National Study of Living Learning Programs


Building blocks for successful living-learning programs for women in STEM

About your Living-Learning ProgramA Short Quiz

In order to learn more about your living-learning program, we would like to ask you a series of questions about your program. The questionnaire should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. We are not storing any of your responses; instead, we are only using them to compare your living-learning program to our best practices model later in this chapter.

The questions are based on answers for one living-learning program as an entity. If you oversee more than one living-learning program, it would be best to take the quiz multiple times rather than pooling your responses into one response.

These questions will cover key areas of L/L programming, including: program goals and objectives, space requirements, staffing and reporting, faculty involvement, funding, academic focus, and activities/resources embedded in the program. (These are also the areas we have identified as critical to successful outcomes for women in STEM as a result of the NSLLP.)

Before you take the quiz, though, take a few minutes to read the section below. In it, we introduce our "building blocks" model for strengthening L/L programming for women in STEM. Reading this section will help you put the results of the quiz to better use.

The Best Practices Building Blocks Model

Our research suggests that the components identified above represent key needs for any successful L/L program for women in STEM. We often represent them with a visual model, viewing them as building blocks that can be arranged in a stacked pyramid. We do so because it mirrors a familiar presentation of Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs Maslow, 1987/1954; Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, & Schaller, 2010. It also communicates the notion that each successive layer builds on those that precede it, and that the absence of a more foundational component increases the likelihood a later one may be unstable at best.

Best practices pyramid

At the base of the pyramid is the LLP infrastructure, or those aspects of living-learning programming that their foundation must exist for more sophisticated aspects of programming to subsist and flourish. Just as in Maslow’s hierarchy in which individuals require basic physiological needs in order to survive (e.g., food, water, shelter, sleep), LLPs require: a) a set of clearly articulated goals and objectives that should directly relate to the program’s theme; b) adequate fiscal and human resources to effectively run the program; and c) a collaboration between Residence Life or Housing units and the relevant Academic Departments supporting the LLP.

Based on the findings from our case study, we suggest that collaborations between Housing and Academic Units are contextually-bound, and should follow the working relationships that are most optimal for their unique contexts. For some institutions, where there is precedent for and an embracement of a strong integration of roles and responsibilities between faculty and Student Affairs staff, a fully integrated type of collaboration may be best. For other institutions where no such precedence exists or where the Student and Academic Affairs spheres orbit somewhat separately, a more parallel partnership, where the two divisions maintained boundaries in their roles (Housing responsible for community building and discipline while Academic departments responsible for the curriculum and academic advising) might be best. In either case, however, it is crucial that both divisions communicate regularly and trust one another.

In this case, resources include both financial and personnel sources. First, analyses of the case studies did reveal that champions played a significant role in L/L program successes. The most common champions for L/L programs included institutional leaders, but even more often, the directors of the programs themselves. In addition, we found that different L/L programs had radically different budgets, sometimes even at the same institution. And, not surprisingly, those programs with smaller or stretched budgets were often not able to fulfill all of their desired objectives. Thus, if campuses are considering whether to develop new L/L programs in current stark economic and budgetary times, they must consider whether they have the resources to support those programs. If they do not, it may be better to not offer the L/L program at all than to ask more of the program than it can deliver with severely limited resources.

Resting on top of the L/L program infrastructure on the pyramid is the academic environment. The elements that form this layer of the pyramid include: a) courses for credit that the L/L program offers or co-lists with an academic department; b) academic advising performed by faculty members; and c) a residence hall climate that is academically and socially supportive.

One of the keys to successful living-learning programming that we identified in the case studies is co-registration in common courses among the participants, especially if those courses were part of a major sequence related to the theme of the program. For example, one of the greatest sources of support that women in STEM majors relayed about their women in STEM L/L experience was that they were living among other women who got it, or understood their academic challenges. These women were, largely, taking the same courses and then going back to their residence halls and doing their homework or studying together. Their exams were on the same schedule, so their residence hall environment was appropriately quiet when they needed to study and celebratory when the exams had concluded. In essence, their shared classroom experiences became part of the social fabric of their residence environments. Unfortunately, analysis of the L/L program data from the quantitative portion of the NSLLP revealed that fewer than half of the L/L programs offered any form of coursework as part of their program experience Inkelas, 2010. Moreover, many of the L/L programs offered a course in conjunction with their programming, but the course did not garner any credit. In those cases, the level of student motivation naturally fell. Thus, our model recommends that L/L programs build in opportunities for students to take courses together that satisfy requirements for their major and that are relevant to the L/L program’s theme.

