Residence Hall Museums Offer Thought-Provoking Study Environments
Residence halls at The University of Texas at Austin offer more than just places for students to sleep, eat and study. They are transformational learning environments.
Schools around the country are working to integrate more art and thought provoking exhibits into their campus environments. Leading that charge here on campus is Floyd Hoelting, executive director of Housing and Food Service, with projects like the groundbreaking Residence Hall Museums.
"Every room, every lounge should be a learning environment," says Hoelting. "Each of the museums and galleries provide out-of-class active and passive learning spaces where students see, read, reflect and participate at their own pace based on individual experience."
The 40 Acres are currently home to five Residence Hall Museums, including the Longhorn Art Series spread throughout each of the various residence halls.
Each museum space focuses on a specific theme like the Gallery of Texas Cultures located in Jester Center or the Gallery of Great Texas Women on the first floor of Kinsolving Residence Hall. Rather than being unique destinations, these galleries merge with the same spaces where students live, eat, study and interact every day.
A student may be reading about chemistry, but when they look up from their books they continue to learn about the first inhabitants of Texas, the settlers who followed them or the geography of their state.
"People are subconsciously drawn into reading it, looking at, looking at the tiles," says one student. "Even if you can't remember all these facts about a particular group, I think it's good to have it there. It gives perspective and context to what your place is in the world."
A recent study by the Office of Assessment finds that this kind of transformative learning experience leads students to a deeper understanding of themselves and their world. It also promotes curiosity that leads to additional learning.
"Creating these out-of-class learning environments integrates all of higher education's resources in the education and preparation of the whole student," says Hoelting. "Becoming critical, reflective and well-informed transforms individuals to better adapt to any situation or environment they encounter in life."
Those results are also measured in student success. These kinds of integrated art and cultural installations have a "direct, positive effect on student learning, productivity and even stress reduction," according to one researcher.1
That builds on decades of analysis that shows students who live in residence halls are more likely to graduate in four years, have higher levels of social interaction, have increased self confidence and are more satisfied with their undergraduate experience.2 Hoelting says that story of success is also told in "the higher grade point averages of our on-campus students."
This positive trend for on-campus residents also continues in terms of student retention. Studies show that regardless of race, gender or admission type; retention and matriculation is significantly higher for students living in residence halls.3
"The vision to develop the museums stemmed from a desire to create learning environments using 'situated cognition' that spoke to the diversity of cultures and peoples in Texas," Hoelting says.
Efforts are now underway to partner with faculty to further integrate the spaces with traditional curriculum with the goal of building an even larger academic community that encourages learning and growth at every turn at The University of Texas at Austin.
1. Sullivan, C. C. (2012). A percent for the arts. College Planning and Management, 15(5), 54-59.
2. Astin, A. (1973). The impact of dormitory living on students. Educational Record, 54, 204-210.
3. Thompson, Jane, et al. (1993). The effects of on-campus residence on first-time college students. NASPA Journal, 31(1), 41-47.