Why and How to Offer Honors Courses?

Honors Student Characteristics and Honors Learning Outcomes

The biggest advantage of teaching Honors courses is getting the opportunity to interact with, teach and learn from Honors students. UW-Madison L&S Honors students tend to:

  • Be motivated to learn
  • Take initiative
  • Be curious
  • Desire a challenge
  • Be interested in applying conceptual or theoretical knowledge in the world
  • Be passionate about one or more intellectual or creative endeavors
  • Be willing to develop new perspectives
  • Be interested in raising their own consciousness
  • Concern themselves with making a difference by giving back to their communities

How Honors Students Are Selected

The L&S Honors Program radically changed the admissions process and welcomed the first new cohort in the 2008-2009 academic year. Key changes were made to move away from using test scores and grade point averages, which we know correlate directly with family social status and income. Instead, we are looking for a combination of high achievement/potential and motivation to participate in an enriched experience centered on the goals of a liberal arts education. These goals are explicitly stated to our students before the application process begins and throughout their time in our program, including:

  • Developing knowledge of human behavior, human cultures, and of the physical and natural world we live in through study in sciences and mathematics, social sciences, and humanities;
  • Building a robust set of intellectual and practical skills in inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, quantitative literacy, information literacy, and teamwork and problem solving;
  • Increasing personal and social responsibility by expanding civic knowledge and engagement, developing greater intercultural knowledge and competence, and expanding capacity for ethical reasoning and action;
  • Achieving a high level of integrative learning – a synthesis of knowledge and understanding across areas of both generalized and specialized study that can be applied in new ways to address real-world problems and issues.

How Do You Get To Teach an Honors Course?

Many departments require that faculty consult the departmental curriculum committee that oversees the management of Honors classes in relationship to the broader offerings of the major and large service courses. However, some departments do not have any such requirements and the timetable representative simply needs to be alerted that you would like to offer your course for Honors and told which Honors designation is most appropriate. The L&S Honors Program does not vet courses already offered in the timetable for Honors projects, contents, or designations. However, Honors Program staff are happy to consult with faculty as they create or revise Honors courses. If you are interested in developing or adapting an existing course to be a new stand-alone course or add an Honors-only discussion section, consider applying for Undergraduate Initiative Funding (UIF).

Multiple Ways to Engage Students Flexibly and Creatively

There are different course formats and Honors designations, all of which allow faculty to work with some of the brightest, most inquisitive and creative students in the College of Letters & Science. Honors courses are not designed to add more grading to any faculty member’s load but rather to facilitate student engagement, innovative teaching and creative learning.

  • Honors only (H) small seminar-style courses
  • Honors only (H) faculty-led discussion sections
  • Accelerated Honors (!) courses
  • Honors optional (%) courses*
  • Green Sheet proposals**

* Instructors who allow their course to carry the % control how many students they will allow to participate in the Honors portion of the course. The Honors projects, activities, or criteria are designed by individual instructors to complement their general course content. Any Honors activities or projects are left to the discretion of the instructors, although the Faculty Honors Committee encourages projects that include interaction between the faculty or instructor and the individual students taking the course for Honors. For more information, click here.

** Consider accepting Green Sheets for an existing class (more information here). For sample proposals of Green Sheets, please click on one of the following links: Sample Humanities ProjectsSample Social Sciences ProjectsSample Natural Sciences Projects

Contacts for Help in Developing New Honors Courses

Individual departments have the discretion to offer Honors courses without the oversight or approval of the L&S Honors Program. Contact your Department Chair or your department’s Honors liaison if you are interested in developing an Honors course. If you need more information, contact the L&S Honors Program Associate Director for Academic Services at honors@honors.ls.wisc.edu or by calling (608) 262-2984.