bigstockphoto_Books_39303As many of you know, we’ve made some significant changes to the curriculum of the Brock Scholars Program. Here’s the what, the how, and the why.

Last year I chaired an Honors College committee that took a long look at our curriculum, which had been struggling with some serious challenges. The committee, which included long-time honors faculty, other UTC faculty members, and current Brock Scholars, identified several critical limitations to the curriculum and used those findings to imagine a more sustainable, flexible model. We decided to replace our suite of set-content courses with an evolving array of special-topics seminars proposed by the UTC faculty. This revision resolves several acute constraints, creates broader opportunities for UTC faculty to teach in honors, fosters innovative course design and pedagogy, and offers greater flexibility for honors students as they progress through their various degree programs.

NB: We have no plans to change the required 12-hour, year-long freshman course in humanities and writing (UHON 1010/1020).

 

 

What we changed.

  • Faculty-proposed special topics seminars rather than set-content courses – to create more honors teaching and learning opportunities, and reduce resource pressure on the same few departments and faculty members. (Faculty members can propose long-standing UHON courses as special topics classes, too.)
  • Addition of honors courses in Mathematics, Statistics, and Lab Science – to offer, finally, a complete range of General Education courses in honors.
  • Apart from the freshman humanities courses (UHON 1010 and 1020), all seminars are offered at the 3000 level – unusual for general education classes, but necessary, we thought, to indicate the richness and rigor expected in reading, writing, and discussion.
  • Reduction of minimum required honors hours from 37 to 31 (including a 4-hour honors thesis) – to better accommodate students in high-hour majors (e.g., Engineering, Music, etc.) and highly structured programs (e.g., Nursing). More than 25% of the 120 hours required to graduate from UTC are still in honors course work – well above the 20% recommended by the National Collegiate Honors Council, our national organization.
  • Flexible course selection for students – students are required to take 15 hours of Brock Scholars seminars beyond the freshman year, in whatever General Education categories they wish (and they can fulfill all of their General Education requirements through Brock seminars, if they want).
  • Reinstitution of Leadership and Service Requirements – all Brock Scholars (indeed, all students in the Honors College) are required to serve in a leadership role on campus at some point in their undergraduate careers, and to participate in meaningful community service activity. Leadership might mean serving on the Student Government Association, as an officer in an honors society, as captain of a club team, etc. Service might mean volunteering at the food bank, helping out at Bridge Refugee Services, working with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, etc.

 

Benefits of the changes.

  • The greater range of possible courses and broader faculty base create staffing flexibility, relieving pressure on the same few departments and faculty members to support honors.
  • The faculty proposal model fosters innovative course design and fresh pedagogy. Ideally, faculty will design their “dream courses” — content and strategies they’ve always wanted to develop, given the opportunity and the right curricular home.
  • The open topics approach creates opportunities for many more UTC faculty members to participate in honors teaching. Broader faculty participation means more mentoring opportunities for students and a more robust, honors-leaning culture on campus. This raises the level of engagement and ambition for everyone.
  • Because students may earn as many as 14 hours of General Education credit outside of Brock Scholars — and are largely free to choose the categories where those non-honors hours apply — they can customize their Brock Scholars curriculum to fit more efficiently with their major and minor programs. This modular aspect of the curriculum minimizes extra hours sometimes now incurred by Brock Scholars.

 

How it’s going. So far, so good. While we haven’t yet run any of the new courses (they’ll be offered for the first time in Fall 2015), we’ve had excellent response from faculty and students alike. This past October I asked UTC faculty to propose those dream courses. They responded enthusiastically with 25 proposals (pretty good for the first year). From those proposals the Honors College Advisory Committee selected 14 different post-freshman Brock seminars to offer in 2015-2016 in all general education categories, taught by 15 different faculty members – about half of whom have taught in honors before, and several for a long time, so there’s a nice balance of new ideas and continuity. Students are excited about the new courses, and there’s a lot of good energy around the whole project.

Have a look at the courses we’re offering this Fall – you can find them all from A-Z (really: Authorial Intent to Zombies) on the Brock Scholars Seminar page.