Fostering Student Well-being and Engaged Learning Through Supportive Classroom Settings

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: David Zandvliet, Faculty of Education & Faculty of Environment

Carlos, Rosie, David, Crystal, and Alisa (from left)

Project team: Alisa Stanton, Rosie Dhaliwal, Tara Black, and Crystal Hutchinson, SFU Health Promotion, Josh Coward and Carlos Ormond, Research Assistant

Timeframe: January 2014 to April 2015

Funding: $10,000

Courses addressed: Through a Participatory Action Research model, instructors are invited to provide feedback on the research design and project plans in addition to involving their courses in the research collaboration.

  • BISC 102 – General Biology (Ivona Mladenovic)
  • BPK 421 – Prevention and Management in Cardiovascular Disease (Peter Ruben)
  • ENSC 180 – Introduction to Engineering Analysis Tools (Fabio Campi)
  • ENV 491 – Change Lab (David Zandvliet)
  • HSCI 212 – Perspectives on Infectious and Immunological Diseases (Nienke Van Houten)
  • HSCI 312 – Introduction to Health Promotion (Kate Tairyan)
  • HSCI 449 – Community and Health Service (Alisa Stanton)
  • PSYC 210 – Introduction to Data Analysis in Psychology (Rachel Fouladi)

Final Report: View David Zandvliet's final project report (PDF)

Description: There is increasing concern regarding the well-being of students in higher education settings. Literature demonstrates that student well-being contributes to academic achievement, learning, and student retention. Student well-being is therefore not only of importance for health professionals, but is also important to the core business of higher education institutions. There is a complex interplay between student well-being and learning outcomes, and a growing interest in using ecological approaches to understanding well-being within learning institutions including higher education settings. These approaches emphasize the importance of systems, structures, and learning environments in creating an overall campus environment that supports well-being.

Given this context, it is important to understand how classroom environments themselves can be settings for enhancing student well-being. This project will make a unique contribution to the literature by exploring how aspects of the learning environment within higher education can contribute to psychosocial well-being factors such as social connectedness, emotional well-being, life-balance, self-esteem and general life satisfaction in addition to learning outcomes. The theoretical framework we are using to explain how external conditions such as learning environments, impact psychological resources and well-being is outlined by Thompson and Nics (2008).

This work is important because there are limited research projects within the higher education context that have explored how classroom and course design can impact student well-being and engagement. The research findings will therefore provide a valuable contribution to the literature on mental health promotion and student engagement in higher education. The findings of this project will also be relevant to the Health Promotion Team at Simon Fraser University in the further development of the Well-being and Learning Environments project that supports instructors to create classroom environments that foster well-being. For more information, please see: Well-being in Learning Environments.

Thompson, S. & Nics, M. (2008). Measuring Well-being in Policy: Issues and Applications. New Economics Foundation: UK.

Questions addressed:

  • What aspects of the learning environment (for example: instructor support, autonomy, cooperation, physical spaces) within higher education contexts contribute to psychosocial well-being factors (emotional well-being, life-balance, self-esteem, social connectedness) in addition to learning outcomes?

Knowledge sharing: The results will be disseminated through the Well-being in Learning Environments website (a component of SFU’s Healthy Campus Community Initiative). Teaching practices that enhance well-being will be featured on the website, and will be shared through in person meetings and events. The project will utilize various channels to connect with SFU instructors and TA’s in order to share teaching practices and pedagogy that contribute to well-being.  

Berry, B., Dhaliwal, R., Stanton, A., & Zandvliet, D. (2015, June).  Exploring correlations between learning environments and student well-being in higher education. Paper presented at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference (STLHE) Annual Conference, Vancouver,  BC.

Chu, S., Dhaliwal, R., & Stanton, A. (2015, June). Creating conditions for well-being in learning environments: Bridging research and practice. Paper presented at the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, BC.

Dhaliwal, R., Stanton, A., & Zandvliet, D. (2015, November). Creating conditions for well-being in learning environments. Presentation at the Educational Technologies Users Group (ETUG) workshop, Vancouver, BC. 

Dhaliwal, R., Stanton, A., & Zandvliet, D. (2015, May). Bridging research and practice: Exploring the role of learning experiences in enhancing student well-being. Presentation at the Canadian Association of Colleges and University Student Services (CACUSS) conference, Vancouver, BC.

Stanton, A., Dhaliwal, R., Zandvliet, D., Van Houten, N., Tairyan, K., & Fouladil, R. (2014, May). Learning from action in creating well-being in learning environments. Presentation at the Symposium on Teaching and Learning: Provocative Pedagogy, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Stanton, A., Zandvliet, D., Dhaliwal, R., & Black, T.  (2016). Understanding students’ experiences of well-being in learning environments. Higher Education Studies, 6 (3):90-99.

SFU Health Promotion and SFU Teaching and Learning Center.  (2014). Well-being in Learning Environments. [Web page].  Retrieved from: