For the past two decades, important documents such as the Student Learning Imperative and Learning Reconsidered have advocated for placing student learning at the core of our work in student affairs and residence life. Although on its surface this may seem to be a relatively easy task to accomplish, it actually represents a process that requires a transformation of our work. Our departments and organizations must be re-envisioned as learning-centered organizations.
Learning-centered organizations view all of their actions and decisions through the lens of student learning. They engage in the tough work of developing learning objectives, creating intentional plans for achieving them, and enacting tests and measures to guide continuous improvement. In many cases, this work involves a significant time investment because it requires a cultural change and a shift in how work is valued, decided upon, allocated, and accomplished. Once this shift is accomplished, however, and the culture has evolved, the maintenance and expansion of one’s work to promote learning becomes easier with time.
The following five strategies are intended to be tangible steps residential life and education departments can take to promote student learning in their work. Presented sequentially, but often occurring in tandem, these strategies provide a roadmap for how to transform your practice. The text also includes links to supplemental information and content if you wish to dig in deeper.
1. Clarify Learning Objectives
Developing a set of clearly articulated learning objectives can aid educators by providing focus and clarity in the learning process. One of the keys to successful learning objective development is the creation of cascading goals and outcomes that become progressively more specific. Deciding on one’s over-arching learning goal provides general direction to one’s work. From this base, developing goal categories and subsequent outcomes drives specificity. The tried and true concepts behind Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives and SMART criteria can aid in the development of departmental learning outcomes.
We integrated a number of means for entering and tracking student learning objectives into the Roompact software. For example, tags help you categorize learning moments and student contact. Or, when developing learning plans, a quick drop down of verbs from Bloom’s taxonomy is there to help.
2. Objectives Guide Your Planning
Rather than deciding on educational activities and methods of delivery first, learning-centered organizations should have their objectives drive their methods. Start with what students should learn and then decide the best method for helping them achieve it. Using this strategy helps avoid creep in your educational program by avoiding pet projects that may be ancillary to your primary learning objective. Using objectives as a guide also helps in determining what to focus on as well as what not to focus on. This clarity aids in assessment efforts as it provides a clear set of outcomes to test.
The Roompact software is designed so that student staff members can generate and propose learning plans but also allows for learning plans to be developed and assigned to a staff member. This flexibility allows for schools with all types of programming, community development, and curricular models to use the software.
3. Stage and Sequence Learning Opportunities
Learning is a cumulative process and it sometimes regresses before progressing. Developing learning objectives and tackling them in a piecemeal fashion does not do justice to this notion. Instead, treat learning as a journey. Each learning opportunity, event, and point of contact should be staged and sequenced to help build towards learning objectives. In this respect, learning objectives operate in a cascade. Each subsequent level of objective is composed of further points of learning. A learning-centered organization recognizes this and builds a whole program of learning that spans time rather than focusing on the one-off or on solely short term objectives.
Roompact employs educational experts and collaborates with researchers to provide training and development for staff on building curricula and learning plans. Through consultations and workshops, staff can be guided through the process of developing, assessing, and reviewing their learning efforts.
4. Lead With Assessment Plans In Mind
Unfortunately, assessment of learning objectives can sometimes be an afterthought. Instead of placing assessment at the end of the process, it should be developed in tandem with one’s objectives. In this respect, assessment and the development of learning objectives is a reciprocal process. Testing objectives for their ability to be assessed can aid in the development of outcomes that are specific and measurable. Integrating assessment into one’s activities and methods for achieving learning can also ensure that students are the beneficiaries of formative assessments. Furthermore, this can aid in continuous improvement instead of waiting for monolithic summative assessments reports.
From one-on-one interactions to events and community meetings, Roompact can help you track and monitor data related to the strategies and methods you use to promote student learning. Working with a Roompact team member, data can be pulled from the software in formats that can help you assess your objectives.
5. Create Learning Partnerships
None of this work occurs in a vacuum. It requires hiring, training, and developing staff members with a learning-centered mindset and cultivating a departmental ethos that supports learning at all levels. Much as educators should seek to enter into learning partnerships with their students, educators themselves have much to gain from learning partnerships with each other. This includes engaging with campus partners and knowledge experts, but also with each other in challenging and enhancing learning plans and activities for students. Promoting student learning requires a complete transformation of an organization into one that places learning at its core, invests in the professionals development of its staff, and is willing to let learning objectives, and the achievement of those objectives, guide decision making.
Roompact frequently shares best practices and innovative use-cases from our partner schools. We also partner with and sponsor a number of organizations and institutes that help identify and promote high impact practices in the area of student learning. Through workshops and other professional development services, we can help guide your department towards a learning-centric approach.