The Challenges of Translating Residential Education Practice into the Digital Age
I came of age in residence life alongside digital technology and the World Wide Web. My first professional position was as a First Year Advisor in the Office of Residence Life and New Student Programs at Miami University 2002. At that time, our department was on the cutting edge. We had our own in-house-developed web portal where we could look up information and input data into forms for submission to the central office. It was magical. We even maintained our own servers and had our own tech crew. Although advanced, this approach still had a lot of limitations.
By the time I moved to my second institution, American University, in 2006, the Web had advanced significantly. It was at the beginning of the development and adoption of Google Apps. At American, we created Google Sites for each of our staff teams and we used Google Forms and Google Docs to share and collect data. It was a revolution. We were able to do things we previously couldn’t. Still, however, it wasn’t enough.
Throughout my time working in residential education, I always wish I had a team of software engineers that could help me build something that was sophisticated and made our work easier. Sure, the free tools available from Google and other generic providers helped significantly, but what about something that could bring all of this together? Something that married the focus and control of the in-house approach at Miami University, with the advanced technology of Google and its professional coders. Something that could incorporate powerful assessment tools, establish new and more efficient workflows, and interface with residents through an intuitive smartphone-friendly interfaces.
That is what makes my current job at Roompact so exciting. I’m able to collaborate with our software engineering team on translating residential education practices into digital software. This is harder than you may think. What we’re trying to do is not just replicate standard residence life practices, but completely rethink them so that they leverage the power of digital information.
A great example of this is the work Roompact has undertaken with Room Condition Reports (RCRs). RCRs are the documents used at the beginning and end of the year to record room damages that residents may make over the course of their time staying in our residence halls. The old school way of working with RCRs was to have a carbon copy form in triplicate. One RCR that would ultimately go to the staff member, one for the student, and one to be used for potential damage billing at the end of the year.
When Roompact moved RCRs online, there wasn’t a need to have “triplicate” copies anymore. There also wasn’t the need to create fresh RCRs every year. Digitally, you can erase and record information and track document changes in ways that you couldn’t when you were restricted to paper. You can also easily attach photos and records to a document. When residents want to contest a reported damage, they can do so online. When physical RCRs became digital RCRs, it opened one up to entirely new ways of doing things.
This is one of the most exciting and engaging parts of my job. I get to work with our software wizards to think of new ways of making our residence life work more efficient, more user-friendly, and to enhance educational outcomes. It is not just about taking a paper process and replicating it online, it is about rethinking our entire work.
This rethinking is not just restricted to members of our Roompact team. When we engage new school-clients, they are forced to rethink their processes, too. It requires a school to reexamine why they do certain things certain ways. It requires a school to examine the end goals of their processes and determine if those processes are truly achieving those ends. It also requires a school to reflect on their values and give up on old processes that may have outlived their usefulness.
This is why one of the reasons working with Roompact is so exciting, both for myself personally, and our schools. We are working at the nexus of technology of student learning. We are discovering new best practices that were inconceivable in the past. Working at Roompact allows me to leverage my years of experience in residential education and curricula and marry it with my passion for and research on technology.
That’s pretty awesome.
This post originally appeared on the Roompact On Duty Blog. Roompact is the creator of residential education software for colleges and universities that allows housing and residence life programs to track their educational efforts and make their administrative work more efficient. As the Director of Curriculum, Training, and Research for Roompact, I frequently contribute to the blog and occasionally cross-post my articles here.