National Collegiate Honors Council


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Miller, K.A., ed. 2020. Building Honors Contracts: Insights and Oversights. National Collegiate Honors Council Monograph Series. pp 173-192.


Copyright © 2020 by National Collegiate Honors Council.


In 1997, when Julia A. Haseleu started teaching at Kirkwood Community College (KCC) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, her charge as a psychology instructor with honors experience was to develop an honors program based on learning contracts. Other faculty and administrators had attempted to offer honors courses at KCC, but these efforts had failed. Rhonda Kekke, KCC Dean of Arts and Humanities, determined that the problem was the honors course format. At small to medium-sized colleges and universities, especially two-year campuses, finding a group of honors students who are interested in the same subjects, able to work the same courses into their schedules, and synchronized enough across courses to justify a full honors curriculum in any given semester is often difficult. Kekke was convinced that it would be better to use an honors project format, and she was right. Now, twenty years later, Haseleu has developed two such programs at two flagship two-year colleges in two midwestern states: first at KCC and then at her current institution, Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin. In Chapter One of this volume, Richard Badenhausen outlines and discusses the problems and pitfalls of using learning contracts, especially as “add-ons” to non-honors courses or in lieu of formal honors classes. Badenhausen comes from the perspective of one who leads a “fully developed and flexible stand-alone honors curriculum” (6), an environment in which learning contracts understandably would not be the first choice—or even necessary— as a way of developing an honors curriculum. In smaller programs, however, with a much wider variety of departments, programs, and disciplines (e.g., liberal arts, automotive technology, dental hygiene, business and marketing, construction, culinary arts, engineering, protective services, graphic design, information technology, music, nursing, welding, and veterinary technician), offering an ongoing course-based honors curriculum is often not possible. In such cases, a project-based approach that is structured with comprehensive learning contracts is a flexible way to give students honors-level learning experiences in lieu of honors classes. This situation existed at both KCC and Madison College. In project-based learning, students develop a question to explore and are guided through the research and analysis process under the supervision of a faculty member. Project-based learning is neither a supplemental activity nor an “add-on” to a traditional course. Rather, it is the basis of the curriculum in and of itself (Bell 39). Students who engage in project-based learning experience a deeper level of learning and understanding about a topic and enjoy greater opportunity to hone problem-solving and critical-thinking skills than they would in a more passive learning environment.