated on a panel discussing honors seminars for two-year colleges. Each of us described the seminars offered by our schools and considered the pros and cons of these approaches.

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Preparing for the panel with (from left) Al Golden, Patricia Jones, and Erik Ozolins

The following are brief overviews of the presentations:

Al Golden (Joliet Junior College in Illinois) explained that their seminars are listed as forums. These optional seminars are designed to work with and around the many things two-year college students negotiate in addition to coursework (families, jobs, etc.). They range from an initial orientation in August to a wide range of field trips held at different times and days during the semester to make them accessible more students. Families are welcome and the school covers much of the cost of the trips.

Patricia Jones (Polk State College in Florida) described her program’s 1-credit seminars. They offer three different seminars each term. They run sequentially for five weeks each and are one credit. Students can take any or all of the seminars. Many students in her program join in their second year at the college, and she explained that the seminars not only provide fun, intellectual content. They also make it possible for students to earn the required 18 credits to complete the program even if they start later in their time at the school.

Erik Ozolins (Mt. San Jacinto College in California) presented information on the 3-credit seminars that are divided into three categories: science, social science, and humanities. They are interdisciplinary, once-a-week classes that are only open to students in the program. They are also the only honors-only classes at the college. Half of each session is a lecture by the instructor of record or often a lecture from another faculty member on campus. The second half of the class is small group discussion.

The panel presentations concluded with my description of Lane’s seminar sequence that I’ve discussed in an earlier post. Our sequence of two 4-credit seminars is open only to honors students and focuses on research. Invitation to Inquiry emphasizes thinking critically about the research process and involves individual research projects. Honors Capstone Seminar focuses on group research projects and culminates in a student-led symposium where the students present their research findings and invite experts in the field to participate.

Listening to the different presentations and the questions posed by audience members reinforced for me the need to tailor honors seminars to the needs of the specific college and its students. Each of my colleagues had clearly thought through what was needed at their institutions and what would best benefit their students. We were also reminded by our various challenges and successes that these classes are works in progress that benefit from continual review, and there were elements from each seminar structure – field trips, working with students who don’t have the full two years to complete the program, and guest lectures – that I think we could incorporate, or already do incorporate, into Lane’s seminars.