Well-being in Virtual Learning Environments
Just as you support student well-being in in-person classes, you can support student well-being in your online courses. When surveyed, students say that online learning should be designed in ways that give them more control over their learning, provide flexibility, allow for collaboration, and help them develop metacognitive strategies for planning, monitoring, and evaluating their learning (Schraw, 1998; Yu, 2020). Although you may have to be creative in building mental health supports into your online courses, multiple ideas and resources are available to help make it possible. Check out our list below, and then visit the resources and references.
The Whole Student
- Share ways you practice self-care while existing in the remote-learning environment. For an example of Engineering faculty sharing their self-care practices, visit this website.
- Encourage students to practice self-care.
- Have students write reflections about their self-care practices.
- Provide time in breakout rooms or other small-group time to discuss how they’re practicing self-care.
- Consider teaching from a trauma-informed perspective. For more information, visit the trauma-informed pedagogy (TIP) module in the Texas Well-being Canvas course, or email Sarah LePichon about joining the TIP Learning Community Canvas course at UT.
- Share mental health, wellness, and learning resources with students. Newly created resources include:
- Reach out to students when you see them struggling or in distress and help them access needed resources, including:
- Be authentic. Allow students to see you making mistakes, sharing stories, providing encouragement when things get difficult, etc.
Conditions for Well-being
- Social connection
- Use synchronous learning opportunities (e.g., small-group learning time, office hours, coffee chats) for students to connect with you and fellow students.
- Use breakout rooms during class.
- Join different breakout rooms throughout the class to listen to and facilitate student discussions and collaborations.
- Create an “Ask the Instructor” discussion in Canvas for students to post questions to you.
- Allow students to see a bit of your personal side (e.g., letting pets walk on screen, putting your favorite artwork behind you).
- Growth mindset
- Have students set goals for your class and focus on helping them meet those goals by revisiting their progress toward meeting them throughout the semester.
- Be vulnerable. It’s okay to have technical difficulties (e.g., stop worrying about making the perfect instructional video). Students need to see you struggle just as they are struggling.
- Self-compassion and empathy
- Treat yourself compassionately and encourage students to be compassionate with themselves.
- Remind students that you are in this with them and that you know this is a difficult time for everyone.
- Provide “informal sharing space” (e.g., starting your Zoom session 10 to 15 minutes early, create an ongoing class chat; Bagar-Fraley, 2020).
- Mindfulness and stress reduction
- Be present. Do not multitask during class.
- Open online sessions with a check-in question or activity.
- Life purpose
- Help students make connections between course content and their own goals, interests, and values.
- Have students examine their goals and values in relation to course content.
- Share real-world applications and stories of how you have used course content.
- Add captioning to your videos. Zoom adds captions if you record videos to the Cloud. Google slides will automatically add closed captions if you select it when in presentation mode.
- Record all lectures for students to access later.
Creating Effective Learning Environments
- Balance synchronous and asynchronous learning. Asynchronous instruction allows you to fit learning into students’ varying schedules while synchronous instruction can help build class community and social connections among you and students (Craven, 2020; Sebastien, 2020).
- Allow students to respond in different ways online (e.g., verbal responses, chat responses, polls, gestures, facial expressions, with their hands or bodies; Sebastien, 2020).
- Rather than using a few high-stakes exams or projects, break up student learning and assessment across multiple low-stakes quizzes, projects, assignments, etc.
- Create online assignments that connect with students emotionally by using stories, personal rewards, simulations, role-playing, etc. (Darby, 2020).
- Increase student choice by allowing students to decide about assignment topics, formats, etc. (Darby, 2020).
- Be consistent and structured. For example, provide synchronous sessions on the same day and at the same time each week. Additionally, send assignments, announcements, etc. at a designated day/time each week. Do not send out announcements and other information randomly.
- Be flexible. Students may need more time for learning content, finishing assignments, etc. Ask yourself, “…does [this] policy relate to my teaching philosophy or does it simply ‘promote the power and position of the professor?’” (Spangler, 2020; Weimer, 2018).
- Change the deadlines for assignments from the Canvas default of midnight to sometime earlier in the day and provide students with an explanation for the deadline, e.g., “This assignment is due at 5:00pm on Friday because I am preparing you for the business world” (Spangler, 2020).
- End class on time or early. Do not go over. Students need a break between online classes, meetings, etc.
- Have regular optional “Question and Answer” sessions throughout the semester (Bonner, 2020).
- Try adding humor to lectures or instructional videos you create by adding comics, funny videos, quotes, silly polls, etc.
- Create collaborative documents (e.g., Google documents) for students to complete activities in breakout rooms or outside of class.
Faculty Innovation Center Resources
- Bagar-Fraley, B. (May 2020). Offering compassion and care in online courses. Faculty Focus.
- Bonner, A. D. (April 2020). Mindfulness in the (online) classroom. Faculty Focus.
- Evans, J. (September 2020). Don’t turn into a bot online: Three easy strategies to let your personality shine in your online course. Faculty Focus.
- Craven, M. M. (September 2020). Syncing with students: Valuable qualities of synchronous online teaching. Faculty Focus.
- Darby, F. (September 2020). Emotions in online teaching: A powerful tool for helping students engage, persist, and succeed. Faculty Focus.
- Lowe, D. (August 2020). Improving breakout room discussions in online teaching by using collaborative documents. Faculty Focus.
- Miller, M. D. (May 2020). 5 takeaways from my Covid-19 remote teaching. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Schraw, G. (1998). Promoting general metacognitive awareness. Instructional Science, 26, 113-125. doi:10.1023/A:1003044231033
- Sebastien, N. (September 2020). Engagement: The secret to teaching online this fall. Faculty Focus.
- Spangler, S. (September 2020). Cinderella deadlines: Reconsidering timelines for student work. Faculty Focus.
- Weimer, M. (January 2018). Examining our course policies. Faculty Focus.
- Yu, E. (2020). Student-inspired optimal design of online learning for Generation Z. Journal of Educators Online, 17(1).