Guest Post: Using Online Environments in Residential Life

Note: This is a guest post from Stacy L. Oliver, Assistant Director of Housing and Residential Life at Indiana University South Bend. You can follow Stacy on Twitter or read her blog at

The inspiration to use an online learning environment with my Resident Assistant staff was initially drawn from their inability to tell me when they were running low on duty reports in their binder. Growing frustrated with finding duty reports scrawled on notebook paper, scraps of construction paper and once on a paper plate, I wanted to create an online resource center for them. I asked them how they felt about a Google Group. They hesitated at the idea of having to check another website for a shared calendar or resources.

Through our university IT department, I requested an OnCourse class. OnCourse is Indiana University’s homegrown system that compares with BlackBoard. IT agreed and within days, my staff was set up.  Because they already use OnCourse with their classes, it was an easy transition and, frankly, I had a steeper learning curve than they did.

While my initial intent was only to upload forms into the resources area so they could access them anytime, our use has grown over the three semesters since implementation. In addition to forms they can print when they run low (ahem, duty reports), they also have access to all of their electronic forms they are responsible for completing and submitting via the dropbox. Having instant access to the blank incident reports, program planning forms and weekly reports has saved them from having to remember where they saved it on their computer. For me, it keeps me better organized because each RAs submissions go into their individual dropbox. From there, I can review them, save them if applicable and delete them.

With consistent feedback from the staff, our use has expanded beyond what I anticipated. We currently use the chat room for weekly professional development discussions. Every Thursday morning I post a link to an article or video for their review. They then discuss in the chat room and we debrief in staff meetings. The online discussion has fostered great conversation and exchange of ideas. It’s also allowed me to continue their training in some areas without taking time from away from staff meetings to handle more pressing issues. We use the shared calendar to reflect duty schedules, bulletin board responsibilities and our events. I can keep them informed of room reservations in our common areas; they can see what’s coming up before choosing a night for their next big event.

Looking to the future, I plan to use the Wiki area of the site to create crowd-sourced tips from the current staff members for future staff members on programming and community building. I’d also like to better utilize the forums area to foster public conversation.

Nothing will replace the weekly staff meetings and individual supervision meetings I hold, but the online environment has supplemented and enhanced our work well.

Are you using an online environment in a non-traditional way with your students? How do you use it and what tips do you have for others?

  • Joe Sabado

    Great post! We also use wiki as a central place for documentation and discussions. One of the surprise and effective use of wiki for us are the personal profile pages we created. This provides my team to share not only their work/responsibilities so others can refer to them as needed, but also include personal interests/info to the extent they are willing to share them. I don’t make the profile pages mandatory but I found I didn’t need to do that. We have telecommuters who only visit our workplace 2-3 times a year and so having the profile pages(with pics) provide them some initial info about our new members and vice versa.

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