Creating Honors Courses and Independent Studies

Disciplinary Honors courses are an integral part of every Honors College student's experience, providing in-depth study within the major and building close relationships with instructors in the discipline who have the opportunity to work closely with bright, eager students at the early stages of their academic careers.

Commonwealth Honors College joins with departments and programs campus-wide to offer various types of officially-recognized Honors courses, each type carrying its own set of expectations but all promoting deeper and richer inquiry into the particular field of study. These various possibilities include: 

  • Enriched Honors Courses, three- or four-credit Honors courses and seminars taught at the Honors level with a 25-person enrollment capacity. 

  • One-Credit Honors Colloquia, weekly one-hour group sessions that augment and enrich standard multi-credit, non-Honors UMass courses. 

  • Honors Independent Studies may take one of two forms: a supplemental one- or two-credit Honors Independent Study associated with a standard multi-credit, non-honors UMass course; or a stand-alone Honors Independent Study of three or more credits.

Enriched Honors Courses

An enriched Honors course carries 3 or 4 credits and has a maximum of 25 students in order to provide an environment conducive significant in-class interactions involving discussions and presentations. There should be a significant writing component, preferably with the instructor providing feedback on students’ mid-process drafts of any high-stakes paper, such as a literature review or a final paper. 

The course might extend and enrich the parameters of its non-honors counterpart, be a forum for dialogue and research on an interdisciplinary topic, or take some other form of the instructor's own design providing that it meets the approval of the Honors Curriculum Committee. In any case, it should increase interaction among the students as well as between the instructor and the students. Instructors and students are encouraged to be creative in integrating field research, in-depth readings, oral presentations, group projects, field trips or other modes of Honors learning into the course structure.  

Course proposals are submitted to the UMass Campus Course Management System.

One-credit Honors Colloquia

A 1-credit Honors colloquium is an enrichment of an existing non-honors course and should be more than simply “read an extra book” or “write an extra paper.” It involves a dialogue between motivated students and the instructor that either examines in greater detail the topics covered in the two- or three-credit graded course with which it is associated, or reaches beyond the scope of that course by exploring topics not discussed in the larger section. This dialogue should take the form of hour-long (or more, if desired) weekly or biweekly discussions or tutorials, depending on enrollment. In addition, one or more of the following options might be incorporated to enrich the experience:

  • Oral reports 

  • Short papers on selected topics, peer reviewed and discussed 

  • Development of an annotated bibliography 

  • A multi-dimensional group research project 

  • Problem-solving sessions 

  • In-depth research paper concerning one of the topics in the discussion sessions 

  • Field trips to, for example, plays, concerts, museums, conferences, research stations 

A one-credit Honors colloquium may be taken during the same semester as the standard course, or after the course has been taken. In each case, the student must earn a grade of "B" or higher for the course). To fulfill Commonwealth Honors College requirements, a grade of "B" or higher must be earned in the colloquium.

Colloquium proposals are submitted to the UMass Campus Course Management System.

Honors Independent Studies

An Honors Independent Study may take one of two forms:

  • A 1- or 2-credit Honors Independent Study course associated with a standard multi-credit, non-honors UMass course. 

  • Identified by the designation HI in its name.  

  • A stand-alone Honors Independent Studies course of 3+ credits. 

  • Identified by the designation ISH in its name. 

HI/ISH Faculty Involvement 

In the case of the HI Honors Independent Study course associated with a regular course, the student initiates the process of creating the course by asking the instructor if he or she is willing to act as mentor. In the case of the stand-alone ISH Honors Independent Studies course, the student initiates the process by asking a scholarly active faculty member if he or she is willing to act as mentor. 

Then, following a discussion about the content and nature of the Honors Independent Studies course, schedule of meetings, and how the course is to be graded, the student uploads a proposal to the PATHS website in which responses to specific prompts are entered in a series of dialog boxes. Further details are available on the Honors Independent Study Requirements page of the CHC Handbook.   

ISH Expectations

Honors Independent Studies are expected to be as rigorous as regular Honors courses and to carry a workload equivalent to three hours per credit per week. An Honors Independent Study course of any type must involve frequent interaction between the instructor/mentor and the student. This mentoring component should consist of at least a half hour of one-on-one time per week on average over the semester, and needs to be specified on the Honors Independent Study proposal. 

ISH Standards 

When reviewing an Honors Independent Studies proposal, the instructor must ask, “what makes this an Honors level independent study as compared to a regular independent study?” Qualitative and quantitative enrichment must be evident on the Honors Independent Studies proposal. After submission of the proposal on CHC PATHS by the student, the proposal is reviewed by the faculty mentor, the relevant Honors Program Director and the Academic Standards Committee. Approval by the faculty indicates that the proposed activities meet the requirements specified by the Academic Standards Committee, as detailed on the Honors Independent Studies Requirements web page.  

ISH Deliverables 

Students enrolled in Honors Independent Studies are expected to write papers that are more than a descriptive narrative, contain some original elements, are analytical in nature, stress the synthesis of ideas and information, and feature an extensive bibliography. Where appropriate, the report could be in the format of a disciplinary journal article. However, suitable alternatives to the written report might include an oral report to an appropriate group, a portfolio of artistic renderings, or a proposal for curriculum revision. Any such alternatives must meet the standards of quality and quantity outlined above. 

Departmental Honors and Interdisciplinary ISH 

Departmental Honors Independent Study courses are registered under the offering instructor's home Department. Alternately, students have the option of doing an interdisciplinary Honors Independent Study, which combines topics from more than one area of study. Interdisciplinary Honors Independent Study courses are registered as "HONORS."