Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Toward a Science of Honors Education

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Toward a Science of Honors Education

Article excerpt

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.


As Sam Schuman wrote in 2004 and as George Mariz points out in his lead essay for this issue of JNCHC, the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and academics alike have long recognized the importance of research in honors. Cambridge Dictionary Online defines "research" as "a detailed study of a subject in order to discover information or achieve a new understanding of it." Given the roots of U.S. honors in the liberal arts, U.S. practitioners who have written for JNCHC have often been driven by the research models of their home disciplines. With fifteen years' worth of publications, JNCHC contains a vast array of inspiring, reflective essays about honors practices (e.g., Frost on "Saving Honors in the Age of Standardization"), captivating case studies (e.g., Davis and Montgomery on "Honors Education at HBCUs: Core Values, Best Practices, and Select Challenges" and Digby on her program at Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus), and an occasional survey across institutions reporting "The State of the Union" in honors (e.g., Driscoll and England). In contrast, our European honors colleagues, often coming from disciplines rooted in the sciences, have begun in recent years to advance a systematic study of honors that has yielded a more generalizable understanding of our field, e.g., Wolfensberger's books in 2012 and 2015.

Sadly, there seems to be little cross-pollination of the European ideas within the U.S. about the teaching of academically talented students. For example, NCHC's current website guidelines on "Honors Teaching" make no use of Wolfensberger's research. Further discouraging is the fact that the website makes no reference to any evidence in support of the recommended pedagogical guidelines in "Honors Course Design" even though the site houses a "Bibliography of Journals and Monographs Consolidated."

While both continents' approaches to studying honors help us "achieve a new understanding" of honors and become more effective honors practitioners, we need an honors research agenda to produce evidence-based practice. As Mariz points out in this issue, "Ours is a data-driven age." We work in an age of accountability and the need to demonstrate not only what we do but how we make a difference. Constructing a comprehensive research framework to guide our pursuits and taking stock of what we already know about teaching academically talented students can allow us to prioritize items on the vast horizon left to explore and to develop a more systematic study of honors. The ultimate goal of such an endeavor is not only to achieve a more holistic understanding of the dynamics of our field for the sake of knowing, which is a fine endeavor in itself for honors academicians, but also to transform our practice based on research and the inspiring stories that embellish the research findings.

In 2004, Schuman pointed out the need for a more systematic study of the honors field, advocating more rigorous honors scholarship related to honors students, faculty, courses, curricula, pedagogy, historical analysis, and miscellaneous issues. I would like to reiterate his sentiment and offer this essay as:

1. A manifesto to all honors practitioners in the U.S. and around the world to join forces and develop an honors research agenda; and

2. A call to the NCHC to serve as the archive and the promoter of such an agenda as well as the associated research findings.

Seeking to bring together a diverse body of knowledge into a coherent whole, I make the following suggestions:

1. We should learn from the related disciplines that inform our practice, such as instructional design, higher education administration, organizational behavior, psychology, sociology, anthropology; and

2. We should borrow from our rich backgrounds to build helpful research frameworks for the study of honors through the prisms of our disciplines and the field of education. …

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