Sometimes, we get curious about a topic or problem the we encounter briefly in a course or in the world generally, and wish we could spend dedicated time teasing it out, to come to a deeper understanding of it.

Do you have a topic that you'd like to explore, with a motivated group of peers, and with experts in the field? Do you like the idea of determining what you learn, how you learn it, and who will tell you about it? If so, then this course may be for you.

The Honours Seminar course allows you to design your own course and steer your own learning. You work together in small groups of about six to ten students, inviting experts in the field to come and talk with you on your topic, and you read and write extensively on it. You have a UCU topic supervisor assigned to your group for consultation, but you are the ones in charge!

Anyone can propose a course topic, but the course outline is written by all group members in the semester preceding the one in which the course runs, so finding your group, and planning in advance is important!

Students from these courses have been inspired to follow a Masters or write a PhD thesis on the topic that they explored in this course.

Ideally, students are in their senior year when they follow this course. Here are the guideline criteria:

  • minimally 60 EC
  • methodology requirements completed
  • minimally three level 2 courses at the time of application for the course
  • minimally one complete track before the semester in which the course runs
  • GPA is circa 3.3 or higher

Previous topics have included:

  • The Modern Balkans: History, Society, and Politics – Spring 2019, Supervisor: Jos van der Linden. Student reflections.
  • Overcoming Narratives of Dichotomy – Spring 2019, Supervisor: Gerard van der Ree. Student reflections.
  • Postcolonialism in Independent Africa. A critical approach to African studies of development, culture and politics. – Spring 2018, Supervisors: Dr. Rhoda Woets and Dr. Corey Wright. Student reflections.
  • Enlightenment Revisited - Critical Approaches to Rationality, Individuality, and Liberty – Spring 2017, Supervisors: Dr. Gaetano Fiorin and Dr. Gerard van der Ree
  • Narratives of the Everyday – Spring 2016. Supervisors: Dr. Gaetano Fiorin, Dr. Gerard van der Ree, Dr. Longina Jakubowska. Course website.
  • Sister Republics: The Netherlands and America – Spring 2016. Supervisors: Prof. dr. James Kennedy, Dr. Rosemary Orr
  • Order, Chaos, and Complexity – Spring 2015. Supervisors: Dr. Floris van der Burg, Dr. Anton van de Ven
  • Engaging the Reader – Spring 2015, Supervisors: Dr. Birgit Kaiser, Prof. dr. Peter de Voogd
  • Sustainable Society – Spring 2015, Supervisors Prof. dr. R.J.F.M. van der Vaart, Denise de Ridder, Sarah Denie
  • The United States and its Place in the World after – Spring 2014, Supervisors: Dr. A.M. Van der Linden, Dr. K. Van der Wijngaart

And also:
Memory (with plasticity of the brain as a focus), Quantum Mechanics: the Physics and Philosophy crossover, Modern East Asia, Complex Network Dynamics, Critical Theory, Computational Linguistics, Consciousness and the Brain, the Financial Crisis, and the Role of History in Art.

The course does not count for any graduation requirement. It must be extra to all course requirements, meaning that students must complete 180ECs as well as this course on graduation.

"We ran a UCU honours course called "Engaging the Reader" for a semester. The course focused on literature that was provocative, in the broad sense of the word - texts that made the reader work to understand what was going on. Works discussed ranged from the ever-engaging magical realists (i.e. Marquez and Murakami) to the rebels of the Beat Generation (Kerouac, Burroughs) and finally the most recent body of literature so vaguely described as postmodern. Though the course came with a heavy workload, it was truly a unique experience. We learned a great deal from having to design a course from scratch, setting our own deadlines and test criteria and then running that same course from beginning to end. Above all, I believe our particular course theme taught us what interdisciplinarity really means: that scholars of physics, mathematics, philosophy, performing arts, museum studies and linguistics can have incredibly fruitful discussions by 'meeting in the middle' over a work of literature." -Tomas Buitendijk, class of 2015

