Make no little plans


From 9 till 14 November a Dutch delegation visited honour programmes at  four Universities in Chicago and they attended the NCHC conference with the theme Make no little plans. In this lovely city, inspired by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, I was mainly interested in the way the programmes are  designed and how students are guided through  their  personal learning pathway. What can we do to support students and challenge them to make no little plans.

DSC_0178The first university was Elmhurst University, Centre for Professional Excellence. We were welcomed by Mary Kay Mulvaney, the Dean. The point of departure of Elmhurst University is that today’s students will get several  jobs in their lives and at least three to four careers. From their point of  view it is important that students are prepared to make the difference in the world and become excellent professionals. It is therefore important for students to gain experience with what it means to serve and  bringing  theory into practice.



Know yourself, know the world and reach your potential.

To support this process, the mentoring part is very important. Peggy Killian, Director of Career Education, introduced the career programme. Elmhurst University received the 1st recipient of accreditation  from the International Mentoring Association (IMA), see IMA website for the mentoring standards. Students develop core skills which are applicable in all kinds of professions. An important question is how to prepare young people in such a way that they are able to choose what they want to do and always ask them: when do you know if it is good for you or good for work. Background information can be found on their website. Their motto is Prepare, develop and engage.

Colombia College was the second one. This university is located in down-town Chicago just like the other two that will follow. Colombia has a strong focus on visual arts with very nice facilities. They did not have an honours programme till 7/8 years ago. Honours was seen (and still is) as elitist. The programme was developed because students were leaving after 1 year and it turned out that these students left because they did not feel challenged enough. In the past years retention rates went up and the loan default rate went down.[1]

Roosevelt University was the third university. Social Justice is very important in their mission. Honours students take honours versions of courses. The difference is not the amount of reading but the difference in expectations. Honours courses focus more on writing make use of  a lot of guest speakers. Honours is seen as transformational learning and problem based learning.

Our last visit was to DePaul University, a Catholic University with 25.000 students of whom about 10% are international students. Key features are: a strong link with the city and personal attention, visible in this film. DePaul is the only highly ranked university in the US with a teaching and service focus. They have 250 different majors, with top scholars and top practitioners. The classes consist of 10-20 students, so there is more quality time with the lecturer. DePaul is one of the most innovative universities in the US, because they have a reputation of being very reactive to the market. They are really flexible and dare take risks. Faculty receives space  to develop and come up with new ideas.

Honours is tightly bound to their regular programmes. The Honours Curriculum  replaces the general education or liberal arts studies part of a student’s academic programme. This year their Student Produced Electronic Honors Newsletter has again received the NCHC award.

The student involvement is high and characterised by large variety of activities and roles: Honours ambassadors, Service Committee, Newsletter Editors, Academic Committee, Study Mentors, Quarterly student – faculty dinner, Honours student conference, Senior Gala.

On Thursday the conference started. I first visited a masterclass drama. Performing arts are important in Honours Programmes in the US. I was impressed by one of the group performDSC_0397ances because of the way they shared their story as a whole group. It wasn’t just a story. The story was based upon their story and involvement with the theme. The workshop was the final result of a Public Speaking course for students from different programmes. They started off by choosing a subject together, did research and studied articles from their own perspective. By using performing journalism, they learned how to read newspapers  and how to transform them in a story for the audience. They discussed what they had found in order to look for moments to connect with their audience. A drama teacher was involved by writing  a script based on the most important sentences of their stories. A choreographer complemented the script by distinguishing fast parts, rhythm and slower parts and movements.

The next activity was City as Text (CAT). Together with a student from Shri Lanka, a student living in the suburbs and a director of the Honours Programme of California we explored Chicago by visiting  South Michigan Avenue / South Loop, known as “the Soul of Chicago”. Our assignment was  to look at  the relationship between the parks and the buildings, to consider the private use of public space throughout this popular stretch of the city and to see how spaces are being used. Which people are  there and what are they doing. DSC_0444We were also invited to observe the variety of architectural styles and the contrast between the buildings. How do these buildings reflect the past and the present. And don’t forget to also  talk with at least one person along the way. By sharing, observing and talking together, CAT broadened my view on the social and cultural life in the city Chicago and the impact of the fire on the living neighbourhood of the locals. We became more aware of our own values and perspectives. A recommendable part in introductions of Honours Programmes by becoming more involved and familiar with the environment of, in this case, Chicago.

On Friday representatives of Oklahoma State University shared their first experiences with an overall rubric based of the NCHC viewpoint of what makes a Programme Honours. The motive for working with a rubric is that the NCHC felt the need for more data in order to describe best practices. The rubric distinguishes four levels: Mature, Proficient, Developing and Undeveloped. By using these levels, schools learn what to invest in, how and they are supported by underpinning the why. Next to that the rubric turned out to be an important basis for comparisons.

The next workshop was about verbatim theatre as a way of integrative learning. Verbatim theatre is a type of theatre-making where the text is generated from interviews with ‘real life’ people. Students worked with the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Service-learning students worked alongside survivors, first-responders, and family members of people killed in the April 19, 1995 bombing widely considered the U.S. Heartland’s most infamous incident of domestic terrorism. Students catalogued artifacts, conducted oral history interviews, and shared their research and service-learning experiences in over a dozen national presentations. In 2014 and 2015 Dr. Brooke Hessler supported the research with the verbatim theatre production authored by U.K. playwright Steve Gilroy, The Oklahoma Bombing Project. She had the opportunity to serve as dramaturg.

Rick Scott and Patricia Smith, both from from the University of Central Arkansas, gave a workshop  about a Coherent Honours Curriculum. Always start with the why and the mission followed by the  goals and inspirations? Course development starts off after  the student learning outcomes have been designed. Their rubric focus is on higher learning by using the verbs with increasing  complexity developed by Bloom. They distinguish four levels; mastered, proficient, developing and beginning. After developing the rubric, they stepped back to formulate what the differences are between regular and honours students. The rubric supported both the curriculum and course development and delivered hard data to compare.

The Honours Learning Outcomes are Interdisciplinary Learning, Integrative Scholarship, Leadership Development, Responsive Living (Ethics), Critical Inquiry, Communication and Diversity. Every Honours course has to meet certain learning outcomes and a certain level (introduction, practice, assess, master or co-assess). A course is Honours if they use certain “modes of learning”. These are “learning in depth”, “multi- or interdisciplinary learning”, Service Learning and Leadership, Experiential Learning and Learning Communities.

Gayle Hartleroad Director of Student Services from Ball State University gave a workshop about Appreciative Advising (AA). AA is a social-constructivist advising philosophy which provides a framework for optimizing advisor interactions with students in both individual and group settings. She showed a nice video about What Students Really Need to Hear about quitting and challenging.

The famous “Mugglenet Kid” Emerson Spartz was the keynote speaker. To get an impression of his talk, please watch his Ted talk.

Chicago taught me the importance of making real connections with students, their values and the context they come from or live in in their guiding process and making use of the benefits of rubrics in order to become familiar with the development points as a lecturer or director. Honours asks for making plans by taking small steps to improve.

By Tineke Kingma, fellow of the Professorship Excellence in Higher Education and Society and director of  Windesheim Honours Programmes.

[1] Next to retention and success rates, the loan default rate is an important indicator for universities in the US.

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