Integrating wellbeing workshops into academic programmes
The big takeaways
- If you are running wellbeing workshops for students as part of their academic programmes, try to shape the workshops to make them fit better with the specific course content of a programme.
- Genuinely address programme content with your workshops, for example in this practice example Wellbeing and Academic Achievement became Improving Musical Performance by Overcoming Anxiety for our Popular Music students.
Who was involved?
- University of Derby Student Wellbeing staff
The University of Derby created and is now running the Psychoeducation Programme – a series of workshops delivered on academic programmes and linked to subject curriculum, to improve student wellbeing. This case study, written based on interviews with staff, sets out why it is leading to improved take up of support services.
Why did we change induction sessions?
Our psycho-education programme was born out of our work around induction and transition. Like many universities, we used to have ‘Services induction sessions,’ in which we told students about all of the support that was available for them, for the next three years. Most of which our students instantly forgot!
Going from information-giving to felt experience
In fact, our own research and findings in the literature, clearly demonstrate that students do not like these sessions, can find them alienating and do not remember what they have been told. We therefore altered our approach, to move away from information giving and instead developed a workshop that focussed on their felt experience.
This initial workshop sought to normalise what students were feeling in the first few days of university, increase feelings of belonging, help them to identify practical steps they could take to settle in quickly and increase self-belief and motivation. In the first year, 82% of students identified it as the most helpful part of induction.
Embedding beyond inductions
While developing this work, we were also aware that to positively impact on the wellbeing of all students, we needed interventions embedded into classrooms beyond induction. Research shows that only one-third of students who experience problems approach services for support, leaving many students in need without effective interventions. Proactive work can also help, not only to prevent illness, but to ensure students learn, achieve and have a fantastic university experience.
Learning from the pilot
Building on our encouraging start with induction, we partnered with one of our enthusiastic academics to develop a series of workshops, that we then piloted with her first year cohort. The learning from this helped us to refine a series of workshops that were focussed, not just on wellbeing but also on improving student learning, performance and university experience. These workshops range across a number of topics including Making the Most of University, Wellbeing and Academic Achievement, Preparing for Placement, Improving Performance in Assessments, Digital Wellbeing and Time Balance.
The shared learning outcomes for each of these workshops are
- Students understanding and believing that wellbeing significantly influences their academic performance
- Students understanding the holistic nature of wellbeing
- Students understanding that they have influence over their own wellbeing, it is not something done to them
- Students learning or identifying some key skills or steps that can improve their wellbeing and academic performance
- Students building commitment to their own wellbeing
- Increasing the accessibility of the support available to students
What have we learned?
In our early years, it was clear, from classroom engagement and feedback, that students on health and education based programmes appeared to get most from the workshops, while students engaged in the study of numbers were least receptive. Through trial and development, we found that when we were able to shape the workshops to make them fit better with the specific course content of a programme, they were much more successful.
We also learned that it is not enough, in shaping the workshops, to simply open with programme relevant content and then use this to segue into our usual materials in the hope that this will make enough of a connection. To make the sessions relevant they must genuinely address programme content.
As a result our session on Wellbeing and Academic Achievement became Improving Musical Performance by Overcoming Anxiety for our Popular Music students and Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace for our Business students.
Adapting our workshops for each subject area is clearly a challenge but this has brought additional benefits. Often, we have had to work closely with academic colleagues to build our understanding of their subject area and cohort and this has significantly strengthened many relationships between academics and Student Wellbeing staff. It has also improved our understanding of teaching and learning, which has helped to inform the development of service practice.
Our aim is to deliver at least one workshop on every undergraduate programme across each academic year and we are almost at 100% coverage (we’ve recently expanded the number of programmes on offer at Derby, so this became more of a challenge over time).
We also deliver on a number of postgraduate taught courses and have developed specific classes for our Joint Honours students. In addition, we now provide a series of webinars across the year, designed specifically for our online students but open to all.
Feedback tells us that 85% of students believe that our workshops have helped them to succeed on their programme.
We have also seen that the workshops increase students’ willingness to access support from Student Wellbeing. Being present in their classroom helps to break down barriers and the practical, solution focussed approach that our workshops take helps them to see how working with us can make things better.