Utilizing Peer and External Review Processes for Continuous Curricular Improvement

Developing a culture of continuous improvement within your housing and residence life department requires one to put structures in place to gather assessment data and utilize that data to make change. Furthermore, it requires the identification and standards against which a department can compare their progress and determine and prioritize goals. Within the area of housing operations, one will find numerous resources to aid departments in the development of these processes. Student learning and curriculum should also undergo a review process as well, although the resources in this area are still developing.

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A number of departments utilize an internal or external review process for their operations. ACUHO-I provides a number of resources that can help with this process. The ACUHO-I Standards and Ethical Principles for College and University Housing Professionals provides a baseline against which a department can evaluate their progress. The companion Self Assessment Guide (available to ACUHO-I member through their online library) is a tool staff can utilize to self-rate their progress towards the fulfillment of these standards and identify, and prioritize, areas for improvement. ACUHO-I also holds the Professional Standards Institute (PSI) every year, which trains professionals in these standards as well as how to use them in a review. The PSI experience also includes a real-world expedited review of institution to allow participants to practice the review process.

In addition to the resources provided by ACUHO-I, The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) also provides standards for Housing and Residential Life Programs. Both ACUHO-I’s and CAS’s standards documents are utilized by Skyfactor’s Benchworks Program Assessment survey. These surveys provide useful data benchmarked against the standards and against other institutions utilizing the survey. Skyfactor’s models also help you determine what changes may have the highest impact on overalls student satisfaction which can help institutions identify and prioritize areas for improvement.

Curriculum and Student Learning

In addition to developing a review process for one’s housing operation, it is important to be mindful of the educative function of a housing and residence life department. Although the above resources provide some useful guidelines in this area, many are focused more squarely on measuring student satisfaction and service provision. Schools must also engage in review of their curricula and educational models to determine their effectiveness. This includes not only student-level assessment of educational initiative effectiveness, but a review of the educational model and the identified goals and outcomes themselves. This requires putting the appropriate structures in place and identifying the relevant data sources and experts for analysis. Follow these steps for your review process:

  • Brainstorm a list of questions you want answered.
  • Think through your logistics:
    • What sources of feedback will you use?
    • How will you organize your time?
    • What is the scope of your review? Full? Partial?
  • Identify experts, partners, and stakeholders that can help in the review.

Roompact has also developed a tool which may be useful for institutions looking to identify a set of curriculum standards against which they can benchmark themselves. The Residential Curriculum Self Assessment Instrument provides a worksheet that staff can utilize to assess their progress in curriculum development. Beyond this guide, all peer review processes should include an analysis of the effectiveness of curricular initiatives in succeeding in their stated objectives. This should not be just student satisfaction or self-identification of learning, but rather actual demonstration of achievement. If an academic initiative is not successful in achieving its stated outcomes, it should be revised or retired. If an overall curriculum has gaps that do not address all aspects of a goal or outcome, it should be re-sequenced or modified to better catch these objectives.

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Key Questions

  • What processes do you have in place for peer/external review of your housing operations? Of your educational functions?
  • What staff, stakeholders, and partners would be useful in your review process?
  • When does this review process take place? Is it monthly? Annually? Continuously?
  • How are you measuring student learning as opposed to satisfaction or self-reported progress?

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