Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Physiology

Abstract

In the last 15 years there has been little research about the design of resident assistant (RA) training programs in higher education (Bowman & Bowman, 1995, 1998; Wesolowski, Bowman, & Adams, 1996). A RA is an enrolled student who is selected, trained, and supervised to serve as a part-time, paraprofessional employee for a housing and/or residential life department at a college or university. The lack of research was surprising given the time, effort, and institutional resources invested in employing, training, and supervising RAs. The purpose of this study was to explore how contemporary RA training programs were designed and the education and professional development of those responsible for designing the program as well as to explore the extent to which RA training designers used elements of integrated course design to create significant learning experiences (Fink, 2003). The study was guided by three research questions: (a) How are RA contemporary RA training programs designed? (b) Are RA training programs designed to produce significant learning experiences? (c) Do RA educators use knowledge of curriculum design to develop RA training programs?

The unit of analysis for this cross-sectional study was training programs designed for students serving as RAs for the 2010-11 academic year. With permission of Robert Bowman, many questions from his original study were incorporated into a comprehensive, 52-question web-based survey. The survey was distributed via email in fall 2011 to representatives from 805 higher education institutions located in the United States who were members of the Association of College and University Housing Officers, International professional association and received a 41.9% response rate. The data analysis was largely descriptive in nature.

This study yielded a number of major findings. First, designers of RA training programs largely used an instructional paradigm, rather than a learning paradigm which has been advocated by leaders in higher education. Second, while many designers of RA education programs said they used an approach similar to integrated course design--using a variety of teaching and learning activities, plans for feedback and assessment, significant learning goals, and situational factors--there was little evidence that it was widely used. Third, perhaps a learner-centered approach is lacking because, as revealed in this research, few RA educators completed coursework and professional development in curricular design. Fourth, the rise of safety and security issues covered in RA training programs displaced equally important topics related to multicultural understanding and community development. Lastly, in sum, this research provided a detailed description of contemporary RA training programs.

In closing, I challenged that RA educators cannot develop effective, learner-centered, RA education programs without the encouragement and support of senior student affairs officers, professional associations, post-baccalaureate higher education programs, and other RA educators and proposed a number of measures that must be taken in order to ensure success. I also offered recommendations for future research. Finally, in my concluding comments I proposed a vision for future RA training programs.

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