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Improving students' wellbeing in the teaching and learning environment


As reported in several national studies (‘Student mental wellbeing in higher education. Good practice guide, Universities UK, MWBHE, 2015’; ‘Poppy Brown, The invisible problem? Improving students’ mental health, HEPI Report 88, 2016’; ‘10 steps to address the student mental health crisis’, Sir A. Seldon, Times Higher Education, 2015, etc.), we are observing a crisis, which is growing each year, in student mental health and wellbeing in UK universities, including the University of Warwick.

In order to understand and improve students’ wellbeing in the teaching and learning environment at Warwick University, Dr Elena Riva and Victoria Jelicic (both IATL), together with Sarah Ashworth (Head of Mental Health & Wellbeing Support Services), have received Warwick Innovation Fund support for a project which seeks to identify and promote pedagogic practices that can be embedded in the teaching and learning environment that promote students’ wellbeing and mental health awareness.

Study Aim

This research will explore two main avenues for reaching project targets and generating valuable impact:

1) Our first aim is to study and understand Warwick students’ and staff members' perceptions and experiences of wellbeing in the teaching and learning environment through a number of diverse focus groups with undergraduates, postgraduates, and staff that will reflect and work on the matter. The results of these focus groups will guide our subsequent 'ad-hoc' scholarly research that will give us the opportunity to explore and identify possible pedagogic practices able to respond to these issues and to constitute possible solutions.

The identified practices will be subsequently embedded for the 2018/2019 academic year in two existing IATL modules, ‘Genetics: Science and Society’ (UG) and ‘Thinking Water’ (PG), and in the new IATL UG module ‘Understanding Wellbeing’ (see below), that will constitute a benchmark for practically evaluating the effectiveness of our pedagogical proposals.

Our intention is then to extend these practices to all the IATL modules (ca 25 modules that enrol around 500 cross-faculty students) and to evaluate and disseminate the further findings to the wider Warwick teaching community through e-material, seminars, events (i.e. participation in existing Warwick events such as the Teaching and Learning Showcase, Teaching Fellow Forums, Window on Teaching at Warwick, etc.) and publications (i.e. publication in peer-reviewed journals). We aim to have a profound impact on the Warwick teaching and learning community.

2) As a second avenue, we will create the IATL undergraduate module ‘Understanding Wellbeing Theory and Practice’, which will be open to all students cross-faculty and will run from the academic year 2018/2019. The module will be co-led by Sarah and Elena and with the contributions of other Warwick disciplinary experts. The module will analyse the concept of wellbeing from the perspective of several disciplines (psychology, medical disciplines, sociology, business, and humanities) and will help students to understand the complexity of this crucial topic and the relevance of a holistic approach in order to solve the issues related to it. The module will embed the pedagogic practices previously identified and will constitute a further platform for working with students on wellbeing-related problems and possible solutions.

Elena has also received WIHEA funding to organise a Masterclass looking at mental wellbeing in higher education and the challenges for academic staff.

''The promotion of student and staff wellbeing is a key current issue across the higher education sector. Work is needed to understand how we can better integrate wellbeing into the fabric of universities – not only in terms of the provision of support services but also more centrally in thinking about how we embed wellbeing strategies into our ethos and everyday practices as well as the curriculum. I am very supportive of this particular study which is seeking to understand how we can integrate wellbeing considerations into both the content and the methods we use to teach our students.''
- Prof. Louise Gracia, Dean of Students, in support of the Warwick Innovation Fund proposal

Meet the Research Team

Dr Elena Riva

Victoria Jelicic

Dr Bo Kelestyn is an Undergraduate Skills Programme Coordinator at Student Careers and Skills and a Project Officer on a number of Education Strategy projects. During her time at Warwick Business School (WBS) as a Doctoral Researcher, Bo worked on several initiatives that championed mental health awareness and support. Bo is passionate about continuing this work as a Warwick staff member, and particularly interested in breaking cultural stereotypes and attitudes towards mental health and wellbeing.

Cameron Özer undertook his undergraduate studies, which he completed with honours at King’s College London in the field of Biomedical Sciences, with a keen interest in the ethics of neonatal euthanasia and the use of performance-enhancing drugs in athletes. Currently he is in the final phase of the Graduate Entry Medicine, MBChB Programme at University of Warwick Medical School (WMS). He has developed a passion for General Practice, Psychiatry & Oncology / Palliative Medicine. Student wellbeing within the education setting has been of considerable interest to Cameron, who has recently co-authored a study exploring medical students’ views and experiences of compassion towards self and others, in collaboration with Dr. Stephanie Tierney – University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. The study has recently been published in Journal of Teaching & Learning in Medicine, USA.

Dr Lauren Schrock is a Teaching Fellow at Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG). Lauren holds a Master in Management and Organisational Analysis and a PhD in Business and Management within the Organisation and HRM Group from Warwick Business School. She has received various awards for teaching excellence, including the WATE award. Her interest in student and staff well-being and the teaching and learning environment stem from a passion for developing care in higher education. She has presented on the subject of care in higher education at a Window on Teaching session held at the University of Warwick in October 2017.

We extend our thanks to Dr Bo Kelestyn (Undergraduate Skills Programme Coordinator at Student Careers and Skills) for her invaluable help in delivering focus groups, Dr Debbi Marais (Principal Teaching Fellow, WMS) for her recommendations, Sarah Ashworth (Head of Mental Health) and Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown (WMS) for their invaluable support.

Genetics module lab session

Sunlight shining through clouds

Phase I Report Now Available

We have finished running our focus groups with Warwick's students and staff and the results of this consultation can be read here.

Please share and we welcome your thoughts and feedback!

Contact Information

For further information or staff enquiries, please contact:
Elena Riva
(E dot Riva at warwick dot ac dot uk).

For student enquiries, please contact:
Victoria Jelicic
(Victoria dot Jelicic at warwick dot ac dot uk).