by Suzanne Unck
Yesterday evening we arrived in New Orleans: HU colleague Carien Touwen and me, for the annual NCHC Conference on honours in higher education. The conference starts on Wednesday, but we have also planned some visits to local organisations and universities. There’s a Dutch delegation consisting of 28 honours professionals who are connected to the Sirius Program.
We had a dinner with the whole group and after that we went back to the hotel to get a good night sleep.
Today was the first day: a visit to the honours program of Loyola University. Loyola is a small (3500 students) private university, founded by Jesuits. The honours program is a 4 year program in which 15% of the freshmen participates. It is interdisciplinary and interactive and consists of different courses that educate the whole person. At the end of the program, there is a student assessment. Students get invited to join on the basis of their highschool grades, but they can also apply themselves in their first or second year at Loyola. At first Naomi Yavneh Klos gave us an introduction of Loyola and the honours program. She told us about the Loyola core values which are the starting points of the honours program.
After that, Hanne ten Berge from Utrecht University, spoke about the Dutch honours programs. Subsequently two Loyola staff members explained their concept of service learning as a way to incorporate community engagement. Service learning is a community activity as a regular part of a course, including learning outcomes by research, reflection and policy. This concept is organised by an office which facilitates and supports departments and helps to make the connection between lecturers and local public organisations with a community service issue.
During lunch, we discussed the honours program with lecturers and students. In the afternoon I attended two honours classes. The first one was ‘the history of New Orleans’ and the second one ‘sociobiology of gender’. I noticed that the setting was quite traditional: a lecturer, rows of students and a blackboard with chalk. But there was a highly interactive way of teaching, mostly focused on articles and research data. Lecturer and students discussed the research methods and outcomes. One of the main goals of the Loyola honours program is critical thinking. It was in both classes very clear that the students are being challenged to be critical and address discussion points. The lecturer helps them doing so by asking questions and giving them assignments to prepare to present an article they read.
The students are all very engaged. No smart phones, they ask questions and give comments and are very concentrated and involved. There is a real equal interaction and you can tell they are eager to learn. The lecturer of the first class shared personal details and asked the students how they were doing. They were connected.
At 5 pm the class ended and with a lot of inspiration we went back to the hotel.
To be continued…