Many traditional programs models within residence life are designed such that staff members must complete x number of events or programs a semester. Relying on an overall number of programs, however, ignores an important variable in the educational equation: frequency. Rather than focus on the total number of programs to be completed, it is perhaps even more important to ensure that programs are evenly spaced throughout the year and occur at the appropriate times.

Why Frequency Matters

The frequency of educational activities matters because education is a process that occurs over time and is iterative and cumulative. Although the educational process itself isn’t always linear, the general arc of education over someone’s lifetime bends in this direction. When it comes to programming, educational activities in the residence halls can too often be structured as discrete one-time events that are devoid of context.

Additionally, in practice, when programming models leave educational plans up to student staff, there can often be a tendency to promote end-of-the-semester programming “crunches.” These crunches occur when student staff are looking at the overall number of programs they need to complete and recognize that they haven’t fulfilled their requirements (typically due to poor planning).

Perhaps a better approach than requiring an overall number of programs or educational events for a semester is to require one educational activity or intervention per defined time period (per week, per month, etc.). Changing the requirements in this manner recognizes that frequency of educational contact may be more important (or at least equally as important) as the overall number of educational events and interventions.

Scaffolding Learning

Rather than seeing programs as one-off events, it is perhaps better to think of them as part of a whole. The whole is the entire educational experience you are attempting to build in the residence halls. The building of a holistic approach to residential education requires pre-planning and mapping out of educational experiences in a scaffolded way. This is one of the premises of a curricular approach to residential education.

Developing rubrics for your learning outcomes is one way of starting this scaffolding process. By developing a rubric, one is able to map how student learning may change over time. In developing a rubric, you can identify where your students currently are and where you where you would like them to move to. After mapping this, think about what learning is required “in-between.” This allows you to determine what types of programs (or other educational interactions) will be needed to help them achieve your end goal. By developing rubrics, you are recognizing that learning takes place over time, not just in discrete chunks.

Utilizing Educational Expertise

The development and enactment of rubrics requires intentional designers with educational expertise. In the case of residence halls, this work is best handled by Masters-level professionals who have studied and completed coursework in education and human development. Student staff members are most often not equipped to do this work. When switching from a model that prescribes an overall number of educational interventions towards one that is sensitive to time-based development and content, one must re-examine how these educational programs, events, and interactions are planned. Educational initiatives are enhanced when they are designed with this learning-centric approach.

Key Questions

  • Is your educational model mindful of time-based learning and development?
  • What knowledge, skills, and abilities do staff members need in order to develop well designed programs and learning opportunities?