The Honors College is developing draft curriculum plans for discussion this fall semester. All of the plans share these core commitments:
Alternative GE = Shared Goals. Whatever the curriculum, Honors will still pursue the nine GE program skills outcomes, which also function as institution-level undergraduate SLOs. We also embrace the core mission of the GE program: to provide “a broad-based liberal education experience that fosters lifelong learning and informed citizenship” and “prepares students for intelligent participation in public dialogues that consider the issues of humane living and responsible action in local, national, and global communities.”
Honors as Experience, Not Credential. We tell prospective students that the Honors College is for students who want to make the most of their GVSU experience. It’s for students who want to engage deeply in their classes, explore multiple interests, work closely with faculty, get active on campus, and explore the world off campus. It’s not for students looking to find the quickest path to graduation or simply an impressive line on their résumé. While we want our interdisciplinary curriculum to be an efficient alternative to the disciplinary GE program of 35-41 credits, we have developed plans of 27 or 28 credits, which is the upper end of the current program that ranges from 16-36 credits, with most students completing 22-28. Part of our effort is to create more of a four-year experience in Honors, including a stronger second-year experience and a bulked-up senior project.
The I’s. In addition to the GE SLOs, we have tentatively settled on a handful of core values, all represented by I-words: Inquiry, Integrity, Inclusion, Interdisciplinarity, Innovation, and Internationalization. These values embody the “Live, Learn, Lead” motto of the Honors College and capture the essential qualities of effective citizens and leaders. Our intention is to ask the faculty of every Honors course to articulate how they incorporate these values—as content, skills, or both—into their syllabus.
Community Engagement. We want to support and promote our students’ engagement with communities on campus and beyond, so one curricular component we’re committed to is some kind of credit-bearing community engagement requirement.
Problem- or Project-Based Learning. As the Brooks College website says, “The most complex issues of the world—environmental stewardship, human rights, poverty, and the migration of people, to name a few—can only be addressed effectively if we pose questions, test hypotheses, and apply knowledge from different perspectives.” Project-based learning is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to produce an artifact (a work of art, a structure, a program, etc.), and problem-based learning is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve open-ended problems. Both ways of learning align with professional practice. They include expectations of project management, professional behavior, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and innovation. All of our draft plans have included a PBL component.
Public Presentation. Many of our students already make their best work public by presenting on Student Scholars Day, at the Summer Scholars Showcase, or at local, regional, national, or international conferences—or by publishing in a journal or on a website. We’d like to ensure that all of our students work toward some kind of showcase of their work, so each of our plans incorporates that requirement in connection with the senior project.
Connect. Engage. Deepen. Apply. As we worked through the summer, we came to think of these four words as the best representation of the “arc” of a great Honors curriculum. “Connect” refers both to participating in a cohort of students during the first year and making social and intellectual connections around campus. “Engage” refers to the intellectual stretching that students need to do in order to experience the full breadth of a liberal education. “Deepen” reflects our commitment to supporting undergraduate research and the process of digging into one’s studies both inside and outside of the major. “Apply” reflects our ultimate commitment to a practical education that helps students impact their local, national, and global communities. These four terms also reflect our sense of the faculty commitment to Honors: by agreeing to teach in Honors, faculty commit to connecting professionally and intellectually with students, engaging fully in the Honors College experience by participating in co-curricular and extra-curricular programming, deepening their own scholarly and professional interests in Honors education, and helping students apply what they’ve learned and experienced during their time at GVSU to their lives beyond graduation.
Revision Background and Timetable
The Frederik Meijer Honors College is in transition. In March 2017, the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) conducted a program review, and while the team praised many aspects of the current Honors College, including its innovative first-year interdisciplinary sequences, it also made some important recommendations to improve FMHC’s governance structure, curriculum, visibility, student governance structure, and alumni connections. In July 2017, longtime director Dr. Jeff Chamberlain left for the Hicks Honors College at the University of North Florida. Dr. Roger Gilles was named interim director, and Dr. Coeli Fitzpatrick began a term as chair of the Honors faculty. Together with the full-time faculty and staff of the FMHC and under the direction of the dean of the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Fitzpatrick and Gilles are leading an effort to revise the Honors curriculum in time for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
A note to current students: Students always have the right to stick with the catalog requirements of their entering year, so you will not be affected by the revisions unless you choose to be. FMHC advisors are available to any current or prospective Honors student to discuss curricular requirements and options.
