The Health and Counselling Services team won an Innovation Award from the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services. From l-r: Rosie Dhaliwal, Tara Black, Crystal Hutchinson and Alisa Stanton.

learning

Student wellbeing focus of instructors’ online resource

June 23, 2014
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Last semester, at the end of Kate Tairyan’s last lecture, she donned a chef’s hat and served chocolate-covered strawberries she had made with her husband and daughter to all 250 students in her global health class.

Her message: social relationships need to be nurtured, and are an important aspect of mental health and wellbeing.

A physician and public health specialist who has worked around the world, the health sciences instructor works hard to improve her students’ wellbeing in the classroom.

She incorporates group projects to encourage students’ social interaction, pairs students for classroom discussions, shares her personal work experiences at the end of each lecture, and features practical projects and assignments that prepare her students for a career in public health.

An example of a student-led project is the WhatTheButt?! campaign that students completed last year for a health promotion course.

“I stimulate creativity and social connectedness in the classroom from the very beginning of the course,” says Tairyan.

She is one of several SFU instructors who share tips and techniques for promoting student wellbeing in the classroom as part of SFU Health and Counseling’s award-winning initiative, Well-being in Learning Environments (WLE).

HCS’ health promotion team has spent the past three years developing and refining the online resource for SFU instructors in partnership with The Teaching and Learning Centre.

It’s all part of the university’s commitment to ensuring that students’ health and wellbeing are addressed both inside and outside of the classroom.

“We look at the whole student,” says Alisa Stanton, the HCS health promotion specialist who co-led the initiative, which is first in the world to address students’ wellbeing from an academic perspective.

“We knew that students spend a majority of their time in class but often don’t have time to reach out to services, so we wanted to create learning experiences that were supportive of wellbeing.”

The comprehensive WLE website offer myriads tips, including ideas for developing students’ social interaction in class and through assignments, creating a positive classroom culture, and providing students with challenges that aren’t overwhelming.

It profiles instructors like Tairyan who foster opportunities for personal and professional development in class. And it also reminds instructors to look after their own wellbeing.

The WLE initiative has generated interest around the world, including an Innovation Award in June from the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, and a feature in the highly regarded Healthy Universities newsletter based in the U.K.

Stanton says they received the award because “this is a new way of approaching health and wellbeing in higher education. It’s moving from theory and discussion into action that other institutions may be able to use and build on.”

“I have to credit the health promotion team for giving us good guidance and sharing good experiences,” says Tairyan. “They have also organized workshops for us, and a roundtable where we can share ideas. I’ve benefited from it a lot, and I’m happy to share what I do in my own classroom.”

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