Perspective

 

A number of departments and institutions have recognized that as the roles of residential education staff have evolved and technology has advanced, many of the assumptions upon which training programs were previously built no longer hold true. For example, resident assistant and student staff training programs typically occur in August, before residence halls open for the academic year, and can often last as long as two weeks. But do they need to be this long? And do they always need to occur in-person and in August?

In my opinion, we need to re-evaluate and re-vamp our training programs to meet the modern demands of residence life and of our staff. In order to have a more effective and efficient student staff training program in the residence halls, we should…

  1. Re-think how we deliver training.
  2. Re-vise student staff position descriptions
  3. Re-visit training learning outcomes

Re-Think How We Deliver Training

Training at a number of institutions often occurs during a monolithic block of time at the beginning of the year, but does it have to? A number of institutions offer “RA classes” in the semesters prior to employment that seek to advance some of the foundational educational concepts of residence life work, allowing training in the fall to be shorter and allow for different topics to be addressed.

Perhaps this could go further?

Technology and e-learning have made advancements within the past decade that now allow for more in-depth and effective training that can be self-paced, occur on-demand, and be accomplished from almost anywhere with an internet connection. Although not suited to all types of learning outcomes, basic knowledge acquisition is well suited to the online environment. Within the residence life context this can include knowledge of college and university policies and procedural information.

Online training can also complement and free up time during in-person training. This is also known as “flipping,” or using flipped-classroom techniques. For example, before an in-person training session, a student could complete an online module describing listening and counseling techniques. Later, the student would have an opportunity during in-person training time to apply what they’ve learned through role play and receive observational feedback from an instructor and from peers. By thinking outside-the-box of normal training schedule routine, learning can even be enhanced.

Re-Vise Student Staff Position Descriptions

More fundamentally than altering a training schedule, one should also revisit a department’s approach to residential education and community building. In turn, this should cause one to examine if resident assistant positions are structured appropriately for the goals and outcomes one wishes to achieve. Many institutions that have embarked on developing a residential curriculum have found that when their educational model changed, the skills and competencies required of their staff members also changed.

Many residential education departments may find that the development of soft skills, interpersonal skills, and basic counseling and mentoring skills are now more important than ever. Furthermore, developing the leadership capacity of student staff is increasingly important as we hope to empower staff members to be more adaptable and less prescriptive in their roles. Revising student staff positions should result in a revision of student staff training to meet with new models and approaches.

Unbundling Educational Outcomes

Photo Credit: Michael Staton

Re-Visit Training Learning Outcomes

Finally, learning outcomes for student staff training should be clearly articulated, revisited, and revised. Some learning outcomes may not be best achieved during a defined training period in the fall. As discussed earlier, the use of pre-hire RA classes, or technologically enabled solutions may be better suited to some outcomes than others. Furthermore, the use of these tools and other methods for ongoing training throughout the year can result in better on-time training of relevant content.

Much like the development of a residential curriculum for resident students, a similar curricular approach can be developed for student staff. Once learning goals and outcomes are developed, let these guide your strategies and methods of delivery. The fallacy of students staff training is that we assume the structure before determining learning outcomes. Instead, learning outcomes should be determined first and guide what strategies and approaches to training should be developed.

Conclusion

Because of the busy and often hectic lives of residence life professionals during the academic year, it is often difficult to find the time to review and question some of the assumptions made in our work. When pressed for time, it is perfectly reasonable to repeat what was done before and make adjustments on the fly. Student staff training, however, is one of the functions of residence life that has a much longer term impact than its initial implementation might suggest. By training smarter, rather than longer, staff can free up they time to focus on other duties and ensure that they are adequately prepared to deal with situations as they arise during the academic year.

Key Questions

  • Do your learning goals and outcomes for student staff drive how your training programs are structured and accomplished?
  • Does student staff training match with what your position descriptions describe and prescribe?
  • Are you utilizing technology and other methods of training and educational delivery appropriately?