A Closer Look at Faculty who Teach Honors Courses

A Closer Look at Faculty who Teach Honors Courses

Angie Miller- A recently presented paper at the American Educational Research Association used Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) data to compare various engagement-related practices between faculty who teach honors courses and those who do not. Other recent NSSE research suggests honors students are more likely to be engaged in some, but not all, aspects of the college experience, and these patterns can differ by class level (Miller & Dumford, in press). The majority of research on honors colleges focuses on the student experience and outcomes such as grades and retention. However, it is also important to consider whether honors programs are having an impact on student engagement from the perspective of another vital institutional group: the faculty. This study found that faculty who teach honors courses are more encouraging of engagement in the areas of student-faculty interaction, learning strategies, and collaborative learning. In terms of high-impact practices (HIPs), the study also found that faculty who teach honors courses are more likely to work with undergraduates on research, and to think that it is important for students to participate in learning communities, study abroad, and research with faculty.

For this study, data from the 2016 FSSE administration was used. In addition to the core survey (including FSSE scales and faculty demographics), a sub-sample of 1,487 respondents completed two additional experimental items on teaching honors courses. While this was a subset of institutions that participated in FSSE, they were selected by random assignment and the resulting 15 institutions somewhat mirrored the overall national landscape when looking at size, Carnegie classification, and control.

A series of step-wise ordinary least squares (OLS) regression analyses, controlling for certain faculty and institutional characteristics, were conducted. In each of the analyses, the corresponding flag for teaching honors courses was entered as the last step predictor. The 10 engagement scales and 7 high-impact practice importance items were the outcome variables in each of the models. Additional Chi-squared analyses were conducted to explore teaching honors courses and HIP supervision.

Results from the OLS regressions suggest that professors who teach honors courses interact with students more often, and more often emphasize active learning strategies and collaborative learning among their students. These faculty members also are more likely to think that it is important for students to participate in learning communities, study abroad, and research with faculty, than other instructors, even after controlling for other variables. The strongest effect was for student-faculty interaction, which is not surprising given the smaller class sizes that are usually a feature of honors courses. Smaller class sizes may also allow professors to facilitate more group work, as collaborative learning was more likely to happen in honors courses. That these professors encourage learning strategies is interesting because it might be assumed that honors students would already have well-developed study skills and be less likely to need direct instruction on such practices.

For the remaining models, the effect of teaching honors courses was not statistically significant. Regarding some of the non-significant indicators, such as higher-order learning and reflective and integrative learning, it is surprising these are not encouraged more frequently in honors courses. However, the lack of significant differences in these areas could be interpreted as a promising finding, from the perspective that ALL college students can benefit from these types of engagement. For some of the other models with non-significant findings for honors faculty, this may be due to a stronger impact of a specific major field (such as quantitative reasoning) or because the measures are based on more global assessments of the student experience that are not specific to honors students (such as supportive environment and quality of interactions). Overall, the findings from this study can help to inform programming enhancements and resource allocation for honors colleges.

Miller, A.L., & Silberstein, S. M. (2018, April). Are Faculty who Teach Honors Courses Really More Engaging? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York City, New York.