Living-Learning Research Report: University of Michigan

by John Baxter, Sara G. Stein

June 01, 2014

As American colleges and universities increasingly recognize the value of educating the “whole student,” the effect of campus residential life on various student outcomes – class and co-curricular engagement, peer interactions, etc. – has been the subject of ongoing study. EYP is the first to systematically investigate the impact of the spatial environment itself on student development, attitudes, and outcomes. Our Living-Learning research findings offer colleges and universities, as well as architects and builders, key insights into how space types and usage impact student learning and development, so that they can maximize resources to enhance student experience.

Our research reveals that students residing in the living/learning residence hall environment (North Quad) were more likely than students living in a traditional residential environment (Stockwell) to:

  • Interact with diverse peers

  • Have serious discussions with peers

  • Hold intellectual conversations about academic issues with peers

  • Be more satisfied with their residence hall experience

Moreover, students in the living-learning residence hall were more likely to conduct the above activities in their residence hall.

Students in both residence halls, but especially in the living-learning environment, preferred public spaces that were conducive to studying, working on group projects, and informal socializing.

Features that students in the living-learning environment preferred in their residence hall spaces related to their comfort and convenience, including:

  • Comfortable furniture
  • Quiet and privacy
  • Adequate lighting
  • Good location
  • Flexible space with furnishings that can be rearranged

Our mixed-method study examines how the physical design of the residence hall facilitates holistic learning goals including: peer-to-peer interaction; involvement in campus activities; engagement in studies; and openness to diversity. We utilized two different data collection techniques – observation and surveys – to examine student usage of public spaces in their residence halls, and how that usage may contribute to their learning and development. The study also compares students’ perceptions and experiences in two different residence halls at the University of Michigan: one intentionally designed to support living-learning goals (EYP-designed North Quadrangle), and one that was a more traditional residence hall (Stockwell). Both residence halls had been either constructed (North Quadrangle) or extensively renovated (Stockwell) between 2009 and 2010, and the demographics of the students living in both residence halls were similar in gender, race/ethnicity, and academic achievement. Both residence halls are inhabited by returning students only (i.e., sophomores, juniors, and seniors), although the Stockwell sample was slightly younger than the North Quadrangle sample.

John Baxter

Higher Education Sector Leader

Sara G. Stein

Academic & Student Life Planning & Design