Implementing Intentional Conversations into Your Residence Life & Curriculum Work

Implementing Intentional Conversations into Your Residence Life & Curriculum Work
ACPA Commission for Housing and Residence Life Sponsored Program
Monday, March 12 | 4:00-5:00p | 342E
Presenters: Dr. Paul Brown & Dr. Hillary Lichterman

Staff in departments of housing and residence life are changing the way they approach educational initiatives within residential communities.  Influenced, in part, by the rise of the curricular approach to student learning beyond the classroom, many campuses have moved away from traditional programming models towards the recognition and utilization of various diversified strategies for engaging students.  One strategy that has grown increasingly popular is the use of guided, 1-on-1, peer conversations.  These intentional interactions, or intentional conversations, are a means of connecting with students individually and contextualizing learning to a student’s unique needs and situations.

During our session at the 2018 ACPA Convention, we will unpack the concept of “intentionality” and discuss the benefits and challenges of using intentional conversations as an educational strategy. Advice and resources will be shared on how to implement effective interactions through intentionally developed guides and prompts.  Furthermore, we will explore how transitioning to this approach can impact staff selection and training as well as assessment techniques.

Although not unique to a curricular approach, it would be difficult to find a school that implements a residential curriculum without utilizing intentional conversations as a strategy.  Emerging within the past decade, the residential curriculum is built off of defined learning outcomes, specific to the institution, and includes initiatives beyond the traditional “residence hall program.” This approach was initially debuted in the 2006 About Campus article, Beyond Seat Time and Student Satisfaction: A Curricular Approach to Residential Education by Kathleen Kerr and Jim Tweedy.  This resulted in the establishment of ACPA’s Residential Curriculum Institute and numerous follow up articles and research within the past decade culminating in a follow up About Campus article in 2017, Shifting to Curricular Approaches to Learning Beyond the Classroom, by Kerr, Tweedy, Edwards, and Kimmel.

Intentional Conversations, however, can be useful for student affairs educators who implement a variety of approaches to residential education, including curriculum.  Intentional conversations are a method of educational delivery that relies on student staff to have sequenced and scaffolded one-on-one conversations with residents.  Guides and prompts help student staff members ask and probe students about topics that are developmentally appropriate and tailored to students’ identities and experiences. Furthermore, intentional conversations assist in weaving student learning throughout the year by connecting topics and conversations across a wide array of educational strategies such as traditional events, social media, and passive education.  Institutions utilizing these approaches have seen effects ranging from better budget utilization to decreases in student conduct cases.

Developing and implementing intentional conversations can touch on several different aspects of your residence life operation, including:

  1. Identifying learning outcomes for students. Before deciding what topics to address in intentional conversations, it is first imperative that you be clear as to what your learning outcomes are for students and this particular “intervention”.  The conversation topics may change as a student progresses through college.  Therefore, it may be more useful to look at student learning outcome development as a sequence through time, from one conversation to the next.
  2. Selecting and training the appropriate student staff. Being able to hold authentic and genuine conversations while probing for specific topics is a specific skill set you should look for in your student staff.  Changing your hiring processes to prioritize skills like empathic listening, interpersonal skills, follow through, and conscientiousness can help.  What cannot be selected for, can also be trained.
  3. Developing guides and prompts to structure the conversations. Intentional conversations, are guided as opposed to completely open ended activities for student staff members.  Ask yourself, what are the learning outcomes for students?  Where might a student be developmentally?  What challenges may they be experiencing at a given point in a semester?  Developing facilitation guides for student staff members can help them probe for and identify known potential issues while also helping challenge the students thinking and help them set goals.
  4. Assessing the effectiveness of the conversations. After an intentional conversation, a staff member is usually asked to provide notes and feedback about the conversation.  After collecting all this data, some institutions may struggle with what to do with all of this insight.  Utilizing qualitative tags or codes, scored rubrics, and staff theme summaries are some of the ways these data can be used through educationally responsible means and used to evaluate learning effectiveness.

These topics will be addressed further in our session during Convention, but thinking through these four fundamental points can help you in enhancing your institution’s approach to an intentional conversation initiative.  At its core, it is always important to remember to be guided by your learning outcomes, or the educational compass that guides your work with and for students.


Kerr, K. G., Tweedy, J., Edwards, K. E. and Kimmel, D. (2017). Shifting to curricular approaches to learning beyond the classroom. About Campus, 22, 22–31.

Kerr, K. G., & Tweedy, J. (2006). Beyond seat time and student satisfaction: A curricular approach to residential education. About Campus, 11(5), 9-15.

paul-brown-headshots-72Dr. Paul Gordon Brown is a scholar, consultant, and speaker specializing in student learning and development’s intersection with technology, social media and design. Paul has nearly 20 years of professional experience in higher education and student affairs, most recently as the Dean of Students at the Fashion Institute of Technology and as a faculty member in the Higher Education Programs at Boston College and Merrimack College. Paul currently serves as the Director of Curriculum, Training, and Research for the higher education technology software company, Roompact. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the State University of New York College at Geneseo, a Master of Science degree in College Student Personnel from Western Illinois University, and a PhD in Higher Education from Boston College.

Hilary_4Dr. Hilary Lichterman (she, her, hers) serves as the Associate Director of Residence Life at the University of South Carolina (UofSC) and has 13.5 years of professional experience in higher education and student affairs. In 2016, Hilary earned a Ph.D. in Educational Administration in Higher Education from UofSC. 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 RCIs 2014-2017. She served a three-year term on the ACPA’s Commission for Housing and Residential Life Directorate Board (2012-2015). Hilary serves as a consultant and external reviewer on curricular approaches and organizational practices.






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