Honors Teaching at the University of Missouri
A Guide For Faculty
We greatly appreciate your interest in teaching an honors course.
Honors courses, offered either through individual departments (designated as H) or the Honors College (designated as GN_HON), provide MU professors with the opportunity to teach many of the university’s exceptional undergraduate students–in small seminar settings, through strong inter-personal connections, and intensive and highly-engaged performance. Honors courses set the stage for additional mentoring and teaching possibilities, including honors research and theses.
To graduate from the Honors College, a student needs to complete successfully a minimum of 20 honors credits (if student enrolled prior to fall 2017) or 24 honors credits (for all students enrolling in or after fall 2017), which can be accomplished through a variety of options, including not only departmental and General Honors courses, but also independent study, approved internships, Honors Learning-by-Contract (HLBC), and approved graduate-level courses in the junior and senior year. Honors courses are generally offered for 1-5 credits, depending upon the discipline, course, and structure.
This document presents our philosophy of honors education and offers specific guidelines for developing an honors course. Like all useful documents, it is intended to be adaptable.
Part of the fun of developing an Honors course is to think it through in consultation with colleagues. The leadership team of the Honors College would be happy to meet with you about your proposed course.
The following sections are available for your consultation and reference:
- General Philosophy
- Statement on Diversity and Equity in Honors Teaching
- Timeline for Proposals
- Guidelines for Developing an Honors Course
- Specific Guidelines for Developing an Honors Learning-by-Contract Course
- Statement about Online Courses
Our aspiration for an honors curriculum is to have it embody the ideals of higher education. We promote all that constitutes great teaching and learning, from quality mentoring to a spirit of innovation. We do so in partnership with the other colleges that serve MU’s undergraduates, by capitalizing on their best practices and pioneering new pedagogical approaches.
Our curriculum also upholds the traditional value of a liberal arts education, which seeks to broaden the mind by developing and nurturing intellectual curiosity about many subjects. In the honors college, this emphasis gains particular expression in our focus on interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Since our college seeks to bring faculty from different disciplines together, team-teaching is welcome.
This interest in an interdisciplinary education complements our emphasis on providing ample opportunities for honors students in their specialized areas. We seek to enhance honors students’ professional training by offering courses in their fields as well as opportunities for earning honors credit through research, internships, graduate level courses, and honors Learning-by-Contract. Many departments on campus have their own honors program, which allows students to pursue honors in their major by enrolling in an honors capstone course and completing original research in the form of a senior thesis or project; these courses count toward our honors certificate as well.
Lastly, honors courses should create an atmosphere of intellectualism, which we define simply as the love of learning, contemplation, and analysis. Students should be encouraged to think deeply about the subjects covered in the course and be given ample opportunity to express their thoughts in discussions and writing assignments.
Statement on Diversity and Equity in Honors Teaching
The Honors College is committed to creating and sustaining an inclusive and equitable learning environment for all of its students. The College supports and seeks to advance the interests and learning of its students regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, socio-economic status, or status as a protected veteran.
The Honors College adheres to the University’s “Inclusive Excellence Framework”. Moreover, the College requires its participating faculty to consider and address matters of diversity and equity in their course development in order to ensure that we are presenting an intellectually rigorous and diverse curriculum based on various backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and voices.
Faculty who teach in Honors are expected to take these principles into account when they design their course, select materials (readings, case studies, video, websites), choose their topics, in the presentation of the class through teaching, and through their assessments. These principles extend to any and all programming related to classes, including guest visitors and co-curricular activities.
Such considerations include the following (which is by no means prescriptive or all-inclusive): the use of Open Access Resources; understanding the cost of textbooks and materials and how that impacts students; decisions on how to prepare students for learning when engaging controversial topics; careful use of non-discriminatory examples or case studies; selection of authors and voices from varying perspectives; and statements free from bias in assessments.
In affiliating with the Honors College, through teaching, service, research, or student engagement, our faculty demonstrate the best traits of the institution and our society, and through these principles and practices, ensure the best education and educational environment possible for our students.
See Inclusive Excellence Framework.
Adopted by Honors Diversity Committee 8-17-2017; updated September 23, 2020.
Timeline for Proposals
The Honors College asks faculty to submit honors proposals more than a year in advance, in alignment with requirements from departments and the University Office of the Registrar. It also allows ample time for the budgetary, course approval, and MyZou cycles and deadlines. Please see our Propose a Course page for specific deadlines.