"My personal experience with the honours course was a seminar in 2015 titled Order, Chaos, and Complexity. We looked at the interdisciplinary and extremely diverse field of complex systems science, which deals with systems that consist of many parts that all interact with each other in way or another, usually in a rather chaotic way. In fact, many systems studied by science today can be seen as complex systems, such as the economy, the brain, social circles, and the weather. But what exactly is a complex system? How is this different from other, reductionist scientific views? And how can we deal with the complexity of these systems and effectively and efficiently study them? These were some of the questions we tried to answer during the seminar. The first part of the seminar was entirely devoted to guest lectures by experts in the field, who all worked on complex systems, but on very diverse fields: mathematics, sociology, biology, and others. The chance to interact with established researchers was one aspect of the seminar that I valued immensely, along with gaining significant experience in contacting and inviting these people. The second part of the seminar was devoted to a personal project, supervised again by experienced academics from the field. In these projects, we were fully able to pursue our own topic of interest and to learn as much as we could from our supervisors. I wrote my project in cancer biology and complex systems, a field extremely relevant in diagnosing, observing, and treating cancer in these modern times. I think the skills and experiences gained from interacting with these experts, as well as knowledge and insights gained from the seminar itself will aid me tremendously in the future." -Tim Coorens, class of 2015

Role of students

Students of this course take on the teachers’ role: they select readings, moderate discussions, organize excursions, invite guest speakers, peer review each other papers (before submitting them to the supervisors), give lectures and presentations, etc.

In organising these things, the students shape their own learning experience. They identify what is there to be learned, develop ways of teaching that to themselves, and make themselves publicly accountable to their learning. This will come with limits and failure; we expect the students to do something beyond their capabilities and training. It is therefore expected that the students carefully document their learning experiences, insights, and failures, as they go along, so that they can use them as a resource for their final reflection. 

Students who apply for this course should be prepared for a learning experience which will be:

  • boundary-crossing
    • Breaks boundaries between disciplines, methodologies, and fields of knowledge
    • Might break  boundaries between academia and ‘outside world’, between theory and practice
    • Might break boundaries between high-performance in a specific area and a broader, holistic being-in-the-world
  • self-directed & self-reflexive
    • Requires ownership: what is to be learned is identified, developed, and assessed primarily by the learner
    • Requires being attentive and responsive to failures, weaknesses, inabilities and frustration, rather than through perfect performance;
    • Requires self-reflexivity, with its two aspects
      • Performance: reflecting on what went well and bad, and how to do better
      • Learning: reflecting on how we learn, how we respond to learning, how we grow, and what that reveals about who we are in the world
  • transformative
    • Learning to deal with conflicting paradigms, methodologies and worldviews
    • Learning how to navigate one’s own ‘not-knowing’: how to go on when being stuck or lost

Students will be accountable for their learning outcomes in the following ways. They:

  • define the goals of their own learning
    • Connecting these goals with the LAS goals of UCU
    • Formalising them in conversation with UCU representatives (supervisor, honours director)
  • set the pathway towards those goals
    • Define the steps of their learning trajectory themselves
    • Set the procedure for grading and assessment
    • Share, invite feedback, and make accountable to the institution (supervisor, honours director)
  • account for the changes they make along the way
    • Changes in the learning path are made in consultation with the supervisor
  • make their learnings publicly accountable to the institution
    • Harvesting takes place through a final relfection that is shared with the institution (honours director, heads of department, supervisor)
    • The harvesting includes an account of grading process and outcomes
  • share their learnings with the community 
    • Content-level outcomes of the learning are publicly disseminated
    • The broader learning experiences, outcomes of reflections, etc are shared with the community in several moments during the process

Role of supervisors: teaching by example

The supervisors of the INTHON32 should be present at least to one of the two weekly meetings. They should act and participate in the discussions as if they were an experienced student: they need to teach by example, not by lecturing or correcting. Teaching by example means, for instance, showing how to contribute to a discussion that is not geared towards winning the argument but to increasing understanding of all involved; and how to deal with selected readings, both the ones written from frameworks we are acquainted with and with which we were not. Teaching by example means to show openness, intellectual humility, and care when dealing with any object of inquiry.

Simultaneously, the supervisor helps the student ‘holding the learning space’, by keeping an eye on the group dynamics, the quality of the conversation, and the direction that the course takes. This will include helping students identifying bottlenecks and ‘elephants in the room’ without simple solving those for them. Instead, the supervisor acts much more as a coach, asking questions, and helping the students find their own way through things.

