National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Innovations in Undergraduate Research and Honors Education: Proceedings of the Second Shreyer National Conference 2001, ed. Josephine M. Carubia & Renata S. Engel.


Copyright © 2004 The National Collegiate Honors Council.


If honors education is to thrive and mature in the future, better informed and more systematic thinking should be used to design and implement honors programs. The purpose of this paper is to establish a case for theory-driven research and practice as a means to improve honors education. It identifies the goals of honors education and then reasons that honors education should incorporate theory in order to advance the field. Theory is identified as a set of inter-related concepts, definitions, and propositions that specify how and why a phenomenon occurs. The most important function of a theory in honors practical, to serve as a thinking tool. Theories, by their nature, are constructed, change, and mayor may not mix well. They tend to introduce jargon and are often confused with methods-driven efforts. In spite of these complications, however, judicious use of theory offers honors educators perhaps the single best means by which we can make forward progress, learning from each other and sharing what we learn with the university committees that invest in honors programs. In short, honors programs have a tremendous, but as yet unrealized potential to make a difference in the quality of higher education altogether. A more widespread use of theory-driven research is an important commitment towards realizing that potential. The purpose of this paper is to present a case for theory-driven honors education. Honors educators should be difference makers on their campuses. They should make a profound difference in the learning experience of honors students. They may also playa pivotal role in campus education more generally, serving as local leaders about how to improve teaching and learning, how to maximize student learning both in and out of the classroom, and also how to incorporate a student focus into their universities. To accomplish this vision, honors educators need to learn to work more systematically themselves. The central premise of this paper is this: it is unlikely that honors education will make significant advancements without a theory to drive further development in thinking and practice.