Evaluating Living and Learning on Campus: Beyond Twin Beds and Communal Showers

Presented by: Rebekah Ison Radtke

Living Learning Programs are increasing in popularity in universities nationwide because they help to create learning environments outside of the classroom for students with similar career goals and interests. When there are spaces that support students academically in their residence halls, their classroom performance is improved (Palmer, Broido, & Campbell, 2008). Living Learning Programs also aid in a smooth transition from high school to college to adapt socially as well as academically (Brower & Inkelas, 2010). When students are able to form community around similar interests and majors, they are able to connect to their campus and feel secure and to thrive in their academic pursuits. But does the physical environment support and align with these goals? Are the interiors supportive of the higher ideals set forth with living and learning programs? Assessment of the investments made to the living-learning environment can help illustrate the impact on student success and retention. By utilizing a post-occupancy evaluation process, interior design students completed a nine-month study to investigate and assess the investment in student living and learning spaces. A post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is a systematic assessment of an occupied building to better understand the effectiveness of certain design elements. The key purpose of this POE is to investigate, analyze, and report on the successes and weaknesses of the living learning residence hall design to inform future designs. The framework used the process of both qualitative and quantitative measures to gain rich insights into the living learning residence hall experience. Students conducted focus groups and created community involvement events to get resident feedback to capture qualitative data. Quantitative data was collected through surveys and observations. Surveys were administered to understand student preferences, sense of community and furniture preference. Two rounds of weeklong observations provided data to understand occupancy, behaviors, affordances, noise, and temperature of spaces. Students were involved throughout the process: completing space assessments, behavioral observations, administering questionnaires, conducting focus groups, analyzing data, and making recommendations based on their experiences. Over the course of the summer, a team of four undergraduate researchers worked with their professor to analyze and synthesize the data collected and presented a final document with presentation to the university administration. The post-occupancy evaluation revealed four key issues that impacted student success in the design: community, user suitability, amenities, and operations. This presentation will outline the successes of the implemented design and areas for improvement of the finished building. The findings of this study have been used to effectively redesign existing spaces and have impacted future living and learning spaces on campus. This study set a model for excellence in future university design projects by utilizing effective evidence-based design. By using evidence-based design, universities can be innovative leaders in research driven design models with a multidisciplinary collaborative team of administrators, staff, faculty, and most importantly, students.


  • Brower, A. M., & Inkelas, K. K. (2010). Living-Learning Programs: One High-Impact Educational Practice We Now Know a Lot About. Retrieved 2015, from Association of American Colleges & Universities: https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/living-learning-programs-one-high-im
  • Palmer, C., Broido, E. M., & Campbell, J. (2008). A Commentary on “The Educational Role in College Student Housing”. The Journal of College and University Student Housing, pp. 86-99.
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