Course Goals

How We See an Honors Course at MU

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 the university’s top undergraduate students in an intimate seminar setting. These 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 a course is to think through it 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:

  1. General Philosophy
  2. Timeline for Proposals
  3. Guidelines for Developing an Honors Course
  4. Specific Guidelines for Developing an Honors Learning-by-Contract Course
  5. Statement about Online Courses

General Philosophy

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.

Timeline for Proposals

The Honors College asks faculty to submit honors proposals about a year in advance. We know that is a ridiculously early deadline, but the Honors College has some rather early budget and MyZou 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, our motto is “respect the discipline.” Toward 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)
  • Research
  • Public scholarship (opportunities for presentation of research/project)
  • Student-Faculty engagement (outside of class)
  • Pedagogical experimentation
  • Active learning/Student collaboration/Experiential learning

The Honors Curriculum Committee, who will be reading and voting on the course proposal, is made up of 9 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:

  1. How is the course pitched at the honors level? What makes the class honors?
  2. 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. 
  3. 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:

Updated July 2018. 

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.

Statement about Online Courses

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.