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5 questions with... a wellbeing module creator

Mental wellbeing has a powerful influence on physical wellbeing, on learning, on productivity and on the quality of interpersonal relationships. We spoke to Elena Riva, who develops new interdisciplinary wellbeing modules at IATL including Understanding Wellbeing, open now to all students.

How important is wellbeing to study?

elenaWellbeing is fundamental to studying as the experiences of feeling well and functioning well are very much interlinked. Therefore, taking care of ourselves, of others around us, of our community is an essential step for studying in a fruitful manner and for living the university life in the best way possible. If we all look at our own experience, it is apparent to most people that we study well and we work well when we are well. There is a lot of academic research that explores the links between learning and wellbeing and we have a considerable amount of data that shows how academic attainment and progression crucially depend on wellbeing.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new Understanding Wellbeing module?

Increasing our wellbeing literacy can help us better understand what wellbeing is and to learn how to support ourselves as well as our community. To meet this need, we developed the “Understanding Wellbeing” module that guides students to discover this crucial concept. We explore wellbeing from different disciplinary viewpoints, ranging from scientific, economic, psychological, and philosophical perspectives to create a holistic understanding of this complex concept.

Understanding Wellbeing is a not-for-credits (not for CATS), online, HEAR Accredited module, that aims to provide students with a safe space and a helping-hand to beginning or continuing their own wellbeing journey. You can explore the module at your own pace throughout the academic year. It's accessible, and fits around the time constraints of student life. Exercises include listening to podcasts and engaging with reflective activities to enhance your understanding and experience. Why not access the 'Understanding Wellbeing' module on Moodle and have a go!

How did you work with students to create the new module?

When shaping this module, it became apparent that only a co-creative approach would allow us to deliver an inclusive resource that served the whole university community, supporting students in exploring wellbeing in their own time, pacing their learning experience according to their own needs. We recognised that the “experts” of student wellbeing, university life and of what works online are the students themselves, and therefore they needed to play a pivotal role in the creation of the module. Our student co-creators worked with, not for, academic staff, free from traditional boundaries and hierarchical constraints, and treated as equal contributors.

You can read more about how we worked together in this piece I wrote for the Times in Higher Education with Wiki Jeglinska, one of the student co-creators.

What wellbeing tips do you have as students start a new term?

Enrol on the Understanding Wellbeing module and set aside the time to explore what wellbeing is and how you can support yourself and your community! As part of the module, you can also engage with activities and strategies that can improve your wellbeing, from exercise and art to mindfulness and many others. And, very importantly, you'll be able to understand what factors might be affecting your wellbeing, from social media and emotions to dealing with failure. Honestly, improving wellbeing literacy is fundamental and the module is great fun (and it will give you HEAR accreditation!).

What wellbeing tips can you recommend when it comes to studying for and taking assessments?

Without any doubt, assessment is a major source of stress. It is normal to feel pressure and a bit of anxiety when studying for exams and assessments and when taking them. Yet, it is important to understand if these feelings are overwhelming and out of control. If so, there are many ways in which you can support yourself, from classes offered by Wellbeing Support Services on how to manage exam stress and exam anxiety to mindful sessions offered by the Library. Again, it is also useful to have a frank conversation about failure, what means to you not achieving the results you have wished and worked for and how it affects you. In this respect, the Understanding Wellbeing module can help you in understanding the importance of failure, its value in your personal, academic and wellbeing journey and it can offer you a helping hand for looking at it in a very different, and I argue, positive manner.

Five cheeky bonus questions

What would you take to a desert island?

My family and all the happy chaos that my three little boys (and my husband) generate in my daily life!

What’s your current favourite piece of music?

What’s My Age Again of the Blink 182. Straight out of my teenage years so not very current but I cannot live without my daily punk rock injection!

What’s your most-used app?

Oh gosh, I do not use apps very much! I would say Google Podcasts.

House plants or pets?

We live in sort of jungle as my husband has an incredible green-finger! We have so many plants, but our favourite is Aloe Vera. It is an incredible plant, so resistant, beautiful and so useful too, fantastic for treating cuts and kids’ bruises.

What do you do to unwind?

I listen to my favourite podcast, I go for walks and I try to protect moments of silence during my day. I also love a natter with friends over a cup of good coffee!

The Understanding Wellbeing module is a new open access (all students can take it), HEAR-accredited (you will get recognition for completing it) online module which doesn't carry any CATS points. Take a look and gain deeper insight into your own wellbeing.