After 7 days in Denver (from 3 to 9 November), when visiting different universities and the NCHC conference together with more than 40 Dutch colleagues, I really experienced a “thrill of the climb”, the conference theme. According to the conference book, this theme was chosen “in recognition of the many challenges, new and old, that we are facing today in Honours education coupled with understanding of the deep rewards that come from taking these challenges”.
An important challenge to meet was to give the students an Honours experience. I was impressed about the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CELT) of Ken Sagendorf of Regis University. He was given the opportunity to set up a center to train teachers for Honours education. A common way of implementing such a center is to organize or offer different workshops, a cafeteria system in which everybody can “buy” what he needs. However, Ken made the choice to ask lecturers which innovation they wanted to work on. The teachers composed groups of around eight colleagues who worked together during half a year to develop, experience, improve and implement their chosen innovation. The purpose of Ken was to create a community with lecturers to show and share their Honours experiences and ideas. This was done by working with “celebration sessions” in which their colleagues visited one of their main practices during class on the so-called “celebration days”. Afterwards, they shared their teaching tips with the whole University. This was my first “thrill of the climb”.
Ken Wilber brought me a step further through his vision on integral education and global thinking. There are all kinds of models of development to use when implementing new educational forms, ways of perceiving development. When looking at this from a broader perspective, all theories are okay, although it isn’t possible to use them all simultaneously. He came up with the integral theory. His main conclusion was: “the longer we wait to pay attention to the global wicked problems, the more we teach our students as cripples”. “Start now and don’t wait, even when it is a small step”. A first step is the step to the future.
Ron Tzur, Faculty Chair at the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Denver, evaluated the research for the Department of Education around the Bright idea project. His starting point is: treat all children as if they are gifted children. He started with the lectures to get a shared idea about what it might mean to teach all children as if they are gifted children, how to treat them and which questions to ask. However, also start with the transition of your teaching: which subject is familiar to you and how can you transform this into an Honours experience. The results of this way of working were amazing.
After the school visits and a short trip to the Red Rocks, we made the move to the NCHC conference itself. One of the characteristics of this conference is that they offer the opportunity to have your own Honours experiences, which I gladly took. I started with the dance workshop of Marcy Jo Yonkey-Clayton. This was an example of experiential learning. First experience, then reflect and after that, go on. A main success factor for me was that Marcy Jo Yonkey – Clayton gave everybody the feeling that all dance moves were okay. Although my moves were not as agile as a dancer’s, she challenged me to dance. Furthermore, she gave us confidence. Performing arts are not so common in the Honours programmes in the Netherlands. I really liked this approach, because it opened my mind by really experiencing how movement can lead to a common developed choreography.
The second experiential Honours learning experience was the “City as Text”. Together with three Americans of different universities we received a map to find and visit the public library.
We opened our eyes and shared things which amazed us . Not only on the way to the library but also inside the building, we experienced that we all saw different things. It was so nice to hear the amazement of one of my team members about what he saw. We all went to see what it was about. It fed my curiosity. The library has all kind of places to meet to share and talk. It is a place where your will find a lot of homeless people who meet and share by visiting the children room for instance: children are playing and parents are talking and sharing. On the second floor young, unemployed people were looking for jobs. The computers were arranged in a circle which made it easy to talk.At a certain moment we reached the historical part of the library and a book about world war two lay on the table. I asked my team mates what their parents or teachers had told them about the Second World War in their country. It was inspiring to hear the different perspectives fed by different cultures and countries. Different perspectives came up all the times. During the wrap up we shared our experiences with four others groups who also visited the library. This delivered again a broader perspective. We concluded that the library has three functions: a museum, a community and a library. Others group went to other places in Denver and during the closing of City as a Text with the whole group, we shared a much broader picture of the characteristics of the private use of the public space. If you want to read more about the concept City as Text, see the article.
My thrill continued on Thursday in the workshop of John Zubizarreta, Columbia College – South Carolina and Donald Nobles, Auburn University at Montgomery about how to become an effective Honours teacher. Through modelling and making use of the input of the group, he created different opportunities to share and connect interdisciplinary, interactive pedagogies, experienced approaches to learning, discussion based classrooms, high expectations and reflective learning practices. Take risks and enlarge the complexity. Have students reflect on the process which they went through instead of finding the right answer. It really was an Honours experience.
During lunchtime students presented their posters which were assessed by a jury. If you are looking for inspiration to asses for instance critical thinking by using a rubric, go to the website of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U)
My thrill went from Teacher community to integral theory coming to the Bright Idea, experience the Red Rocks and go back to earth by the experience of the dance workshop and city as a text to come to experience the modelling of John and the main thrill of Erik Weihenmayer’s story as the first blind climber who reached the 7 Summits. “The greatest things in the world cannot be seen, but only felt by the heart. What is your rope team? Link together with one vision, that is the glue”.
What a rich experience and how nice to get and stay connected with many people from the Netherlands by starting now with bringing the Honours experiences alive.
The thrill of personalized learning in an Honours environment
Door Tineke Kingma, fellow of the Professorship Talent Development in Higher Education and Society and coordinator of the Honours Programmes of Windesheim University of Applied Sciences