Well-being in Learning Environments

Health and well-being directly impact student success. In partnership with the Teaching and Learning Centre, we work with instructional staff to create conditions for well-being within learning environments.

An extensive review of the literature and an involved consultation with SFU faculty and students revealed 10 conditions for well-being in learning environments. Below you will find strategies, real-world examples, and helpful tools to bring these conditions to life in your classrooms. For more ideas, download the Creating Conditions for Well-being in Learning Environments booklet.

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Social Connection

Facilitating interaction helps students build social networks which foster resilience and are an asset to well-being. Interaction in the class can help create a sense of community and positive classroom culture.

Suggestions:

  • Have students introduce themselves during the first class or use a social connectedness start up activity in tutorials
  • Design lecture assignments that require students to collectively work on study questions and participate in small group discussions
  • Suggest opportunities for students to interact outside of class time (if you have time to join them that is even better)
  • Work with your teaching assistants to create opportunities for social connection and teamwork in tutorials or labs
  • Offer mini breaks in class and encourage students to take this time to get to know one another

Sample Tools:

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Faculty examples of Social Connection:

  • Peter Ruben uses team based learning to create social connections among students, and build a resilient and supportive learning community within his class.
  • Jenny Scott uses a two-minute write and reflect activity to help create social connection and positive classroom culture by having students reflect on and share their experiences with the course material.
  • Rochelle Tucker does “everything possible to encourage interaction” among students. This initial social connection in first year classes acts as a support for student well-being throughout their degree program.

Optimal Challenge

Students perform and feel their best when they are challenged, and when they have adequate resources to meet the challenge.

Suggestions:

  • Consider the timing of exams and assignments to alleviate undue stress
  • Avoid very heavily weighted components, such as an exam worth 50% of the final grade
  • Set clear course goals, and ensure assignments and expectations are clear from the start
  • Acknowledge that students have lives outside their academic pursuits and support them to find balance
  • Provide feedback on each stage of assignments and help students progress to the next stage of larger projects

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Optimal Challenge:

  • Kevin Oldknow publishes an “exam overview” document before each exam, and reviews it in class. This helps to alleviate some of the anxiety associated with uncertainty about the exam, allowing students to focus on demonstrating their understanding of course concepts.
  • Fabio Campi maintains and encourages course-related discussion boards on Canvas, where direct participation and mutual help between students is encouraged and rewarded.
  • Mark Lechner invites students to share feedback with him throughout his courses using an anonymous comment card.
  • Diana Bedoya is proactive in her course design and communication with students in order to minimize students’ uncertainty around expectations for her courses.

Positive Classroom Culture

Creating an enjoyable and welcoming classroom culture can enhance positive well-being for students and instructors. This can be accomplished through humor, inspiration, open-mindedness, connecting with students, or deeply engaging them in their learning.

Suggestions:

  • Share your teaching philosophy with students
  • When possible, ensure a pleasant and inviting space through use of colour, art, music, and well-maintained facilities
  • Use active learning techniques to create an engaging and dynamic learning environment
  • Seek feedback from students throughout the semester (this could be done through websurvey or an anonymous in-class comment card)
  • Share a bit about yourself, your career path or setbacks you’ve overcome

Sample tools:

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Positive Classroom Culture:

  • Rachel Fouladi lets students know about opportunities to get involved on campus. She impacts student well-being by making herself available to students and letting them know she cares.
  • Diana Cukierman facilitates active student participation and peer collaboration, incorporating kinesthetic learning activities, while promoting a friendly and respectful classroom environment.
  • Sharalyn Jordan dialogues norms for respectful classroom discussion as part of the first or second class. These are posted online to visit as needed.
  • Stephen Brown's teaching philosophy makes him approachsable and sets a supportive tone in class. He believes student well-being can be impacted by both the content of his course and the environment he creates in his classroom.

Civic Engagement

Providing students with opportunities to make a valued contribution through their coursework can give them a boost to their emotional well-being.

Suggestions:

  • Create assignments in which the results can be utilized by a community group or campus initiative
  • Where possible incorporate community service or service learning components into your course
  • Recognize that universities play a role in developing the leaders of tomorrow and encourage students to explore their own values and goals
  • Encourage students to get involved in extracurricular volunteer work
  • Lead discussions or activities that help students develop a sense of civic responsibility

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Civic Engagement:

  • Julia Lane uses performative inquiry as an opportunity for students to engage with, question and work through the kinds of structures which directly impact them. Students did a performative inquiry on the rise in international student tuition, for example.
  • Andrew Hawryshkewich has industry partners present real world challenges to students, who then work in groups to propose potential solutions as part of a course assignment.
  • Herbert Tsang encouraged civic engagement by having students design the SFU App as an assignment for his Interactive Arts and Technology course.
  • Paola Ardiles has students work in collaboration with partner organizations such as City Studio through service learning.

Instructor Support

As an instructor you play an important role in setting a positive and supportive tone that can go a long way in helping students to feel welcome and at ease.

Suggestions:

  • Whenever possible, let students know you care about them and their success
  • Seek feedback from students throughout the semester. This could be done through web-survey or an anonymous in class comment card Be learner centered: “be interested in learners instead of trying to be an interesting teacher”
  • Consider the “whole student” and the pressures and challenges the students may face outside your class
  • Consider alternative forms of office hours (for example, Skype, web-conferencing, group office hours, or Canvas chat), and let students know what to expect from office hours

Sample tool: 

Faculty examples of Instructor Support:

  • Petra Menz invites students to meet with her individually for office hours where she provides mentorship both personally and professionally.
  • Kate Tairyan offers Skype office hours. She believes that fostering positive, enjoyable and engaged learning experiences within her classroom contributes to student well-being.
  • Lisa Droogendyk invites students to attend a “student hour,” held in an easy-to-find and vibrant campus location. She emphasizes that this is a welcoming opportunity for students to ask questions about the course.
  • Brenda Davison teaches large classes and makes an effort to learn student names. She arrives early to lectures to speak individually with students to check in and seek their feedback.