Supervisors offer:

  • spaces for being lost and stuck
    • Help them to sustain the discomfort of being ‘lost’ or ‘stuck’ and develop their own ways out of them
  • safety 
    • Holding the ‘learning space’ is being attentive towards the puzzles that the students encounter and struggle with, without solving them
    • The role of the supervisor is that of a coach, and primarily takes the form of dialogical mirroring
    • Invite failure, a non-judgemental environment, playfulness
    • Attention for the group and process dynamics
  • reflexivity
    • Explicitly invite reflexivity on a) performance and b) broader learning
    • Offer tools, and a safe environment, for reflection and harvesting of learning experiences
  • a community
    • Invite students to share their learning experiences with one another
    • Connect their learning to the broader learning community

Email from Honours Director

The Honours Director (HD) sends an email to all students around September 15th, reminding students that they can design their own course and that the course proposal is due by October 1st. There can be up to 3 parallel groups of INTHON32, each with a different topic and different supervisor. Each group should consist of around 6 students. HD asks ASC to publish this on the Student facebook page. 

The email contains:

  • the link to this page with application procedure, timeline, application forms. On the same page they can also find the “overview of previous topics”;
  • the link to the course description;
  • the date of an informal info session with Q&A in the HD’s office around September 20th;
  • the date of a second info section with Q&A around September 27th.

Form 1: Proposal (one for each INTHON32 group) must be emailed to ucu.honoursdirector@uu.nl by October 1st.

  1. What is the topic and the provisional title of the student led honours course you and your group want to organize?
  2. From the framework and methodology of what disciplines and in what way(s) are you going to research your selected topic? Make the interdisciplinary dimension evident. (Show that your topic –or the methodology you use to approach the topic– is not covered in a UCU course).
  3. Include an approximate budget (think of attending a conference, a play, visiting a museum, a performance, thanking guest speakers with book token or wine; snack and drinks for the final symposium);
  4. the names of the students who intend participate;
  5. possible course supervisors – the course supervisors will help the students revising the outline of the course, will need to see how they proceed by meeting with them at least once a week, will grade the papers that belong to their discipline; check whether students keep their log (or contribute to the log) and write a narrative evaluation of each student by the end of the semester and send it both to the student and to the HD.
  6. essay supervisors — when students plan to write a final paper that are outside the expertise of the course supervisor, students will ask teachers who have the relevant expertise to grade their final papers.
  7. guest speakers;
  8. grading criteria (check the course outline for the necessary elements).

Feedback HD

The Honours Director gives feedback. Most of the time students proposals are not clear about point 2: how each of the disciplines they mention contributes with a specific methodology and a specific set of questions. Students might need help in finding supervisors. The UCU supervisor(s) of each INTHON32 group receives 80 hours, up to a max of 3 groups. The supervisor(s) need to discuss this with their Heads.

Form 2: Personal Application and Course Outline must be emailed to ucu.honoursdirector@uu.nl the Friday before the Fall break.

Each student who wants to participate fills in an individual form, which requires them both to include the outline and to reflect on how the course will benefit them, what contribution they can give to the group and what difficulties they see – on top of mentioning their GPA and giving other information on their academic progress.

The outline must take the feedback of the HD on the proposal into account and must include:

  • 1-8. as above, but updated:
  • 1. Definitive title
  • 4. Name of each student.
  • 5. name of UCU teachers(s) who have accepted to be course supervisor(s)
  • 9. course aim/learning goals - what are the learning goals of developing a course in general and of developing this specific course.

[This form can also be used after this deadline but before pre-registration deadline by students who have been ‘recruited’ by participants in an INTHON32 group already approved by the Honours Director]

Feedback and (conditional) approval of HD

Honours Director gives feedback and approves of course before course registration deadline (usually the third Thursday after the Fall break) and informs the tutors that they can register students. Without point 5 the course cannot be approved. Students might find difficult to elaborate on the course aims.

Final Course Outline: before Spring semester starts. To be submitted to the HD as a .docx or .pdf document

Include the following:

  • 1-9.
  • 10. timeline of lectures and meetings,
  • 11. date of final symposium (to be discussed with the Honours Director, who needs to be present and to grade the symposium)
  • 12. deadlines for final paper and other assignments for which there is a deadline
  • 13. How will the course log be kept? In what form, how often will it be updated?

Questions?

Do not hesitate to contact to the Honours Director (ucu.honoursdirector@uu.nl) and/or to ask for an informal meeting at any time!