Monday, August 15, 2005

 

Honors, Plums, and Unintended Consequences

Timna raised a disturbing point in the comments following my cry for help on Honors programs. If an honors program at a cc is structured in a ‘modular’ way – that is, the honors component can be added to any given course, if the student does approved extra work and achieves a given grade – are we essentially asking the faculty to take on more unpaid work? (Timna raised the point in the context of adjuncts, where the issue is particularly acute, but I could imagine some full-time faculty making the same point.)

As it is now, the program at my cc relies on specific sections with smaller sizes, so the faculty see honors classes as plums – better students, less grading. If a kid going for honors simply meant still more papers to plow through, would the faculty be more hesitant? (Would the plum become a prune?) Note to the folks at schools with programs set up this way – does faculty buy-in become a problem?

(The alternative is even worse. Imagine if we paid a stipend for each honors student, to compensate for the extra work. The grade inflation would set records!)

On a related note, how much extra work does it take to earn an honors designation? If there’s tremendous variation from section to section, the integrity of the designation could come into question. How is this handled across multiple sections of the same class?

Inquiring deans want to know...

Comments:
This was an issue at my previous school, b/c one model for honors courses was an add-on to regular courses (i.e. honors students could take a regular class for honors credit). The problem was exactly how to make the "honors" portion different from the rest - and the explicit expectation was that honors work should be *different* from non-honors, not just more. So faculty were explicitly supposed to work out something *other* than just giving honors students more work. (I think this was more about the school's vision of honors than much concern for the faculty, though!) It was quite difficult, and as you point out, very difficult to keep equitable across sections, so our school (which wasn't a cc, just to be clear) moved to stand-alone interdisciplinary seminars for the honors courses. Of course, the logistics of offering *those* were fairly difficult, too (they were team-taught, and the big debate was whether they'd count as regular teaching load or if you had to offer them as an overload). But yes, the add-on model was a little bit of a drag for the faculty (our honors program was very small so it was never large number of students at a time, but it was usually seen as extra work).
 
An interesting question for the CC is not how to organize an honors program, but WHY do you want one in the first place? What value is added to the graduate? Will the 4 yr college or university value the transcripts they are receiving? Will the employer give preferential treatment to the graduate?

The sooner higher education moves the focus away from the faculty and toward the students, the sooner our craft will be valued and supported in this society. It is vital that we become learning centered, rather than teaching centered.
 
Timna's questions are good, particularly the one one she raises about amount of work and compensation. I can't answer that as I tend to teach at the other end of the spectrum, in developmental. I do know that adjuncts wouldn't be asked to take on a course with a honors component. Our adjuncts teach the regular comp courses--and are limited to teaching only 15 hours per academic year. We don't have any fulltime adjuncts doing the kind of work that Timna does. I'll find out about the other issue--prep time and compensation.
 
I'm in the middle of a re-imagining of our honors program at my uni (not a CC, but a 4-year state university that is, importantly, open-enrollment). The honors program has traditionally split the difference between being its own little entity and being an add-on "component." We're addressing the "honors component" option for many of the reasons you lay out here, and are interested in adding a 4th credit hour option to some courses (I'm actually opposed to this, but oh well).

I'm interested to see how this pans out for you. Thanks for making this discussion public.
 
DD et al, here's a link to my school's Honors Program.

http://www.montgomerycollege.edu/advantage/honors/

Again, I teach at the other end of things, so I may not be the person to talk to, but our coordinator , DeeDee Aleccia, is a wonderful person to contact.
 
The sooner higher education moves the focus away from the faculty and toward the students, the sooner our craft will be valued and supported in this society. It is vital that we become learning centered, rather than teaching centered.
 
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