Editor’s Note: From time to time, we publish testimonials from honors program faculty and students. Below are three contributions from honors faculty who teach at the University of Iowa. Emphases are added.
Tom Keegan: Rhetoric
Head of the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio
I am always impressed by the extent to which my Honors students view their studies as inextricable from their personal and professional lives. They don’t so much take classes as absorb and apply their learning. They want to know how what they learn today can be used today and tomorrow. They are creative pragmatists who will undertake any assignment – digitally–oriented, community–based, or research–intensive – as a means to honing skills that they can put to use in the broader world.
Honors students’ capacity for innovation has made them a joy to teach. I often run my classes as experimental labs for new assignments. I find Honors students are eager to test out new ways of learning and new forms of analysis. They are also excellent at troubleshooting these new initiatives, and all my best assignments have been the result of the handwork and critical creativity of my Honors students.
And Honors students follow up. Months and years after they have taken my courses, students will email me, come to my office hours, stop me in the hallways to talk about a debate we had in class or a TV series we studied or trip abroad they are planning. They are among the chattiest, most engaging, and intellectually inquisitive people I have ever met. They are a tremendous boon to the University community and the great sustainers of its spirit of wide-ranging intellectual endeavor.
Waltraud Maierhofer: German
I was drawn to teaching in the Honors program by everything it advocates, especially small class sizes, interdisciplinary study, students from very different majors, creative and more in-depth course design, focus on the students and peer activities instead of lectures. Yet the rewards of teaching in Honors have far exceeded my initial expectations, and that is because of the students in the Honors program. They are not only academically gifted and often have an exceptional basic education with great speaking and writing skills; they are curious, hardworking, and highly motivated individuals who challenge each other as well as me and with whom it is a pleasure to learn. The difference between regular undergraduate non-major classes and an honors class in one of the General Education areas where all are eager to participate, is enormous and makes for a fresh and very satisfying teaching experience.
Recently, I have initiated and taught an “Honors Seminar on Global and International Issues” about contraception and unwanted pregnancy across time and cultures. The Honors course allowed me to experience and share the value of sharing ideas and approaches across disciplines. For several sessions, I invited presentations by expert colleagues not only from other languages and literatures and other disciplines within the College of Liberal Arts but also from the Colleges of Public Health and Medicine. I have learned from them, along with the participants in the seminar. For several weeks of the seminar, the students present and discuss their research projects, allowing for diverse materials and building on individual interests and expertise. Often, they become the teacher with me more a learner than the authority behind a podium. I am confident we all benefit from the intellectual exchange. It is a pleasure to work with such gifted young minds.
Donna Parsons: Honors and Music
Honors seminars place a high emphasis on developing undergraduates’ research skills and providing students with opportunities to share their research in a wide array of venues. Whether studying popular music or literature, lively class discussions require students to provide textual evidence to support their ideas.
For example in discussing the level of creativity behind John Lennon’s utilization of an 1843 antique circus poster in crafting his lyrics for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” students spend 15 minutes walking around campus documenting random words and phrases that catch their eyes and ears. In class they attempt to turn their findings into a catchy lyric and realize the difficulties in converting the mundane into the profound.
Equally important in expanding students’ critical thinking are the opportunities honors seminars give students in conducting primary and original research. As students examine first editions of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility (1811) and Emma (1816) in the University Library’s Special Collections and Archives, they consider how Austen’s contemporaries encountered these novels via their subscription to their local lending library and then critique subsequent editions as they analyze the development of book publishing.