Residential Curriculum Element #5: Educational Strategies Go Beyond Programmed Events

We’re all familiar with the premise that food is a necessary component of any educational endeavor in the residence halls. Attract residents with pizza and then ambush them with educational content. Although there is nothing wrong with incentivizing participation in an educational activity, the premises behind this mindset are problematic. This approach assumes that the problem with an educational program is the residents, not the program itself.

Successful educational strategies in the residence halls should not be limited to just programs. There are many ways to engage residents in educationally purposive activities that fall outside of this traditional paradigm. Rather than assuming a programmatic approach first, however, one’s educational objectives should dictate what strategy is the most effective method for achieving one’s ends (see Element #4). Although a program may be the best method of delivery in some instances, other strategies may be more effective in achieving certain outcomes.


Moving beyond the program as the main unit of educational delivery means that when a program is carried out, it is because programming is the most effective method to achieve the desired outcomes. It will also (hopefully) attract residents without the need to bribe them with pizza. Residents will attend an educational program if it is (1) in their interests, (2) satisfies a relevant need, and (3) is well planned and executed.

When one moves beyond the program, there are a number of strategies that institutions and departments can employ to advance learning. Some strategies departments use include:

  • Intentional Conversations
  • Group Dialogue and Discussion
  • Shared Experiences and Engagement
  • Community-Based Learning Projects
  • Visual/Aesthetic/Artistic Communications

In addition to these broad categories, many of the standard functions of a residence life department can also be re-envisioned as educational strategies.  These educational interventions include:

  • The Roommate Agreement Process
  • Community Standards Development
  • Campus Issue Response

While programs and events still have a place within the curriculum, they should not be the only (and perhaps not even the primary) method of educational delivery. Think of the objectives first, and the strategy second. This is sometimes easier said than done because many of us are socialized to do the opposite.

Key Questions:

  • What other strategies can you use besides programming?
  • What processes do you currently have in place that could be re-envisioned as educational opportunities?
  • How can you balance prescriptive educational plans with student staff member autonomy and creativity?

Reference: Kerr, K. G., Tweedy, J., Edwards, K. E., & Kimmel, D. (2017, March-April). Shifting to curricular approaches to learning beyond the classroom. About Campus, 22(1), 22-31. doi:10.1002/abc.21279

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