The results of our multiple case study showed that faculty involvement is considered an important, if not crucial, aspect of effective L/L programming. In terms of faculty roles and responsibilities in the programs, the case study findings and the quantitative analyses of the NSLLP data revealed that the most common forms of faculty involvement in L/L programs was teaching courses and advising students. Not surprisingly, then, L/L program students in the NSLLP survey data reported significantly higher levels of course-related interaction with faculty members than non-L/L program students (1.96 versus 1.92, respectively, where 2.00 = a few times per term)Inkelas & Associates, 2007. However, somewhat surprisingly, while L/L program students were statistically more likely than non-L/L program students to have engaged in a mentoring relationship with a faculty member, their mean response to this survey question was 1.50, which fell between never (1.00) and a few times a semester (2.00). Moreover, the non-L/L program mean response for the same question was 1.46Inkelas & Associates, 2007. Thus, it would appear that L/L program students interacted with faculty most commonly regarding course-related or academic advising issues, and less commonly in the context of mentoring relationships. This may be because most L/L program participants are first-year students, and thus their initial interactions with faculty may not yet lead to more mature, mentoring types of relationships. Accordingly, our model recommends that the student-faculty interactions optimal to effective programming are generally organized around specific course or academic advising, which in turn may lead to more sustained mentoring relationships in the future.

Finally, the last blocks in the academic environment layer of the pyramid relate to the level of support that L/L program students perceive academically and socially in their residence environments. The multiple case study findings certainly indicate that some of the most influential aspects of L/L program environments are the peer climates in the residence halls so much so that some may tip the balance and become instances of hyperbonding. That notwithstanding, peer-to-peer interaction in the residence halls was mentioned by L/L program students as the single most positive aspect of their programming, and from the quantitative analyses, we found that students’ perceptions of academically and/or socially supportive residence hall climates were significantly associated with student outcomes ranging from the transition to college, sense of belonging, appreciation of diversity/multiculturalism, and commitment to civic engagementInkelas & Weisman, 2003; Johnson et al., 2007; Rowan-Kenyon, Soldner, & Inkelas, 2007.

The third level of the pyramid consists of the co-curricular environment. Generally speaking, the co-curricular activities best suited for a particular L/L program are ones that directly relate to and enhance its theme. The survey results from the NSLLP found that the most popular required co-curricular activities in the L/L programs studied were orientation programs, group projects, and team building pursuits, and the most popular optional co-curricular activities offered included cultural outings, multicultural programming, and study groups. However, analyses investigating the relationships between specific co-curricular activities and student outcomes, such as the transition to college, overall sense of belonging, and sense of civic engagement, showed that four co-curricular activities in particular were most often linked to more positive outcomes among women in STEM: participating in study groups, outreach to K-12 schools (buddies, peer tutoring, etc.), visits to work settings (corporations, labs, governments, etc.), and career workshopsInkelas & Associates, 2007.

The final level of the pyramid represents intentional integration. This concept represents the extent to which all of the other blocks in the pyramid are in alignment with the L/L program’s goals and objectives and integrated with one another. First, it is important that all of the L/L program’s elements (or blocks) align with program goals and objectives: a strong Academic/Student Affairs partnership is optimal, but not if it operates in opposition to or unconscious of the program’s mission. However, it is also important that the other blocks in the pyramid align with one another. For example, in the women in STEM L/L program at Southern Rural University, the timing of milestones (e.g., exams and major assignments) in the introductory mathematics and science courses were coordinated with augmented tutoring hours. At Mid-Atlantic University, the women in STEM L/L program made use of multiple generations of current and former participants to integrate programming: junior and senior women who were alumni of the program became big sisters to the first-year and sophomore current participants, offering advice, academic assistance, and networking opportunities. The current women in STEM L/L participants at Mid-Atlantic made trips to local public middle schools, in turn, to sponsor a Science and Technology Day, designed specifically to fuel middle school girls’ interests in STEM topics. And, powerfully, one of the women in STEM majors from our Mid-Atlantic University focus group was so influenced by that Science and Technology Day that she now, as a college student, is participating in that very same women in STEM L/L program and serving as a role model for today’s middle school girls.

Finally, we encourage readers to imagine that assessment is the mortar between each block that holds the pyramid together. Effective L/L program assessments not only assess discrete parts of their programs (e.g., their courses, their staff), but also assess the extent to which all facets of their program: a) align with the program’s goals and objectives, and b) integrate with the other elements of their programs. Indeed, this is why the block representing Clear Goals and Objectives is the cornerstone of the model. Despite acknowledged efforts by the L/L programs we studied in the case study to step up their assessment efforts, most were only in the beginning phases of designing and executing their assessment plans. Accordingly, as L/L programs contemplate the types of assessments they might pursue, we recommend that they plan for efforts that examine: 1) the effectiveness of the discrete elements of their program; 2) the extent to which the L/L program’s elements are aligned with the program’s goals and objectives; and 3) the level of integration of the various elements to form a cohesive program.

Once you've taken the quiz, consider you results in the context of the building blocks model:

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