Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Honors in Honduras: Engaged Learning in Action

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Honors in Honduras: Engaged Learning in Action

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND AND JUSTIFICATION

A significant challenge in honors education is providing experiences through which students deeply engage ideas and content so that both their analytical abilities and core beliefs and values are transformed. Frequently, honors students approach a course as a goal to achieve: they establish ambitious study plans, map out study strategies, form study groups, and keep track of whether they are hitting the highest academic marks. In the end, if they are truly "honors material," they earn an impressive grade. However, honors students often are hesitant to embrace ambiguity and deal with conceptual challenges that need to be approached from multiple perspectives and without an absolute solution in mind. Moreover, they sometimes avoid courses, such as problem-based learning courses, that are not structured in a traditional manner. In fact, honors students can be so achievement-oriented, i.e., they want to earn a good grade, that they gravitate toward intellectually safe territory, resisting the very experiences that are most likely to enrich their knowledge and sharpen their analytical abilities. David Kolb (Kolb & Kolb), who developed a model of experiential learning in the early 1980s, would argue that this focus on concrete and well-defined areas of knowledge has the potential to limit the development of metacognitive skill. Instead, his model suggests that four elements--concrete experience, abstract conceptualization, reflective observation, and active experimentation--should be present to ensure that the student's full learning capacity is achieved. Inspired in part by the work of David Kolb, NCHC has incorporated this kind of experiential learning into its Honors Semesters and City as Text[TM] experiences since the 1980s (Braid & Long).

With these challenges and ideas in mind, the College of Charleston Honors College has begun to diversify program offerings for honors students. Our goal is to move students beyond their "cherished ways of thinking" (West) to stimulate critical thinking and examination of core values. Drawing from the work of George Kuh and other leaders in AAC&U's Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) initiative, we have incorporated several high-impact educational practices into a more holistic approach to honors education. Community-based learning, collaborative assignments, and global learning were primary components in our pilot program during spring 2012. The program involved an experientially-based course that included a travel component to Honduras. While there, the students executed a project plan that had been developed during the course.

The course itself arose out of an intentional approach to local community engagement that had begun in our honors programs during fall 2010. We realized that we had reached a point in our co-curricular offerings where we needed to infuse more deliberate skill acquisition and reflection into the community engagement we encouraged students to pursue. Although service and community-based learning had become frequent in the experience of our students, paralleling trends nationwide in undergraduate coursework, we were persuaded by Kuh's suggestion to use experiential learning as an explicit instructional strategy so that students would have ample opportunity to apply abstract concepts they encounter in class. With direct experience as the framing principle, we created a program for honors students at the College of Charleston that would deepen their understanding of a topic, i.e., community-based research, not typically taught in our curriculum. Most importantly, we engaged them in a dynamic and compelling application of their new knowledge in a global setting, with the goal of encouraging them to examine an issue and their relationship to it in a new light. Furthermore, although a four-semester language sequence is required of all students on our campus, we wanted to enhance the requirement through an immersion opportunity in which students would practice language skills outside of their coursework and would experience the importance of culture through the lens of a practical issue that needed resolution. …

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