Paradigm Shift for Student Learning in Residence Halls: Revolutionary and Obvious

in Blog,Leadership,Student Affairs

I’m headed off this morning to St Louis for the ACPA Residential Curriculum Institute. This is one of my favorite professional development opportunities. Not only do I get to connect with some of my favorite professional colleagues, but I also get to engage in deep high level thinking about how to make the most out of the residence hall experience.

I went to the first Residential Curriculum Institute as cynical as they come. I basically went so that at the end I could tell the organizers why it was either a bad idea or not all that different. This tells you something about me doesn’t it? Instead I left the institute completely energized by the paradigm shift that I had made in how I think about student learning in residence halls. I described it at the time as both revolutionary and obvious. It was revolutionary because it completely shifted how I thought about how we should engage students in residence halls. It was obvious because once I had made that paradigm shift I couldn’t imagine why we would do it any other way. I’ve since been involved with developing and hosting the institute and work with campuses to make their own shift to a learning outcomes approach.

A curricular approach shifts from a programming approach to an approach guided by learning outcomes that tries to bring the intentionality, purposefulness, and developmental sequencing that academic departments put into how they design their courses and how they design a major. With all of the pressure on higher education to do more with less, why would we let the opportunity to foster learning beyond the classroom pass us by?

More schools are letting go of a simple and oftentimes random programming approach and shifting to an intentional curricular approach. However, I do see some schools who claim a curricular approach when really all they have done is create a new programming model guided by learning outcomes.  In response to this, a group of us who have lead these institutes developed the 10 Essential Elements  of a Curricular Approach.

  1. Directly connected to your institution’s mission (archeological dig).
  2. Learning outcomes are derived from a defined educational priority (i.e. leadership, citizenship, etc.).
  3. Based on research and developmental theory – not just our intuition.
  4. Learning outcomes drive development of educational strategies (mapping).
  5. Programs may be one type of strategy – but not the only one.
  6. Student staff members play key roles but are not the educational experts.
  7. Represents sequenced learning (by-month and by-year).
  8. Stakeholders are identified and involved.
  9. Plan is developed through review process that includes feedback, critique, transparency (Curriculum Review Committee, etc.).
  10. Assessment is essential for measuring the achievement of the LOs and can be used to test the effectiveness and efficiency of strategies for program review and accountability.

Although this institute is focused on applying this to residence halls, we apply this to our work in Campus Life at Macalester across residential life, student activities, orientation, and conduct. I’m also seeing more and more desire of different institutions to apply this division wide across student affairs. Yesterday, I spoke with a major leader from another small private institution that had included in its new strategic plan a call for a student development plan and now they were trying to figure out what that meant and how they were going to accomplish that lofty goal. The future looks promising.

Follow the institute events, comments, and provide feedback on Twitter via #RCI2012

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