Living-Learning Research Report: Michigan State University

by John Baxter, Sara G. Stein

November 02, 2015

As American colleges and universities increasingly recognize the value of educating the “whole student,” the effect of campus residential life on various student outcomes – campus engagement, peer interactions, etc. – has been the subject of ongoing study. We systematically investigate the impact of the spatial environment itself on student student engagement, perceived experience, and sense of community. 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 investigations at Michigan State University build on our living-learning research at the University of Michigan to provide empirical evidence to how the architectural design of college residence halls impacts student learning and development.

We selected two samples of students for our study at Michigan State University.  The first sample (the experiment group) included students living in an EYP-renovated living-learning residence hall (Snyder-Phillips). The second sample (the comparison group) included students living in traditional residence hall (Mason-Abbot).

Students living in the Living-Learning residence hall environment (Snyder-Phillips) were more likely than students living in a traditional environment (Mason-Abbot) to:

  • Interact with diverse peers
  • Discuss assignments with their professors
  • Participate in arts/music and political activities
  • Be more satisfied with their residence hall experience

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 formal and informal socializing.

Features that students in the Living-Learning environment preferred in their residence hall spaces related to their comfort and convenience:

  • Comfortable furniture
  • Quiet and privacy
  • Open during late hours
  • Good location
  • Flexible usage and ability to rearrange furnishings

Implications for Future Residence Halls

Research findings from both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University suggest that intentional learning spaces in residence halls do have an impact on students’ experiences and perceptions. And while the newest residence halls tend to focus on the latest “bells and whistles,” such as high-tech equipment or entertainment, the students in the two EYP studies tended to focus on more basic amenities such as comfortable furniture, good lighting, and convenient locations and hours. The popular public spaces in both the UM and MSU residence halls tended to be used for both academic (e.g., studying) and social (e.g., student club meetings, social events) activities. It therefore remains important to design rooms that can be adapted for both types of activities, with features such as movable and reconfigurable furniture, adequate table space, and ample electrical outlets to support students’ electronic equipment such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. Furthermore, students should be able to reconfigure the room with little-to-no difficulty, so that the space can easily be transformed from study to social space and vice versa. The twin studies at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University underscore the importance of intentionality to living and learning usage patterns when designing a residence hall.

John Baxter

Higher Education Sector Leader

Sara G. Stein

Academic & Student Life Planning & Design