In this mental health and wellbeing mini-series post, Oona Miller, who graduated in Politics and is currently serving as Vice President Welfare at Edinburgh University Students’ Association, and Steph Vallancey, who graduated in Health, Science, and Society and is the current Vice President Education, have a chat about their experiences of wellbeing in the classroom…
As recent graduates, but still strongly connected to the student body in our work as Sabbatical Officers, we are in a unique position to reflect on how we navigated issues around our wellbeing during our student journeys. In this following conversation, we chat about our own experiences as students and how we hope to influence positive wellbeing in our current roles…
Steph: What did you find was the most difficult aspect for your own wellbeing during your degree?
Oona: One of the things I found hardest about studying was the need to continually reacquaint yourself with the environment you’re learning in. In a normal job, your induction happens once at the start of the contract. But as a student, with every new course and every staff member you meet, a mini-induction happens all over again. There’s no room to figure out what you need from teaching, never mind asking for it from an academic or a member of support staff.
Steph: And if you’re someone who already struggles with mental health problems, that pressure to continually articulate what you need is especially difficult.
Oona: Exactly! Embedding care in students’ individual academic journeys, as well as their relationships with staff and other students, is crucial to maintaining wellbeing. When university starts, and almost everything is new to students, this feeling that you’re both on your own and there’s nobody who can help you is so present. Teaching spaces are often where these challenges arise, but they can also be the primary location for addressing them.
Steph: That idea of a ‘relentless welcome’ keeps appearing in this blog series, which Peter Felton spoke about in his recent Keynote at the Learning and Teaching Conference. I’ve read posts about how staff and students experience imposter syndrome, and how we should be cultivating a sense of community and belonging through schools. It does come down to creating an environment where students feel supported and cared for, so that they can prioritise their learning. As a student, you can often feel overwhelmed in lectures, when the first thing you see when you walk in is an intimidating theatre of over 100 students and you know no one, or it’s so fast paced, where the weeks’ worth of materials are condensed into the single hour.
Steph: So now, in our roles as Sabbatical Officers, a lot of our work will be addressing the mental health and wellbeing of students.
Oona: We are working all the time on this issue at the Students’ Association and with the University. For example, we are working closely with Director of Student Wellbeing, Andy Shanks, to put information about wellbeing services and how to access them in every introductory lecture. This project grew out of a Student Council motion, so it’s a real testament to the fact that students see their wellbeing as a priority in academic spaces.
Steph: Lecture recordings have also been a big piece of work for the Students’ Association. These came from a PTAS project, which has come to its final year. Over 300 learning and teaching spaces are now fitted with the Lecture Capture technology. Lecture Recordings are such a great way to ease the stress of content-heavy lectures, allowing students to engage with the content, rather than copying-down lecture slides. For students outside the classroom, it has also had huge benefits by allowing students to catch-up with lecture content they were not able to attend.
Oona: And for students with disabilities, it is life-changing technology. Like you said, we need to consider how our teaching spaces can be supportive environments, and not just instructive ones, which empower students to engage in the learning process in the way they need to.
Steph: It brings us back again to the point of using these teaching spaces to address mental health and wellbeing in learning environments. There are these new technologies and innovative practices which are creating constructive ways for us to address these problems, but they need to be applied in practice. The wellbeing slides are a first step in allowing students to reacquaint within their environment and be aware of the services available to them.