What Has Already Happened
Governance Structure: In Fall 2017, the FMHC followed NCHC recommendations and revised its internal governance structure by clarifying administrative roles and reducing its primary oversight committees from three to two:
- The Honors Faculty Council (HFC) is chaired by Dr. Fitzpatrick, and its members include all tenured and tenure-track faculty in Honors as well as all faculty-in-residence. The FMHC director is ex officio. The HFC’s primary responsibilities include setting personnel standards and policies for the Honors College, conducting personnel reviews of full-time Honors faculty, developing curricular and pedagogical standards and guidelines for the Honors College, and conducting regular unit assessments and strategic planning for the program.
- The Honors Curriculum and Development Committee (HCDC) is also chaired by Dr. Fitzpatrick, and its members include five elected faculty representatives from CLAS, one faculty representative each from BCOIS, CCPS, COE, CHP, KCON, PCEC, SCOB, and University Libraries, three HFC representatives, two Honors students, and the Meijer endowed chair. The FMHC director is ex officio. The HCDC’s primary responsibilities include developing curriculum in accordance with the standards and guidelines established in consultation with the HFC, giving suggestions and advice on direction for Honors in the university, recruiting prospective faculty to propose courses and/or teach in existing courses, reviewing and approving curriculum proposals submitted by faculty, and developing student opportunities and outreach. Click here for 2018-19 membership on these two committees.
Curriculum: A key NCHC recommendation was for the FMHC to move away from the General Education “replacement model” whereby all its courses and outcomes are tied explicitly to GVSU’s disciplinary-based General Education curriculum. Instead, the NCHC recommended thinking of the Honors curriculum as an alternative to GE—that is, as a different way of achieving the same broad goals.
In December 2017 and January 2018, Fitzpatrick and Gilles consulted with the dean of Brooks College, the director of GE, the chair of GEC, the chair of UCC, and representatives from the provost’s office to discuss the viability of loosening the strict equivalencies between the Honors and GE curricula. As a result, GEC “agreed that the Honors Program should completely separate from the GE Program” (GEC Year-End Report). It’s important to note that Honors will still be required to pursue the nine GE program skills outcomes, which also function as institution-level undergraduate student learning outcomes.
This past year, HFC also worked to address the recent proliferation of first-year Honors courses. As of Fall 2017, Honors had ten first-year sequences in the catalog (38 separate courses) and another nine (30 separate course proposals) at various stages of approval in SAIL, the curriculum development system. The sheer number of courses made the curriculum difficult to summarize to prospective and incoming students and obscured the overarching purposes of the first-year sequences within the overall curriculum. It also seemed an unsustainable model for growth.
HFC pulled all the SAIL proposals and began the process of restructuring the first-year sequences along the lines of our variable-topic junior seminars. That is, we intend to create a single set of container courses (e.g., HNR 151, 152, 153, and 154) and offer individual first-year sequences as sections of these courses, with the topics clearly identified in Banner and on our website. This plan has two main benefits:
- It will create greater unity among the first-year sequences, as all will adhere to the overarching syllabus of record of the numbered courses. The syllabus of record will, of course, reflect much of what is already happening in the sequences—plus whatever changes may be proposed as part of the larger revisions.
- It will allow for more flexibility and evolution of sequence topics. Currently, all new sequences (and changes to sequences) need to go through SAIL, but in the future all individual sequence proposals will just have to be approved by HCDC, which will be responsible for making sure all sequences adhere to the syllabus of record.
In both Fall 2017 and Winter 2018, at the request of Dean Hiskes and Interim Director Gilles, Professor Linda Chamberlain, the Meijer Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, challenged her Design Thinking junior seminar students to respond to the NCHC report and its recommendations for the Honors College. A handful of key student perspectives emerged that we would like to keep in mind as we proceed:
- Students would like to be more explicitly guided into the Honors curriculum and even into their career options.
- They’d like to see more consistency of rigor across sequences and courses.
- They’d like to see more connections with their post-baccalaureate lives and careers.
- They’d like to have more opportunities for community service, study abroad, study away, and/or field experiences—i.e., getting out into the world.
- They’d like to feel more connected to Honors throughout their time at Grand Valley.
The student curricular proposals varied, of course, but they clearly showed that Honors students value flexibility (variable-credit courses, more pathways or choices), cultural competency (community engagement, study away, study abroad), and a more “real-world” or skills-oriented approach generally.
