New Orleans – day five

breakfastToday was a real conference day, starting at 7.30 am with a breakfast reception. Lots of fruit this time! Beforehand I had chosen the sessions I wanted to attend. Very easy with the NCHC conference app on my cell phone and the free wifi in the Sheraton conference location.

Student-Driven learning – An Innovative Approach to Honours Pedagogy
Presenting author: Michael Balmert, Carlow University
Presenting author: Jessica Friedrichs, Carlow University

modelAt 8 am I started with a presentation on student-driven learning. In one case students became teachers for a day. They prepared a dance class by a flipped classroom concept. The teacher had to relinquish control. The presenting student told she had gained much more respect for the teacher.

The next presenter spoke about their honours program on human dignity. In designing it, they decied that dignity would also be the leading principle. That meant that they let go of being in charge and that students received ownership over their own learning. ‘We had to get out of their way.’ There were meditation classes, photography, and other themes. The syllabus too was a co-design production. Students themselves found resources and decided what they wanted to learn. ‘They took it to another level. If you don’t set a bar for them, students rise above it.’

viewThe professor explained how they wanted the students to feel uncertain and uncomfortable. He mentioned the beauty of discovering again. Compare the process to being an artist: design a building. Then you can be creative. There are a lot of ways to learn.The final project was a real challenge. One group organised an art show and they did everything themselves. ‘We let them do it the way they want to do it.’

They had to throw away rubrics and focus on values instead. They had to let stuff go wrong. ‘It’s a celebration of humanity.’

What particularly hit in, was the strong vision which lead not only to the content of the program, but furthermore to a whole new approach, driven by deep values.

Access and Excellence: Transitioning from Honours Program to Honours College
Presenting author: David Putz, Lone Star College – Kingwood (and others)

musicKingwood designed a faculty-driven honours college. The proposal was very important: match it with the university’s strategic plan and with national trends. The main goal was: doing what’s best in the students’ interest. They looked at best practices from sister colleges. The plan consisted of three stages: visioning (WHY), WHAT and HOW. In that order.

It all had to go very fast ‘We were building the plane as we were flying it.’ Students were involved in the visioning process. The NCHC has made a list of characteristics of an honours college.

Next I went to a forum on international education. I bought the book that was presented in it: Preparing tomorrow’s global leaders by Mary Kay Mulvaney and others. One forum participant told that they send students abroad in their first year. Very exciting, but they learn a lot and in many cases they choose again to go on a second international experience.

The next session was on honours PR. Some of the highlights:

park* involve student organisations
* encourage partnerships
* use social media, mainly to get or keep in touch with students.
* encourage tweeting with hashtags
* recognise successful students
* right information, right time, right audience
* get everybody involved and organise a lot
* be consistent
* give presentations on honours at college meetings
* let students identify themselves as honours students

The last session was about lessons learned after the first year of an honours program. The bottom line was: be open to feedback from students and teachers and be flexible in adapting the program.

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