Transformative Residential Curricula: Lessons Learned Over 10 Years

ACPA Commission for Housing and Residence Life Sponsored Program
Monday, March 27 | 9:30a-10:30a | Convention Center B131
Presenters: Dr. Hilary Lichterman, Dr. Kathleen G. Kerr, Dr. Keith Edwards

Take a moment to think about the past 10 years.  No doubt, that prompt can conjure up various transitions in your life, job, and other commitments as well as positive anecdotes and challenging circumstances.  On the national scene in student affairs, the curricular approach in beyond the classroom settings started 10 years ago as an emergent trend for residence life practice.  Today, colleagues leading divisions of student affairs and serving in a myriad of functional areas of student affairs around the globe consider the curricular approach to be obvious practice to enhance student learning.

The curricular approach to residential education was initially debuted in Beyond Seat Time and Student Satisfaction: A Curricular Approach to Residential Education (Kerr & Tweedy, 2006) and illuminates core concepts from literature including from Learning Reconsidered I (Keeling, 2004), Learning Reconsidered II (Keeling, 2006), From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education (Barr & Tag, 1995), and Blimling’s (2015) Student Learning in College Residence Halls: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why  National calls for accountability in higher education, critical thinking about how to improve practice to foster students’ learning and development, and countless residence life staff members who have embraced changes to thinking and practice have resulted in the curricular approach to residential education as being an obvious, yet seemingly revolutionary endeavor.  Moroever, the aims of higher education and student affairs, coupled with long-standing and emerging campus priorities, support the urgency for careful review of daily practices for our work as educators in all areas of student affairs.

Dr. Kathleen Kerr and colleagues developed the 10 Essential Elements of a Curricular Approach in 2009 to clarify that this was a fundamentally and substantively different approach and not merely a superficial shift to learning outcomes language.  Together, these 10 notions provide a conceptual framework for improved educational practice, greater student learning, and more efficient use of campus resources outside the classroom, regardless of functional area in student affairs and services. These elements assure a fundamental and not superficial shift in our work as educators, and serve as the foundation for ACPA – College Student Educators International’s annual Residential Curriculum Institute (RCI) and will be detailed in an upcoming About Campus article.

At ACPA 2017, we will share lessons learned from practice on our respective campuses, insights from extensive consulting with student affairs professionals in the United States and Canada on the curricular approach in student affairs, and original research.  Dr. Hilary Lichterman’s dissertation, Organizational Perspective on Implementing the Residential Curriculum Approach: An Ethnographic Case Study, is the first published research on the residential curriculum approach.  It can be found on ProQuest.  Stories about positive and challenging opportunities with designing, implementing, and assessing curricular approaches can benefit those who are embarking on the journey and others who are looking to learn from others’ experiences.

Following are some selected benefits of implementing residential curricula:

  1. Staff members have reported increased satisfaction and education, with the ability to design, implement, and assess intentional practices to enhance students’ learning and development. Individuals with master’s degrees and beyond are able to use theory and data to inform practice.
  2. A residential curriculum is uniquely crafted based on institutional specifics such as mission, vision, goals, strategic plans, priorities, and cultural values.
  3. Student development theory, literature, and data influence the design of educational strategies that are executed in a sequential manner.

Following are selected challenges of implementing residential curricula:

  1. Residence Life student and professional staff are a transient population, thus it is important to identify ways to sustain curricular efforts with ever-changing staff teams.
  2. Some staff members perceive the curricular approach may be prescriptive and stifle student staff members’ creativity in fostering students’ learning. Many find in reality that the structure and guidance fosters creativity.
  3. This paradigm shift is obvious for some individuals while being revolutionary for others. It takes some individuals longer than others to embrace the thought and action involved with the curricular approach.

Following are some points to ponder whether you are adopting or revisiting the curricular approach to residential education:

  1. What are your campus and department’s priorities for student learning and development in beyond-the-classroom settings?
  2. What data exists, or can be gathered, to inform learning outcomes and learning goals for your student population?
  3. How might concepts from organizational change theory influence your efforts to adopt or sustain the curricular approach in beyond the classroom settings?

Finally, we encourage you to take a few minutes to check out a video that debuted at the 10th Anniversary of ACPA’s RCI in October 2016.  Donna Lee, ACPA President and colleagues from multiple institutions share sentiments about lessons learned with adopting the curricular approach in student affairs.


Hilary_4Dr. Hilary Lichterman serves as the Associate Director of Residence Life at the University of South Carolina. In August 2016, Hilary earned her Ph.D. in Educational Administration in Higher Education at the University of South Carolina. Her dissertation, Organizational Perspective on Implementing the Residential Curriculum Approach:  An Ethnographic Case Study, is the first published research on the residential curriculum approach. Hilary served as co-chair of ACPA’s 2013 Residential Curriculum Institute (RCI) and as a faculty member for RCI 2014, 2015, and 2016. She served a three-year term on the ACPA’s Commission for Housing and Residential Life Directorate Board (2012-2015).

KathleenKerr HeadshotDr. Kathleen G. Kerr serves as the Executive Director of Residence Life & Housing and has a secondary appointment as an Assistant Professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Delaware. Kathleen¹s involvement with ACPA began on the directorate of the Commission for Housing & Residential Life, which she chaired from 2006-2008. She served on the Presidential Task Force on Sustainability; chaired two convention Program Teams; served as the Director of Membership Development on the Governing Board; and was elected ACPA Vice President in 2012, serving as ACPA President in 2013-2014, and as Past President from 2014-2015.  She served as the Strategic Marketing Team Chair for the 2016 ACPA Convention in Montréal and is currently serving as an ACPA Foundation Trustee.

KEEDr. Keith EdwardsOver the past 15 years Keith has spoken and consulted at more than 100 colleges and universities on sexual violence prevention, men’s identity, social justice education, and curricular approaches. He has presented more than 100 programs at national conferences and has written more than 15 articles or book chapters on these issues. His research, writing, and speaking has received national awards and recognition including ACPA Doctoral Writing of the Year and ACPA Diamond Honoree.  Keith has chaired and regularly serves as a faculty member for ACPA’s Residential Curriculum Institute and consults with campuses implementing an intentional student learning focused approach in student affairs.



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