Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Community Building at Honors Programs in Continental Europe

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Community Building at Honors Programs in Continental Europe

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Many universities in the United States and Europe offer honors programs to meet the demands of gifted and intelligent students (Hebert & McBee; Wolfensberger). One of the standard goals of these programs is to build an intellectual learning community (Stanlick; Koh et al.). McMillan & Chavis define a community as a "feeling that members have, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together" (9). A more specific definition of a learning community is "a group of people engaged in intellectual interaction for the purpose of learning" (Cross 4). Learning communities are known to have a positive impact on students so that they spend more time on their schoolwork (Tinto), receive higher grades (Tinto; Baker & Pomerantz), have a better attitude towards their courses (Wilson et al.), feel more satisfied about their college experience (Baker & Pomerantz) and finish their studies more quickly (Eggens). The presence of a community also provides students with skills they will need in their future work environment (Wilson et al.), gives them academic and social support (Tinto; Van Lankveld & Volman), causes them to feel less isolated (Hebert & McBee), provides a social context in which to learn during their courses (Wilson et al.), and leads to greater retention (Wilson et al. ; Ludwig-Hardman & Dunlap). Honors communities are therefore seen as essential to the success of honors programs (Van Eijl et al., "Honours"; Van Eijl et al., "Ondersteuning").

Establishing a community can be difficult (Koh et al.) because it requires that students show an active attitude and initiative (Stanlick). Wilson et al. state that leadership, facilitation, and support are necessary to establish a community, and Shea supports that idea, stating that the presence of a teacher is crucial for the formation of a community Stanlick thinks that the introduction of an honors code and service learning courses also support the formation of a community.

Wilson et al designed a list of features that facilitate the establishment of a community, as displayed in Table 1. Van Ginkel et al. did similar work that focused on Dutch honors communities with commuter students as shown in Table 2.

Many different and conflicting strategies have been proposed for establishing a community, and honors coordinators can have difficulty deciding what strategy to use. Strategies have been based on literature (Stanlick; Wilson et al.) or on specific cases (Koh et al.; Shea). Only Van Ginkel et al. have studied several honors communities and created an overview, but they limited themselves to Dutch honors programs with commuter students. For honors programs in other countries, no such studies could be found. Furthermore, most studies focus on the underlying reasons that certain factors are important for community building without providing specific examples that support these factors.

Our study identifies not only elements that stimulate community building in honors programs but also specific examples of each element in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, using interviews with key persons in each program. The study focuses on the question "What elements foster successful community building within honors programs?" The answer to this question expands on current knowledge of the factors that foster community building in honors and highlights specific examples of success in accomplishing each factor.

METHODOLOGY

In investigating the connection between different factors in organizational structure and community building, we focused on qualitative studies of nine honors programs. We interviewed key people to find out which factors had an important influence on community building. These people, who included students, student ambassadors, coordinators, and alumni of honors programs, are described in Table 3. …

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