The ultimate mission of student affairs work is to advance student learning. Although this occurs across campus, the professionals that work in residence life are uniquely situated in this process given the relatively high level of contact they have with students. Unlike most faculty members, however, the educational environment created by student affairs and residence life educators is not confined to the classroom. This has both benefits and challenges as it increases the methods and means of educating students, but lacks the directed consistency of a formal course.
Although many residence life and education departments have relied heavily on programming as a means of education in the past, there are a number of different strategies one can employ to further student learning. Additionally, looking at already existing processes and points of contact through an educator’s lens reveals opportunities for creating additional learning moments for students. The following are some examples of learning strategies you can use in the residence halls:
1. The Move In Process. Although not traditionally conceived of as a learning strategy, the move-in process offers a number of touch points for educational moments. From acclimating students to a new community environment to developing community standards at a first floor meeting, the move-in process can be rethought to focus on educational outcomes. Academic partnerships can also be introduced at this early stage.
2. Roommate Agreements. Planning for and working through conflict is an important life skill that can be learned through negotiating the roommate experience. Developing formal roommate agreements, or documented guides that help students understand their conflict styles as well as how to work through conflict, can be important sites for learning.
3. Intentional Interactions. Sometimes referred to as intentional conversations, the one-on-one interactions that students have with student staff can be an excellent strategy for learning. Well planned interactions provide staff with suggested questions and prompts for students that are developmentally appropriate and timely–based on the point in the semester in which they are occurring.
4. Community Meetings. Gatherings of a floor and hall community can be used for celebration and also for opportunities to work through community and campus issues. Leveraging the discussion and interaction opportunities provided by community meetings requires well written facilitator guides as well as staff who possess the skill development to enact them.
5. Campus Events. Utilizing campus partners and already existing events can be an excellent strategy to engage residents in the broader campus while also personalizing the learning experience through community. Adding pre- or post-event discussions or meetings with faculty and other relevant experts can provide space for reflection and the furthering of learning objectives.
6. Bulletin Boards/”Passive “Programming.” The use of advertising and other physical means of disseminating information that students can consume on their own timeline is a well-used tradition within residence life. Beyond a bulletin board, this can include the distribution of thoughtful and timely articles as well as newsletters and other materials. Developed with student learning in mind, these should be guided and designed by educational experts who can best develop their message.
7. Traditional Programming. Traditional hall programming, a timed physical event where students gather to listen to a speaker, watch a movie or other media, and/or participate in an activity, still works as a strategy, even if it is not the only strategy you should employ. When deciding to do a program, reflect on whether it is the best strategy for achieving your intended outcomes. The outcomes should drive the strategy, not the other way around.
8. Conduct Meetings. Conduct hearings, as well as any assigned sanctions, can present educational opportunities for students. Sanctioning can be creative to fit the nature of the violation and ensure the learning is contextualized to the behavior and experience of the student. Furthermore, it should fit within the already defined learning objectives of your department.
9. Student Leadership Opportunities. Getting involved in Hall Council, the Residence Hall Association, or as a Resident Assistant or other student employee provides opportunities for students to gain a number of enhanced and advanced skills. Much like the other strategies listed here, learning objectives should be clearly articulated and enacted in the student experience. What do these leadership opportunities “teach” and how can you ensure that educational objectives aren’t left to chance.
10. Social Media and Networks. Social media engagement represents one of the newest strategies available to student life educators. As opposed to viewing social media as just an evolved form of advertising, find creative ways to engage with students, connect them to learning opportunities, and run educational campaigns. Although this area is still evolving, a number of institutions are innovating and succeeding with social media strategies.