National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2017


Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017), pp 195-212.


© Copyright 2017 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


So far, few articles about innovations in Dutch or American honors programs appear to link their findings to an existing body of research about innovations in higher education in general. Although scholars are starting to make this connection more and more (see Kallenberg; NRO, “Excellentie” and “EXChange”; NWO, “Excellentie” and “EXChange”; Jong), both parties could profit from greater contact. Scholars who study innovations in honors programs could benefit from a comparison of their findings to those in more mature fields, i.e., research about innovation in higher education. At the same time, a full model of innovation in higher education should take into account the findings about honors programs, which are natural innovation labs and thus relevant to research about higher education. Here we focus on factors that promote or block the diffusion of innovations from Dutch honors programs to other components of the Dutch higher education system.

We examine three factors that emerged most frequently in a recent meeting of experts in Dutch honors programs on ‘honours education as a laboratory for educational innovation.’ This meeting was held in Leiden on 2 November 2016; jointly organized by Universiteit Leiden and Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, it attracted thirty-six stakeholders who worked in, or on, honors programs in the Netherlands as teachers, organizers, policy makers, or researchers. In discussions about factors that might promote or block the diffusion of innovations from Dutch honors programs to other places in the Dutch higher education system, these three factors were named most frequently: • the need for a safe environment in the classroom, • the need to establish communities of teachers, and • the need for institutional support. Various experts in the meeting believed that in order to be able to experiment, honors teachers need classrooms that provide safe environments in order to encourage experimentation and allow innovations to emerge. To stimulate the diffusion of resulting innovations, stakeholders believed that teacher communities and institutional support are crucial. While the meeting was held in the Netherlands and focused on Dutch honors programs, and while the setup and character of honors differ between the U.S. and Europe (see Wolfensberger, Talent Development and Wolfensberger, Eijl, et al., “Laboratories”), the issues raised at the meeting are relevant to honors education anywhere. Our discussions of the research literature about each of the three factors look beyond the current literature about honors programs as innovation labs and offer clear pathways to ideas from other fields. We also hope to stimulate reflection on the topic among researchers, teachers, organizers, and managers working in the field of honors education by offering questions they can pursue.