Guidelines for Developing an Honors Course
Every Honors instructor is different, so every Honors course is different. In working with faculty to offer our honors curriculum, we not only want your course to respect the discipline and field, but also the interdisciplinarity and rigor that go along with a broad and deep examination of the topic. To that end, our proposal form asks faculty to determine what defines their course as “honors” in their particular field by selecting at least two of the following criteria:
- Challenging material and/or topics
- Writing (different or more challenging types of assignments/additional opportunities for revision)
- Public scholarship (opportunities for presentation of research/project)
- Student-Faculty engagement (outside of class)
- Pedagogical experimentation
- Active learning/Student collaboration/Experiential learning
Please note that we do not think of Honors as simply “more” or “faster” or even “better”; rather we think of it as being different and intensive, deeper and more dynamic, richer and more engaged. It is not “read more, write more”, it is doing it differently, and thus, better.
The Honors Curriculum Committee, who will be reading and voting on the course proposal, is made up of nine faculty members from different disciplines; they’ll be reading the course cold, so to speak, so the more information you can provide on what the course is and how it works, the easier and faster the approval process will be.
We encourage faculty to keep a couple of questions in mind as they work through the proposal:
- How is the course pitched at the honors level? What makes the class honors?
- What differences do you see between this class and a non-honors version of the same course? If your honors class is cross-listed with a non-honors section, this will be particularly important for course approval by the Honors Curriculum Committee.
- What assignments will the honors students be doing?
In addition, we encourage you to consider some of the more specific guidelines below as you develop your honors course. Please keep in mind that the list below is not a set of prescriptions but of suggestions.
- Aim to use different evaluation methods in your honors course from those you use in your regular courses. Every honors course should take advantage of the small numbers of students to use individualized examination techniques, such as open-ended examination questions, oral exams, and/or portfolios.
- In your upper-level honors courses, consider your students as potential contributors to the field—and thus show students how knowledge in the discipline is discovered, developed, evaluated, and applied. Primary sources, seminal papers, and discipline-related examples should be introduced and emphasized.
- Cultivate a spirit of adventure and risk-taking. In many honors courses, a palpable sense exists among the students and the faculty that they’re engaged in an experiment, a “trying out” of new assignments and new approaches.
- Encourage original research, especially at the upper level. In some ways, original contributions to a field are more possible now than they ever were before, given the increasingly interdisciplinary and technology-driven age we live in.
- Interact with your students outside of class, whether that is at your home, local coffee shop, or Shakespeare’s Pizza.
- If appropriate, try to involve students in the pedagogy of the course. Students in an honors course could, for example, be asked to contribute to the design of course assignments or tailor existing course assignments to reflect their particular class’s interests.
- Resist a sense of closure in regard to course content and instead embrace a sense of open-endedness and discovery.
- Think of your honors courses as springboards for future work with honors students.
If you have particular questions about proposing an honors course or if technology is a bit troublesome, please contact Rachel Harper: firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated June 2020.
Specific Guidelines for Developing an Honors Learning-by-Contract Course
When working with a student to transform a general, non-Honors course into an Honors Learning-by-Contract (HLBC) course, there are a few guidelines and requirements to keep in mind.
- The proposal must present a set of assignments or approaches to learning that is the equivalent of making the entire course into an Honors experience for the student, and run for the entire length of the semester. Thus the proposal design should put forth assignments or tasks that effectively transform the course, are substantive, and require concrete submissions or performance elements to be completed at specified intervals.
- The assignments are graded as distinctive elements and thus are in addition to the existing coursework.
- The following activities are either not sufficient (by themselves) or permitted to serve as an HLBC experience:
- A research paper can only be a part of a Honors project; additional elements, such as an in-class presentation, a poster presentation, publication of a website, or some other format for dissemination must be included.
- Tutoring is not acceptable.
- All HLBCs must include a detailed schedule / timeline with specific requirements due at various intervals throughout the semester. An HLBC is not something that can or should be done all at once or at the end of the semester, thus undermining the integrity of a semester-long experience.
- HLBCs should be built upon the assumption that at least five (5) additional hours of out-of-class meeting time will be required to meet the instructor-student interaction.
- Allow the student to enhance or develop a lesser-known facet of the knowledge or course experience.
- Promote the work as if it were an extension of a research or artistry project, in all of its manifestations.
Updated June 2020.
Statement about Online Courses
[Temporarily suspended: March 2020 — ?]
The Honors College does not offer online honors options. All honors courses–both standalone and those cross listed with non-honors sections–must meet the minimum MU requirements for a “traditional” course, i.e. where at least 70% of the instruction is in person.
Beginning with the SU of 2020 and until further notice, Honors courses may be taught online / virtually, depending upon the subject matter, personnel, or decision of the College and University. While we are still discussing this change and transition, we will ask that our faculty develop their online / virtual skills to the fullest, including development of online teaching principles and best practices, course design and delivery, and assessment.
Updated June 2020.