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Teaching Honors Seminars

HON seminars offer faculty members the opportunity to explore new frontiers in teaching and research. This could be the opportunity to teach a new topic or an old topic from a new perspective. An HON seminar could be a pilot for the development of a new course, it could lead to a book, it could be developed as part of a grant proposal (perhaps to satisfy “broadened impact” requirements of an NSF grant), or it could be a way to involve undergraduates as a group in some aspect of a professor’s research program.

Basic characteristics of HON seminars

As a foundational component to the program’s mission of enabling UHP students to engage in the knowledge-building and creative activities of the NC State faculty, all HON seminars will have some combination of the following characteristics:

1: Interdisciplinary

In the context of HON seminars, interdisciplinarity is manifested in two ways. On one hand, it involves contested space. HON seminars seek to examine problems, questions, or issues that are the focus and territory of several disciplines. On the other hand, it approaches those problems, questions, or issues leveraging the insights and perspectives of several fields. In this way, it seeks to go beyond the limits of any singular discipline to yield something new.[1]

2: Holistic

Whatever the topic, HON seminars should present a holistic view of the subject matter that involves thinking about the problem, issue, or concept as part of a complete system. The subject matter should not be presented for its own sake, but in its relation to other fields and in the context of its social, political, ethical, and cultural implications.

3: Discussion-focused

HON seminars should be grounded in authentic dialogical engagement between and among the students. This means that decisions about what counts as an important topic or idea in the course of the seminar is – in whole or part – determined by the students. Additionally, such a space requires that understanding is mutually created by the group, rather than found by the students or given to students by the instructor.  This yields an environment, perhaps uncomfortable at times, in which the teacher gives up some, or all, of her authority to control the content and form of the discussion.[2]

4: Reading-intensive

The reading intensity of HON seminars characterizes both their breadth and depth. While all HON seminars should be generally accessible without any background in the field, students are expected to engage at a high level with primary source material.

5: Inquiry-based

In keeping with the mission of the program, all HON seminars should have a strong, definable connection to disciplinary methods and approaches. The inquiry-based nature of the seminars should take two forms.  In the first instance, students should spend time critically and reflectively examining the nature of the discipline or disciplines in which they are situated. They should understand what it means to conduct research in that field. In the second instance, HON seminars should engage students in the purposeful application of those methods in some meaningful way with the goal of constructing some piece of new knowledge.

6: Pedagogically innovative

One of the defining characteristics of any honors program is its ability to incubate educationally innovative practices. HON seminars should be spaces that foster and encourage innovative instruction, marked by inspiration, risk-taking, novel approaches, flexibility, and responsiveness.

First-year HON seminars

The HON 202 series is a special subset of the HON seminars that are targeted specifically at first-year students. Therefore, in addition to the six aforementioned criteria, all HON 202 series seminars should hold the following characteristics:

7: Writing-intensive

The UHSP defines writing-intensive courses as those in which:

(a) writing assignments are an integral, ongoing part of the course and constitute a substantial (40% or more) part of the final course grade;

(b) there are at least three distinct writing assignments spread throughout the semester;

(c) student formal and informal writing for the course constitutes no fewer than 5,000 words.

8: Co-curricular connection

The first-year courses also enable a common introduction to the goals of the University Honors Program and, more specifically, to help entering students understand and become meaningfully engaged with the life of the mind. For this reason, each of the HON 202 instructors have been assigned an Honors Village Fellow – an upperclassmen peer mentor – whose responsibility it is to work with the faculty find ways to connect and extend the course outside the context of the classroom.   Each faculty member of a first-year seminar is, then, expected to allow their Fellow to take on some aspect of leadership in this course, as well as to engage in no fewer than two out-of-class experiences with the students in their course. The cost of such experiences are covered by the Honors program.

[1]  Repko, A. F. (2011). Interdisciplinary research: Process and theory. Sage Publications. (pp. 5-6)

[2] Billings, L., & Fitzgerald, J. (2002). Dialogic discussion and the Paideia seminar. American Educational Research Journal, 39(4), 907-941. (pp. 908-909).