In the Fall of 2017, I used a Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG) from the Intsitute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD) to study the effects of beginning each class in a course with an optional five minutes of mindfulness practice. I was scheduled to teach Engl 212Q Metrics and Prosody, a high-stress required quantitive analysis course, and Engl 387 Children's Literature, a low-stress popular elective with a flexible assessment system. The purpose of the study was to investigate student perceptions of stress and mental focus and whether students perceived changes in these as a result of the mindfulness practice. I anticipated that students in the high-stress course would attend mindfulness more regularly and find it more beneficial.
- pre- and post-surveys asking for students' perceptions of the stress level of the course, whether they felt more stressed by school and classes or home and work, and their level of knowledge about mindfulness
- a written reflection at the end of term
- in-class state sampling forms, asking how stressed and how focused students felt at random times during class and whether they had attended mindfulness that day
Most students in both classes attended mindfulness most days, with no statistically relevant difference in attendance between the high-stress and the low-stress courses. No relevant results from the in-class state sampling, in part because almost everyone attended mindfulness every day.
Survey results indicated that students' levels of stress decreased significantly during the semester. When asked to identify whether they felt more stressed about a) school and classes or b) work and family, students in both courses experienced a significant change during the term: in September 56% of responding students in Engl 212Q (9 of 16) felt more often stressed by school, and in December only 29% (4 of 14) said so. In Engl 387, in September 76% (13 of 17) felt more often stressed by school, and in December only 50% (6 of 12) said so. This seems to me very interesting, given that early December tends to be a very stressful time of the school term. I assume, based on this change, that the mindfulness practices did have a significant impact on reducing in-class stress, which appears to have been roughly equal in both classes.
It turned out that prior experience had more influence on student perceptions of the benefits of mindfulness than did the stress level of the course: 75% of students who had previous experience with mindfulness rated its usefulness in reducing stress high or very high, while 40% of students who had no previous experience rated it so. Students who have taken more than one course with me in which the mindfulness practice was an option have commented on the cumulative effect of the short individual sessions: i.e. they have a long-term benefit to students in improving their ability to be aware of their own physical and mental situations and to deal with stress more effectively.
Although I did not find a difference between the high-stress and low-stress courses, I learned that the mindfulness practice at the beginning of class is of both short-term and long-term value to students, and I plan to continue offering the optional sessions. I am happy to contribute to the wellbeing of my students in this way.
I also find that it helps me with my teaching and my own wellbeing.
link to full version of final report: full report: https://www.sfu.ca/istld/faculty/grant-programs/projects/fass/G0228.html