Faculty Information on Honors Courses
How Can I Teach An Honors Course?
Honors courses are assigned by the honors director and must be approved by your department chair. All honors courses are capped at 20 students. Most honors classes meet a requirement some part of general education. In addition to departmental honors courses, faculty should consider teaching HNRS 310 (Honors Seminar). The HNRS 310 seminars take a multifaceted approach to a non-traditional subject, an interdisciplinary theme, or a topic relevant to contemporary issues. Honors students from different majors bring their own disciplinary perspectives to bear on the topic selected by the instructor. Seminar topics vary across instructors and semesters.
Should I Teach My Honors Course Differently Than A Non-Honors Course?
Yes and no.
Yes, the course should be different in that you should identify what you believe is the best way to get academically mature students interested in your discipline. Be creative and have fun.
No, the course should not be different in its overall level of difficulty. Students receive the same credit for an honors course as a non-honors course. Honors courses need not be overly demanding, but they should be engaging.
What Can I Expect From My Honors Students?
- Honors students are expected to have excellent attendance.
- Honors students are expected to come to class with assignments complete. If they did not understand the assignment, they are expected to ask you questions.
- Honors students are expected to participate.
What Can I NOT Expect From My Honors Students?
- Honors students are not expected to be geniuses (lucky for us, neither are we).
- Honors students are not expected to know everything we'd like them to know before the course starts. As with non-honors students, background knowledge will vary.
- Honors students are not expected to hang on every word that leaves the professor's mouth. Students vary in their intrinsic interest for a given discipline.
Where Are Honors Courses Taught?
Many honors courses are taught in the basement of the Floyd residence hall. Access to this classrooms is obtained through the front door and inside staircase during regular business hours. Faculty needing elevator access should contact the Honors College office.
Faculty Information on Honors Contracts
Students might approach you at the beginning of the semester and inquire if they are able "to contract your course for honors credit." Although you are not required to allow an honors contract for your course, we hope you will consider it. Typically, honors contracts allow students to explore an aspect of your course that is especially interesting to them. This could include going into greater depth on an existing topic or exploring a topic that wouldn't be covered by the other students. Although the honors students should offer ideas for what they would like to do, you should guide the student and identify something that is agreeable to both of you.
Students are required to complete an Honors Contract Form. This form includes details of the contract and is signed by you. The student should supply the form and complete any required information. This form should be completed, signed, and submitted to the Honors College office (by the student) during the first few weeks of the semester.
More details about honors contracts from the student perspective (including examples) can be found on the honors contract page.
How Much Work Should An Honors Contract Be?
Students receive the same amount of credit for honors and non-honors courses, so honors contracts should not be about simply piling-on more work. Some contracts involve an additional assignment, whereas other contracts substitute an honors assignment in place of an assignment in the syllabus. The rule-of-thumb is that honors contracts should represent 5-10% of the total points for the course. We usually conceptualize this as "bigger than a quiz and smaller than a major exam." Our goal is to give honors students a more engaging educational experience and honors contracts are crucial for achieving this goal. So when at all possible, make the contract interesting, not drudgery.
How Does The Contract Relate To The Grading Criteria For The Course?
This decision is left to the faculty member. Some faculty grade the contract assignment and incorporate that grade into the overall course grade. Other faculty simply require that the contract is completed, but only grade the student on the criteria outlined in the syllabus.
What's In It For Me?
You are not required to allow a student to contract with your course, but we see it as a great opportunity. Honors students are typically more motivated and academically engaged than other students. This is an opportunity to work closely with such students, the vast majority of whom will be majoring in your discipline (most honors contracts are for major courses). Faculty often find such student interactions to be among the most rewarding aspects of their professional lives.
Okay, I Agreed To The Honors Contract. Now What?
Ultimately, the student is responsible for meeting the expectations of the honors contract. However, encouragement and mentorship from you is welcome. Regular meetings with the student might be important for keeping him or her on track.
At the end of the semester you will receive an email from the Honors College office asking whether the student completed the contract. Please respond as soon as you are able so that we can tell the registrar which student completed their honors contracts. If the student needs additional time to complete the contract, please let us know as soon as possible.
Faculty Information for Honors Capstone Projects
An honors student could ask you to be his or her faculty mentor for an honors capstone project. Although you do not need to accept this request, we hope you will strongly consider it. Typically, such a request means that the student has recognized you as providing an outstanding educational experience in the past. Being an honors capstone mentor will provide an opportunity for collaboration with one of the university's most talented students. If you agree to be an honors capstone mentor, we hope you will make it an engaging, interesting, and even FUN experience for you and the student.
To complete an honors capstone, the student must first complete the honors capstone proposal form, which can be found in the honors offices. This typically occurs in the semester before the student hopes to begin work on the project. Thus, most students will contact you during the spring semester of their junior year. Once the project is developed, the student will also register for 3 credit-hours of honors capstone credit with you (e.g., PSYC 488, BIOL 488, ECON 488) during one of the semesters that he or she is working on the project. Students typically take 1-2 months to plan the project and then an academic year to complete the project (the 488 credits can be taken either semester).
What Are My Responsibilities As A Faculty Mentor?
Honors capstone mentors guide the student on his or her capstone project and determine that it has been completed. Although we hope you will help with motivation, attentiveness, and problem-solving, the honors capstone is ultimately the responsibility of the student.
Honors students are required to present the results of their capstone project at conference (often, but not always, the Radford Student Engagement Forum). Honors capstones mentors should guide the student's abstract submission and development of the presentation. Guidance in professional standards for your discipline is often useful.
What Are the Characteristics of an Honors Capstone?
The honors capstone should be a culminating, scholarly experience that is appropriate for an undergraduate in the student's major. The project might be a thesis, a creative work, or an empirical research project as long as the work is not one that is regularly required by one's major.
The goal of the honors capstone is to demonstrate increasingly independent scholarship in the student’s discipline(s). We define “scholarship” as the integration of a new idea or perspective into the existing body of knowledge for discipline or disciplines. This new idea could take many forms, including examples such as a thesis statement, a scientific hypothesis, a novel application, or a creative vision. This "new" idea need not be completely original or novel in every sense of the word. Indeed, 99% of all scholarship is built upon past work. As such, the honors capstones will often simply provide a fresh perspective or novel approach to existing issues in a field. Examples of past capstones can be found on our student capstone page.
Student activities such as internships, student teaching, and study abroad do NOT represent scholarship in one's discipline in-and-of themselves. Therefore these activities alone cannot constitute one's honors capstone (even though they certainly constitute essential educational experiences). However, such settings could provide opportunities for work that are not available on campus and which might contribute substantially to one's capstone project.
What Products Should the Student Provide to Document Completion of the Honors Capstone?
Ultimately, each faculty mentor is responsible for assigning a grade that indicates completion of the honors capstone. Students should, however, have the following components for their capstone:
- A public presentation on the capstone, preferably at a research conference (e.g, Radford Student Engagment Forum, honors conference, or conference in the student's discipline).
- A result of the capstone project. For example:
- Written report of an experiment or research paper
- Computer program
- Creative writing
- Audio or video recording of a performance
- An image of visual art
- Written report of an experiment or research paper
- A written reflective critique of the capstone project. The goal is for the student to articulate 1) the strengths and limitations of the project, and 2) how the project result fits within the existing scholarly or creative work for the discipline. Note that such reflective critiques are already included within many research reports (i.e., discussion sections). Examples of reflective critiques vary by discipline, but examples include:
- Discussion sections of research or experiment reports
- Theoretical analyses of creative works
- Artistic critiques of performance pieces
- Personal reflections on the success of interventions