If you hear a peal of laughter break the muffled silence of Weniger Hall on a weekday morning, chances are it’s coming from Eric Hill and his Honors Writing students.
“I use a lot of humor in my teaching because I think knowledge is entertaining in itself, if you frame it right,” Eric says.
Eric has been teaching HC 199 – Honors Writing in the Honors College since 2003. The course aims to instill critical reading and thinking skills and the ability to communicate clearly both verbally and in writing. Students examine and discuss texts, complete in-class writing exercises, and complete a final research paper utilizing library resources. Working with students from a wide range of disciplines, Eric communicates in ways that create universal enthusiasm. Class discussions are supplemented by clips of comedians like Louis CK, “Calvin and Hobbes” comics, and plenty of laughter.
”There is never a dull moment in Honors Writing,” says freshman chemical engineering student Ryan Knippel. “I can honestly say that it has been my favorite class so far in college. Eric Hill goes above and beyond to make the class interesting and he’s constantly challenging his students.”
Eric aims to teach students to engage with texts and conversations in ways that are applicable to both research and life beyond an undergraduate education.
“I try to emphasize three areas that are important and applicable to any field: research, reading and writing,” Eric says. “I want them to learn to listen, think and then speak.”
Research provides the basis for strong communication and analysis, and Eric hopes students learn about the formal process of preparing for academic papers, and how to apply research techniques more broadly. Students in his class, most in their first year out of high school, are often uncertain and tentative about approaching research, and Eric attempts to teach “research as a second language.”
“I want them to think about how they are going about research and how information is gathered and used,” Eric says.
Central to this process is understanding the distinction between different kinds of source materials. Although there are librarians at OSU ready to help students access academic journals and identify other credible resources, many are intimidated and resort to whatever they can find in an internet search. Eric’s students have to produce annotated bibliographies that explain the provenance of each source they use.
“I call it a scholarly scavenger hunt, to make it sound fun,” Eric says with a laugh. “But that’s a lie; it’s just a lot of hard work. No, it really is fun though, and I try to make it fun.”
The ultimate end of strong research, clearly communicated, is the development of a dialogue grounded in shared understanding and mutual respect. “Writing is a collaboration of what you’ve already done,” Eric says. “You’re engaging with the conversation. It’s a lot of corralling of thoughts that you frame, and then your voice is the master of ceremonies.”
The class structure models this interactive and communal understanding of learning, putting aside lectures in favor of open discussion. It’s an approach that highlights the unique advantages of the Honors classroom environment, with fewer than 30 students, as much as it suits Eric’s buoyant personality.
“I don’t like an information dump, I like a dialogue,” Eric says. “I get so tired of me, I really do.”
“I hate the model that says I am repository of all human knowledge, and you are the recipient,” Eric says. “The students are brilliant, excited, and enthusiastic, and they know they don’t know…and that means they know.”
The multidisciplinary nature of the class cohort adds a unique element to the experience, forcing students to engage with peers who have different interests and perspectives. An engineering student might discuss the workings of an electronic circuit, a fine arts student describe René Magritte’s “The Treachery of Imagery,” and a language student point out the nuances of Italian, all in the same class.
“The demographic profile of HC students is so diverse, and they give each other so much” Eric says. “They talk to each together, and I want them to learn that this is a collaborative and interdisciplinary process. I love teaching in the Honors College because students are hungry to learn about things outside their field. They’re there, they’re awake at 8 in the morning, and they disagree with me. And I’m so happy.”
The goal of this experience, what makes it such a fundamental part of the Honors experience, is the inspiration in students of critical thinking skills that transcend academia, preparing students to engage with the world around them, wherever they happen to be. Finishing a class or completing a degree does not end the learning process.
“We are works in progress,” Eric says. “I want them to leave with the constant humility to learn and the hunger to think and contribute.”
By: Emma-Kate Schaake
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