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At a well-attended “Developing in Honors” (DIH) session at the 2004 NCHC conference in New Orleans, the question of whether honors courses should be more difficult than or different from standard courses turned out to be unusually lively. The panelists insisted that honors courses should be different in a number of ways, all advocating smaller, interactive classes. My position went further in this direction, arguing that honors courses should replace General Education Requirements, courses often crowded with unwilling students, taught by instructors who would rather be doing something else, and dumbed down. Honors courses, I suggested, should not be specialized. When an Honors Council member at a college I visited insisted that all honors courses should require substantial research papers and demanding exams, I had to disagree. Although a substantial research paper, perhaps a two- or three-semester project, might be the ideal capstone experience in honors and a ticket to graduate school, the courses themselves, I believe, should be challenging, different, and fun for instructors and students alike. When possible, they should be team-taught and interdisciplinary; they should involve off-campus activities; and, instead of papers and exams, they should feature projects, preferably in teams. Clearly such courses require flexibility on the part of the administration and a spirit of adventure among faculty, who should be willing to work up a course, often to be given only once and perhaps far afield from their usual offerings.
Some examples of “different” honors courses offered at Eastern Connecticut State University are briefly described below. They were designed for sections of fifteen students, which could be stretched to twenty, when appropriate, with the instructor’s approval.