Academic journal article Honors in Practice

An Honors Pilot Course: Cross-Cultural Service and Inquiry-Based Learning in Merida, Mexico

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

An Honors Pilot Course: Cross-Cultural Service and Inquiry-Based Learning in Merida, Mexico

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The guiding document for Kent State University's Honors College, "The Nature of an Honors Course," describes some of the unique aspects that set Honors courses apart from non-Honors courses. We expect an Honors course to be an experience and a process; we encourage students to take initiatives in determining the directions of the courses. One of our driving goals is to find ways to help students extract more intellectual value out of their university experiences, and the cross-cultural pilot course in Merida, Mexico described here was designed with that goal in mind.

BACKGROUND

As part of Kent State University's commitment to the Academic Quality Improvement Project (AQIP), which was initiated by the North Central Association/ Higher Learning Commission as an experimental accreditation process in 2001, each college at our institution was charged to review priorities and establish action projects. One of the three AQIP Action Projects our Honors College set forth for the first three years (2002-2005) was to recruit more students for off-campus learning experiences such as study abroad and the National Student Exchange program. The course "Cross-Cultural Service and Inquiry-Based Learning in Merida, Mexico" was one of the more interesting and exciting developments that not only aligned well with our action project but also satisfied several of the criteria set forth in "The Nature of an Honors Course."

RATIONALE

Three questions motivated the instructor of the pilot course and the Honors College coordinator of curriculum to collaborate in the design and implementation of a pilot course at Kent State University: (1) What motivates students to engage in learning across cultures and languages? (2) What strategies do students employ to negotiate across language and cultural barriers? (3) What types of learning experiences could we provide that would help students to be aware of the global influences on their future professions and also the effect of their actions on a global community?

DESCRIPTION OF THE PILOT COURSE

Honors students from various disciplines participated in the learning experience provided by the pilot course. The disciplines of the nine enrolled students included anthropology, biology and pre-med, psychology, broadcast journalism, visual communication design, and education (majors and minors, including pre-service teachers in language arts and in second languages such as Spanish and French). The course was offered during the 2004-2005 academic year, and the credit hours were posted to the students' spring schedule. However, students began meeting monthly with the instructor during fall semester. Participants also used an online course delivery system (in this case, WebCT 2002), which helped with the process of community building while it also provided communication tools such as a discussion board and chat room. The centerpiece of the course was a 10-day learning experience in Mexico in January between semesters. During the off-campus experience in Mexico, students stayed with host families. Then, during spring semester, students worked on their portfolios and fulfilled the responsibility of dissemination by, for example, presenting at external conferences, sharing experiences at a study-abroad fair during international week, sharing information at an Honors College gathering, and presenting at the KSU Celebration of Scholarship.

The learning goals of the pilot course were that students would

* deepen self-knowledge and growth (personal development) through project-based and/or service-learning experiences;

* come to understand and develop their career/life/professional plans in relation to an enhanced global view;

* increase cross-cultural understanding and respect for other perspectives;

* gain experience working collaboratively with diverse populations; and

* connect the local to the global through socio-cultural and service-learning experiences. …

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