Services and Supports

The in-class experience provides an important opportunity to connect students with resources that can support their personal well-being, resilience, and readiness to learn.

Suggestions:

  • Use mindfulness or relaxation videos through SFU Health & Counselling for a break
  • Link students to resources that support their resilience and well-being (for example the Bouncing Back resilience course on Canvas and the Wellness Wheel)
  • Familiarize yourself with the various student support services and co-curricular learning supports across campus
  • Familiarize yourself with SFU’s Response Guide for Faculty and Staff on supporting students in distress
  • Provide health tips or health resources in class or during breaks

Sample tools:

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Services and Supports:

  • Kevin Lam facilitates 10 min well-being activities at the start of his lectures to share well-being related resources and activities with students.

Real Life Learning

By connecting learning to life you offer students opportunities to build their personal skills and confidence in their future.

Suggestions:

  • Utilize examples from the real world in class (for example news clips, career advice, guest speakers from the workforce students hope to enter)
  • Consider what skills students will need to succeed in life and in their careers and try to foster these in class (for example teamwork, problem solving, empathy, initiative)
  • Bring in guest speakers or program alumni who can help relate the course material to real life issues and work skills
  • Where possible, incorporate experiential or service learning components into your course
  • Create assignments in which the results can be utilized by a community group or campus initiative
  • Encourage students to get involved in extracurricular volunteer work

Sample tool:

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Real Life Learning

  • David Zandvliet takes learning beyond the walls of the classroom and helps students connect their learning to their career aspirations.
  • Sarah Walshaw has students select current news articles that relate to her course content, and facilitates a discussion on how course topics relate to real world issues. View her In the News activity.
  • Jen Thomas facilitates a reflective exercise that allows students to identify their privilege. View her privilege exercise.

Inclusivity 

An inclusive learning environment demonstrates an intentional consideration for all students and in doing so, can enhance positive well-being.

Suggestions:

  • Create class guidelines as a group to respect difference and create a safe place for discussion (ie. “appreciate perspectives and differences” or” remember that people are talking from personal experiences — be empathetic”)
  • Familiarize yourself with the intercultural awareness resources available through SFU’s online learning community and share these with students
  • Incorporate principles of Universal Design for Learning to help accommodate diverse learners
  • Use inclusive language and gender neutral pronouns
  • Encourage students to speak to you about any accessibility concerns they may have

Sample Resource: Qmunity is a community centre that responds to BC's queer, trans, and Two-Spirit communities' needs and helps them thrive.

Sample tools:

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Inclusivity:

  • Kathleen Burke and her colleague Brett Lyons co-created a checklist and resources for inclusive classrooms that are being used to foster inclusivity within the Beedie School of Business.
  • Adam Dyck creates an inclusive classroom by supporting the declaration of self-identified pronouns in a “pronoun round” as part of introductions at the beginning of the semester. See his Pronoun Etiquette Cheat Sheet.
  • Sheri Fabian recognizes inclusivity by creating class guidelines with her students to respect difference and create a safe place for discussion.
  • Elise Chenier recognizes the importance of compassion in teaching and creates an inclusive classroom by adapting her teaching styles to reflect the diverse needs of her students.

Personal Development

Opportunities for personal and professional growth increase students’ skills, resiliency and preparedness for the future.

Suggestions:

  • Bring in guest speakers or alumni to help students connect in class learning to their career development
  • Link students to resources that support their personal resilience and well-being, such as the Bouncing Back Canvas course
  • Consider what skills students will need to succeed in life and in their careers and try to find ways to foster these in class (for example teamwork, communication, problem solving, empathy, initiative)
  • Encourage students to seek co-curricular and volunteer opportunities (for example Passport to LeadershipMentorship Programs, or Peer Education)
  • Use activities and practices in class to help build you and your students’ intercultural competence

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Personal Development:

  • Mary Ellen Kelm uses narratives and role plays to help students relate personally to the content of her history courses and reflect on their own values and experiences.
  • Lara Aknin uses a group-generated study guide assignment that encourages students to work effectively in teams while building professional skills.

Flexibility

Providing students with some flexibility and control over their learning experiences helps them to feel empowered and supported, contributing to their well-being.    

Suggestions:

  • Offer students choice in assignments and opportunities to set their own deadlines or percentage of final grade for assignments
  • Offer students the option to choose their “best two out of three” for assignments or quizzes
  • Seek feedback from students throughout the semester. This could be done through web-survey or an anonymous in class comment card
  • Consider providing students with lecture notes or PowerPoint slides ahead of class, and providing lecture recordings (particularly helpful for EAL students whereby they have more opportunities to work through the rate of speech during lectures)
  • Incorporate principles of Universal Design for Learning to help accommodate diverse learners

Sample tool:

Need more ideas?

Faculty examples of Flexibility:

  • Nicky Didicher uses “learner-centered teaching” and contractual evaluations, in which students choose their assignments, the weighting of their assignments, and the due dates. View her Contractual Agreement.
  • Evan Tiffany works with students to collaboratively set deadlines, granting extensions where warranted, and enabling students to manage their time effectively.
  • Ivona Mladenovic has the students write some of the exam questions as well as choose their assignment deadlines.

Physical Spaces

Well-designed spaces have the ability to positively impact mood, social connectedness and learning. We work with a variety of partners to enhance the physical spaces on campus to support well-being.   

Learn more >

Policy & Settings

Academic departments and faculties strongly influence students’ experiences at university and provide a core setting for enhancing student well-being.

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