Online teaching tips to support student well-being

Natalie Kopytko provides practical tips to address student well-being via online teaching practices that can also benefit faculty

Natalie Kopytko's avatar
University of Leeds
5 May 2021
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Advice on online teaching techniques that promote student well-being
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Well-being pedagogies: activities and practices to improve the student experience online

Wellbeing pedagogies to boost the student experience online

Maintaining student well-being through the pressures of academia has long been a concern. Now, with the stresses of working from home, online isolation and general pandemic worries, student well-being and mental health run the risk of reaching a breaking point. The suggestions outlined below, while effective in themselves, also show students that their well-being matters to lecturers and so help to present us in a more approachable light.

Encourage breaks during online sessions

According to best practice for display-screen safety, users should take a quick break every 20 minutes. Incorporate slides that show desk stretches, breathing exercises or even eye exercises into your PowerPoint to prompt these breaks for yourself and students. Allow time for a quick pause before moving to breakout rooms. Share links for yoga with students who join sessions early, so they take a proper break before the online teaching begins. Yoga with Adriene’s “desk yoga” delivers the most accessible option.

Shut up and write

Host online “shut up and write” sessions prior to student assessments rather than Q&A sessions. These sessions also work for meeting with personal tutees or dissertation supervisees. It helps students not to feel alone during the writing process, while also teaching them time management and best practice for health and safety, particularly while working on a screen.

Share your screen to display your preferred pomodoro timer, which breaks down work into healthy intervals, so students can monitor the time left in each work session. The work sessions should ideally be 20 to 25 minutes long with five-minute breaks. During the short breaks, take questions about the assessment, either in the chat or by asking students to turn on their microphone. The end of the session provides time for students to have a more detailed discussion about the assessment.

Explain in advance how the session will work to help with recruitment to the event. Include the benefits of allotting time to writing and that this will replace any Q&A sessions. At the start of the session, remind students to only post questions at the start of the break. They will be tempted to post questions in the chat during the writing sessions, but this can disturb the progress of the other writers.

This also offers benefits to lecturers, who can complete their own work during these writing sessions. Moreover, students tend not to have questions prepared in time for Q&A sessions, but once they start to work on assignments, the questions arise. A “shut up and write” session usually results in fewer emails for lecturers to answer later.

The anonymous worry wall

Create a Padlet for students to post worries they have about the module, online learning, cultural adjustments or adjusting to academia. This works well when teaching a particularly difficult subject or presenting a new challenge for students, for example, dissertation modules. Students can then like the posts and see that they are not alone in their worries. Lecturers can respond with reassurances that all students will see. Students “meeting” their peers via WhatsApp group chats find that the loudest voices present themselves as doing exceptionally well. The worry wall counteracts the perception that everyone else in the programme or module has it all under control.

Tracking engagement with group collaborative spaces and checking in

Although group work presents challenges, particularly with free-riders, students appreciate the social aspect of group work in online learning. Private channels in Microsoft Teams provide one of the best options for tracking engagement of individual group members. When students appear to be absent from channel meetings, send a message letting them know that their absence was noted and simply ask if they are OK.

This seemingly small act can mean the world to a student dealing with anxiety or depression. The non-judgemental open-ended question in combination with the less stressful option of responding via a typed direct message, rather than a face-to-face conversation, allows students to be more open about their state. This provides an early opportunity to ensure that they access support services before they fall more behind in their studies.

Take care of yourself

These steps to support student well-being do not add much to lecturers’ workloads. In some instances, they can even reduce workloads by preventing issues from becoming bigger problems. They also provide an important reminder for lecturers, as well as students, to take breaks.

Natalie Kopytko is a lecturer in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Leeds.

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