Finally, over the course of 2017-18, HFC also engaged in discussions about the core vision of the Honors College—a working vision, if you will, that might guide the revision process. These discussions were guided in part by trips to two national Honors conferences and the insights of the Design Thinking students, as well as by the current Honors College assessment and strategic planning documents.
As we embark on the curriculum revision process, we agree on a handful of basic principles and guidelines:
- We affirm the stated mission of the Honors College: to inspire and empower motivated students to be intellectually-curious lifelong learners who make positive contributions to their local and global communities, and serve as capable leaders and active global citizens.
- We aim to graduate Honors students who are curious, ethical, engaged, and collaborative.
- In terms of Honors-specific student learning outcomes, we have tentatively settled on what we’re calling the Five I’s: Inquiry, Integrity, Interdisciplinarity, Innovation, and Internationalization. Together, these five outcomes embody the “Live, Learn, Lead” motto of the Honors College and capture the essential qualities of effective citizens and leaders.
- We also believe that the nine GE skills outcomes—written communication, oral communication, information literacy, quantitative literacy, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, collaboration, problem solving, and integration—are embedded in our mission and in the Five I’s.
What Is Happening Now
To prepare for and facilitate a university-wide conversation about potential changes to the Honors curriculum, HFC has established a spring/summer exploratory task force chaired by Dr. Fitzpatrick. Its members are Ellen Adams, Jeremiah Cataldo, Kurt Ellenberger, Coeli Fitzpatrick, Roger Gilles, Meg Marshall, Kelly McDonell, Amy McFarland, Jane Toot, and Peter Wampler. The committee has four charges: 1) interview people from around campus, and a few off campus, about the Honors College and interesting curricular possibilities; 2) investigate Honors curricula from around the country for ideas; 3) research the Five I’s to learn more about each term as a potential foundation of the program; and 4) develop several contrasting curricular models for initial discussion around the university in Fall 2018.
If you would like to share your own ideas about the current Honors College and possibilities for its curriculum, please contact any of the task force members.
What to Expect in 2018-19
Look for an Honors session at the Fall FTLC Conference. We expect to initiate discussion of the core values and outcomes of the Honors College and share our draft curricular models for consideration.
Over the course of the fall semester, we’ll prompt discussion in a number of ways:
- In the Honors Curriculum and Development Committee (HCDC), with its elected representatives from around campus.
- In CLAS units historically invested in teaching in Honors: Classics, English, History, and Modern Languages and Literatures.
- At invited meetings of all Honors-affiliated faculty (those who have taught in Honors).
- At colleges with a high number of Honors majors: KCON, PCEC, and SCOB.
- At open forums for all faculty and staff.
- At the Provost’s Cabinet or other appropriate administrative groups.
In November 2018, six or seven Honors faculty and staff will attend the NCHC conference in Boston, both to report on our revision activities and to gather more ideas and information from other colleges and universities.
In early winter 2019, after gathering feedback from around campus, HFC will draft a single proposal, including conceptual foundations, a curriculum map, new and revised SORs, an assessment plan, etc., for HCDC consideration and approval.
HCDC will then post the proposal on the FMHC website for any further feedback before submitting a final version to the Brooks College Curriculum Committee as the first step in the formal faculty governance process.
Your Input Is Always Welcome
Now or at any time during the revision process, if you have questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and your message will be forwarded to the task force.
September 13 Update
The Honors Curriculum Task Force produced three curricular plans over the summer, each emphasizing a different core commitment or NCHC recommendation (see below): Plan A emphasized campus and community engagement; Plan B included departmental Honors courses; and Plan C emphasized individual and collaborative research. Our intention is to initiate a campus-wide conversation of multiple plans, continue to revise them based on feedback, and end the fall semester with a consensus around a single plan--either a version of one of the the original plans or some kind of combination.
At a breakout session of the FTLC Conference August 22, several members of the Honors Faculty Council (HFC) presented the initial Plans A, B, and C. On September 5, the Honors Curriculum and Development Committee (HCDC) discussed "version 2" of each plan--revised based on the FTLC discussion. Then on Friday, September 7, those same versions were discussed at an open meeting for all Honors Associates. The HFC continues to revise and update the plans. We should have "version 3" of each plan--perhaps all three, or perhaps just two--ready for discussion at the next HCDC meeting September 19. At that point, we believe it will be time to publish the plans here and start the campus-wide conversation we've been anticipating for some time. Our focus right now is on creating the best plans possible to share with the full campus community as soon as possible.