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Curriculum design to support wellbeing

Student wellbeing has become a key priority for the HE sector in recent years. Whilst we often think of wellbeing as something that can be primarily managed beyond the curriculum, good teaching and learning design and delivery directly impacts the student experience and can in turn, support good wellbeing and help students to thrive.

“Universities ensure that curriculum takes a holistic view of learners, using secure scaffolding and evidence informed practice to enable all students to develop skills, confidence, academic self–efficacy and improve performance.” Mental Health Charter, 2022

This guide outlines how embracing the CT principles of course-wide designassessment for learning and supporting the needs of all learners, will better align our teaching and learning practices with the themes set out in the University Mental Health Charter.

Teaching design and delivery can actively help to maintain good student wellbeing and therefore offers a preventative approach to supporting students’ mental health. In addition, signposting students to relevant professional services when required will also help to support good wellbeing (e.g. Academic Skills, Library).

If students are experiencing poor mental health and require specific support interventions, it is important to signpost them to the relevant specialist services for professional help (contact Student Support for further guidance, including the urgent or emergency wellbeing support service).

Curriculum Transformation and mental wellbeing

Many courses are already implementing, or planning via Curriculum Transformation to implement, teaching and learning practices which support student wellbeing. The following design principles can directly support the themes of the University Mental Health Charter.

Top tips to maximise wellbeing impact:

  • In design, map the expected development of student’s understanding of key concepts and ensure this is carried out across modules. An internally coherent curriculum benefits student wellbeing by supporting the development of mastery, self-efficacy, self-narrative within discipline, deep learning and meaning.
  • Use the first teaching session of a module to help students build clear, meaningful connections between other modules they are studying and, where possible, to their own lives.
  • Use formative assessment to build student’s ability to connect concepts.

You might also consider:

  • Using a course-wide approach to design units will ensure a more cohesive, joined-up learning experience which builds on students’ prior learning and encourages real-world application of knowledge.
  • Identifying and building on students’ prior learning (at school or across units and course years) will better support effective transition from school to University, year to year and from unit to unit.
  • Developing course intended learning outcomes which promote deep and applied learning will encourage meaningful learning which supports wellbeing.

Top tips to maximise wellbeing impact:

  • Identify key knowledge, understanding and skills that students should develop and ensure the assessment task is designed to stretch and develop these. Use assessment briefs to highlight the learning and development students can expect by completing the task. Use feedback to highlight the learning and development students have gained from completing the task.
  • Provide students with a glossary of common terms – both disciplinary terms and terms related to the language of learning and assessment.
  • Use worked examples in the classroom to demonstrate what you are expecting of them for the assessment. What expectations are shared across their units that year and what are specific to your unit?
  • Use formative assessment to build student familiarity, develop skills and knowledge, and increase their self-efficacy.
  • Consider whether there are opportunities in some assessments to allow students to pursue questions within the subject that they find meaningful. For example, by providing a range of questions, allowing students to shape their own question, or providing questions that allow students to follow their own interests. Provide little choice to begin with and then gradually extend choice over the course of a degree as students’ ability to make good choices develops.

You might also consider:

  • A reduction in overall assessment and deadline bunching will better enable students to manage their workload and time, whilst also providing the invaluable opportunity for them to respond to feedback and utilise this to improve their future learning and assessment (feed-forward).
  • Developing clear and transparent assessment guidance will enable students to demonstrate their potential and avoid mis-understanding the assessment task or criteria itself becoming a barrier to progress.
  • Increased formative assessments (either within or across units) will increase opportunities for students to practise, creating a safe place to fail and take risks.

Top tips to maximise wellbeing impact:

  • Use induction/orientation and/or the first class of term to focus on creating cohort identity, a safe social environment and social rules.
  • Link where possible to institutional strategies and plans around decolonisation/inclusive education practice to enable consideration of the sense of belonging amongst diverse groups of students.
  • Consider diversity in your choice of materials (e.g. images, case-studies, examples) for your unit.

You might also consider:

  • Increased opportunities for peer-to-peer learning will help to foster a greater sense of course or discipline identity and community belonging.
  • Harnessing a broader range of examples, case studies, opinions and role models will help students to see the relevance of their learning to their broader lives and foster a greater sense of belonging

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