Happiness course ‘protected’ student well-being during pandemic

Running Bristol programme online still helped with student well-being compared with control group, study suggests 

February 17, 2022
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Running a university course on positive psychology during the pandemic appeared to have a “protective effect” on first-year students’ mental well-being, even though it was run online.

Researchers at the University of Bristol compared the well-being of undergraduates who took the institution’s “Science of Happiness” course remotely with a control group of students who were due to take the course later in the year.

They found that while those in the control group “showed a decline in mental well-being and an increase in anxiety”, those taking the course did not see the same deterioration.

The study was conducted over the first semester starting in the autumn of 2020, a period when most students were forced to study online and when periodic lockdowns were affecting daily life.

Bristol’s optional programme, which was the first such course to be offered in the UK when it launched in 2018, was modelled on Yale University’s psychology and the good life class, which became the most popular course in the US institution’s history.

Studies into the effects of the in-person version had already suggested that students had “markedly better mental health” than peers who did not take the programme. The Bristol team had also begun to test its impact in tackling well-being during Covid, including running a shorter version online.

But by testing the effects of the full 11-week online course with a control group, the study suggests that teaching the programme remotely still had positive effects during a time when students’ mental health was under severe strain.

“Our findings suggest that the online-administered ‘Science of Happiness’ course delivered during the Covid-19 pandemic was associated with a protective effect on mental well-being,” says the paper, published in Plos One on 16 February.

“Our results suggest that online psychoeducational courses might provide a relatively cheap, flexible, and efficient means of providing support as part of an integrated approach [to student mental health].”

Course leader and co-author, Bruce Hood, professor of developmental psychology in society at Bristol, said that even in a world without Covid restrictions, delivering the course partly online could have the benefit of boosting participation.

“A mixed model of online and live interaction is the most feasible solution in my opinion – especially when you’re trying to reach as many students as possible,” he said.

He added that running in-person meetings alongside the digital lectures – such as Bristol’s “happiness hubs” where students meet in mentor-led small groups – also avoided the problems associated with massive open online courses (Moocs), which had “very high attrition rates with most signing up but not completing”.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Online happiness course ‘protected’ well-being

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