Thankfully, there is no single answer to this question. The specific qualities that make an Honors course may vary widely from discipline to discipline and professor to professor. Therefore, the following criteria are general guidelines, not prescriptive policies.
Perhaps the only definitive statement that can be made about Honors courses is that they should be qualitatively different than non-honors courses. This difference should not be based on simply assigning more work, be it pages to write or problems to solve. Rather, the Honors difference should be substantially designed throughout three broad and interrelated course elements: structure, content, and assignments.
When the Mahurin Honors College considers a proposal for a departmental Honors course, it looks for specific evidence that the course will have some of the characteristics listed below in order to create a substantial Honors experience for students. The points below are meant to serve as general starting points and aid in the creative process of designing an Honors course. They are not intended to be prescriptive and limiting, and we do not expect any single course to feature all of these traits.
Because of the prevalence of online courses and remote content delivery systems, it is important to briefly state why the Mahurin Honors College requires that all Honors courses be taught through face-to-face instruction. The Mahurin Honors College realizes that online and remote courses can have high academic quality and can possess many of the criteria listed above. However, the Mahurin Honors College’s mission is to create for its students a small, closely interpersonal, high-achieving environment akin to those found at the nation’s best small colleges. The Mahurin Honors College’s commitment to this type of intellectual community is found in its housing, programming, staffing and classes. Online and other remote-access courses, while suitable for some institutions that have different goals than the Mahurin Honors College, are not compatible with the nature of our small-college community.
Honors Colloquia bring the form and style of a small, collaborative seminar to Mahurin Honors College students for a challenging and distinctive academic experience. There are four key ingredients that make Honors Colloquia qualitatively different from other courses offered in the Mahurin Honors College and at WKU: an emphasis on active discussion rather than lecture; critical-thinking based writing assignments rather than exams and quizzes; the use of primary documents instead of textbooks; and an innovative, interdisciplinary subject matter. With these distinct features, an Honors Colloquium will challenge and engage students with the course material, with the professor, and with one another, for a unique academic experience that is at the heart of an Honors College education.
HEECs allow departments more flexibility in offering Honors courses and create more Honors options for students in the major or minor. HEECs can only be offered in upper-division courses.
The best way to think about HEECs is to consider them similar in organization to a split-section graduate/undergraduate courses: physically there is one “class” that meets with the same teacher during the same class times, but there are two sets of syllabi and two different sections being conducted. The class instruction is necessarily the same, but for the “embedded” Honors section there are added opportunities and responsibilities that make the class an Honors experience.
Of course, it varies greatly for different disciplines, courses, and professors, but the nature of the HEEC necessitates that the students have some sort of enriched experience outside of the classroom that improves the quality and depth of their knowledge of the course. This could be through additional assignments, more sophisticated assignments, more sophisticated course material, oral presentations, different methods of grading, special trips or activities, group work, or even special meetings with the professor outside of the scheduled class times (such as scheduled discussion groups).
They key is that while the classroom experience for the HEEC and non-HEEC sections will be very similar, if not identical, the HEEC’s out-of-class work needs to provide a creative, active and enriched learning experience for the students. Often faculty will reduce the in-class assignments to create space for more inventive Honors projects/assignments.
HEECs are the prerogative of the professor’s home department and thus must be accepted by the department chair. They are not a new course number, just a new course section, and thus they do not have to go before the University Curriculum Committee.
The Honors College does not provide professors with extra compensation for a HEEC; however, individual colleges or departments may provide some compensation. Also, there are many nonmonetary advantages to offering a HEEC. A HEEC does not increase the cap of a course. The HEEC is advantageous to professors because they can attract Honors students to your course, provide a stimulating classroom environment, provide professors with engaging and creative pedagogical opportunities and potentially increase the number of Honors students majoring or minoring in the department.
As you propose and develop your HEECs, please notify the Academics Director in the Mahurin Honors College so we can advertise your HEEC to the Honors students and discuss with you activities and assignments to complement your HEEC.