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March 21, 2012 Volume 33, No. 25

Honors College leader encourages creativity in honors courses


Faculty has wide latitude in honors course creation

Working with gifted students and creating honors courses was the topic of a lecture March 7 in Gannett Hall by Honors College Director Nancy West.

West told 15 faculty and graduate students in attendance that teaching honors courses offers a chance to approach topics from fresh perspectives.

“It allows you to take a different angle in your teaching,” West said at the Preparing Future Faculty Program’s Professional Development Seminar.

She also addressed the challenges of developing and teaching honors courses, and explained that the point isn’t to add to the student’s workload. Courses could be about finding ways to maximize a student’s potential. 

“You might actually shrink the content of a course when making it an honors course,” West said. “That way, you can look at fewer examples or case studies, but examine them much more intensely. You get to be more in-depth in your study.”

West suggested an interdisciplinary approach to honors courses. She gave an example of a course coming in the fall created by Noah Manring, the chair of electrical and computer engineering who holds 10 U.S. patents for innovations in the field of fluid power.

In his honors course, titled “A History of Modern Engineering Inventions,” Manring combines the disciplines of engineering and business. He’ll instruct on seven engineering inventions from an entrepreneurial perspective. “An invention can’t succeed unless you have a good business sense for it,” he told her.

West said honors faculty should be deft at facilitating classroom discussion, and she encourages faculty to allow students freedom in how the courses are conducted. 

“Faculty often tell me some of their best classes are the ones where the students do most of the leading,” she said.

In addition to encouraging classroom creativity, West is committed to developing what she calls the “honors experience” — or providing learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom setting.  

She said her best memories of her honors studies as a Rutgers University undergraduate were earning credit in outside-classroom programs. 

West wants faculty to think outside the box when it comes to deciding how students attain honors credit. Students, after all, might take a graduate seminar, an honors-study-abroad program, or do field work or undergraduate research.

Currently, West is developing a list of extracurricular honors activities she plans to discus with other Honors Council members in the near future.

— Josh Murray