Title: Redesigning a Subject for Anxious Students
Presenter(s): Jacquie Tinkler
School of Education (FoAE)
Session Type: Paper Presentation
When: Wednesday, November 18th 2020 @ 12pm – 1pm
Abstract: University studies have significant impact on our students’ mental health. Findings vary to some degree, but overall, university students suffer a much higher rate of mental illness than the general population (headspace & National Union of Students, 2017). My own experience as an online lecturer showed me that many students suffer from mental health problems and that this impacts significantly on their studies and their university experience and outcomes. I wondered what we as lecturers (and a university) could do to help these students, and how to develop a more practical approach to helping them than the “resilience” narrative, where we put the responsibility of dealing with their distress back onto students. I felt that we as lecturers could work more actively to reduce the aspects of our subjects (and our university) that caused or compounded unnecessary distress.
This paper presents the approach I took to the redesign of an online teacher education subject (ESC407 Classroom Technologies) that employed a number of strategies to not only improve the success of my students, but also to reduce their anxiety whilst undertaking my subject. The subject in its new form first ran during 202030, a period of acute stress for many (Cao, Fang, Hou, Han, Xu, Dong, and Zheng (2020). Strategies I employed included: the redesign of assessments into ongoing eportfolio artefacts instead of two large assignments due when other subjects’ assignments were due; designing tasks at a ‘pass’ grade, with the ability to obtain higher grades built in as optional; modules designed to be carefully and consistently structured and presented so that expectations and tasks were clear. My approach draws on the universal design for instruction (UDI) model of learning design, which provides a framework for planning, delivering, and assessing learning outcomes. This model begins with the premise that designers have a responsibility to consider human diversity (McGuire and Scott, 2006), but also acknowledges that inclusive online learning isn’t just about accessible content (Edwards, 2019). Accessible design is often thought of as being for those with physical disabilities, and guidelines and support for the design of learning for those with cognitive, learning, and neurological disorders are not common.
Data regarding the effectiveness of this approach were gathered through communications with students, student outcomes, self-reflections, and qualitative and quantitative data from student evaluation surveys. These data suggested that the redesign did have impact on the students results, and did have some impact on student’s anxiety levels.
This paper will address all three conference themes to some degree as it focuses on maintaining student wellbeing, a focus on student success, and how we might reimagine learning for students with mental health difficulties in the future.