HERDSA 2012: Session 1 notes – Student Wellbeing

I won’t be giving detailed comments on all sessions – firstly, I can’t attend everything and, secondly, I don’t want you all to die of word poisoning – but I’ve been to a number of talks and thought I’d discuss those here that really made me think. (My apologies for the delay. I seem to be coming down with a cold/flu and it’s slowing me down.)

In Session 1, I went to a talk entitled “Integrating teaching, learning, support and wellbeing in Universities”, presented by Dr Helen Stallman from University of Queensland. The core of this talk was that, if we want to support our students academically, we have to support them in every other way as well. The more distressed students are, the less well they do academically. If we want good outcomes, we have to able to support students’ wellbeing and mental health. We already provide counselling and support skill workshops but very few students will go and access these resources, until they actually need them.

This is a problem. Tell a student at the start of the course, when they are fine, where they can find help and they won’t remember it when they actually may need to know where that resource is. We have a low participation in many of the counselling and support skill workshop activities – it is not on the student’s agenda to go to one of these courses, it is on their agenda is to get a good mark. Pressured for time, competing demands, anything ‘optional’ is not a priority.

The student needs to identify that they have a problem, then they have to be able to find the solution! Many University webpages not actually useful in this regard, although they contain a lot of marketing information on the front page.

What if we have an at-risk profile that we can use to identify students? It’s not 100% accurate. Students who are ‘at risk’ may not have problems but students who don’t have the profile may still have problems! We don’t necessarily know what’s going on with our students. Where we have 100s of students, how can we know all of them? (This is one of the big drivers for my work in submission management and elastic time – identifying students who are at risk as soon as they may be at risk.)

So let me reiterate the problem with the timing of information: we tend to mention support services once, at the start. People don’t access resources unless they’re relevant and useful at the particular time. Talking to people when they don’t have a problem – they’ll forget it.

So what are the characteristics of interventions that promote student success:

  • Inclusive of all students (and you can find it)
  • Encourages self-management skills  (Don’t smother them! Our goal is not dependency, it’s self-regulation)
  • Promotes academic achievement (highest potential for each of our students)
  • Promotes wellbeing (not just professional capabilities but personal capabilities and competencies)
  • Minimally sufficient (students/academics/unis are not doing more work than they need to, and only providing the level of input that is required to achieve this goal.)
  • Sustainable (easy for students and academics)

Dr Stallman then talked about two tools – the Learning Thermometer and The Desk. Student reflection and system interface gives us the Learning Thermometer, then automated and personalised student feedback is added, put in by academic. Support and intervention, web-based, as a loop around student feedback. Student privacy data is maintained and student gets to choose intervention that is appropriate. Effectively, the Learning Thermometer tells the student which services are available, as and when they are needed, based on their results, their feedback and the lecturer’s input.

This is designed to promote self-management skills and makes the student think “What can I do? What are the things that I can do?” Gives students of knowledge of which resources they can access. (And this resource is called “The Desk”) Who are the people who can help me?

What is being asked is: What are the issues that get in the way of achieving academic success?

About “The Desk”: it contains quizzes related to all part of the desk that gives students personalised feedback to give them module suggestions as appropriate. Have a summary sheet of what you’ve done so you can always remember it. Tools section to give you short tips on how to fix things. Coffee House social media centre to share information and pictures (recipes and anything really).

To allow teachers to work out what is going on, an addition to the Learning Thermometer can give the teacher feedback based on reflection and the interface. Early feedback to academics allows us to improve learning outcomes. THese improvements in teaching practices. (Student satisfaction correlates poorly with final mark, this is more than satisfaction.)

The final items in the talk focussed on:

  • A universal model of prevention
  • All students can be resilient
  • Resources need to be timely relevant and useful
  • Multiple access points
  • Integrated within the learning environment

What are the implications?

  • Focus on prevention
  • Close the loop between learning, teaching, wellbeing and support
  • More resilient students
  • Better student graduate outcomes.

Overall a very interesting talk, which a lot of things to think about. How can I position my support resources so that students know where to go as and when they need them? Is ‘resiliency’ an implicit or explicit goal inside my outcomes and syllabus structure? Do the mechanisms that I provide for assessment work within this framework?

With my Time Banking hat on, I am always thinking about how I can be fair but flexible, consistent but compassionate, and maintain quality while maintaining humanity. This talk is yet more information to consider as I look at alternative ways to work with students for their own benefit, while improving their performance at the same time.

Contact details and information on tools discussed:


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