HNRS 110, 302, 410/411

HNRS 110, 302, 410/411: Meeting the Needs of the Mason Honors College Students

Honors courses at George Mason University provide students a unique, multidisciplinary approach to undergraduate research and inquiry; a take different from many others in higher education.  The distinctive approach, however, meant that existing textbooks and tutorials supporting the class did not quite meet the needs of the Mason students.

“The texts that are conceptually closest to what we teach tend to be long and tedious; other more lively texts tend to emphasize how to assert and defend claims while de-emphasizing the processes of authentic inquiry,” explains Richard Todd Stafford, Digital Initiatives Coordinator in the Honors College.  He added, “With the continued changes in the information landscape, many textbooks felt outdated.”

“Several of us got inspired to go on a quest to find anything in the library that might fit our needs,” continues Stafford.  “We came up empty handed.”

After concluding that the existing textbook was limited in its use, the group received an OSCAR grant in 2014 and produced some OER videos, interactive learning objects, and handouts that began to fit the bill.  But, notes Stafford, “We needed a narrative arc – a textbook or product that can guide the student from beginning to end.”  To reach that end, they applied for and received a 4-VA grant. 

The funding helped get the three major authors, Stafford, along with Maoria Kirker and Savannah Fetterolf, headlong into the effort, along with the support of other Honors College faculty and a cadre of funded and unfunded graduate and undergraduate students who conducted student interviews to assess how major assignments played out.

Although the production of the final product is still being determined – whether a searchable PDF, or an actual text, Stafford is already looking forward to bringing their project out of the Honors College to make it available to other Colleges on campus and in the broader higher education community.  “I feel that this is going to be a very useful approach to guide students through a variety of programs,” says Stafford. “We would never have been able to get this effort into its final iteration without the 4-VA grant; it really made a difference to our project.”