The experience of teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the context of renewed global efforts to redress racial injustice has taken a significant toll on the well-being of students, faculty, and staff. The process of learning and the ability to perform the tasks that demonstrate and apply the learning that has occured- two primary components of academic engagement and success – are significantly affected by non-academic factors including sleep, stress, anxiety, trauma, and oppression. The circumstances of 2020 and 2021 have increased faculty (Flaherty, 2021) and institutional attention (Imad, 2021) to student mental health and well-being, though the need for this work and the understanding of these connections precedes the arrival of COVID-19. Faculty can and do play a significant role in student well-being, via course design decisions, classroom culture, and one-on-one interactions. Our project will support faculty to develop strategies and implement changes that can benefit them and their students, that will support deep academic engagement, and that will not impose additional time/effort burdens.
Our project does not ask faculty to perform individual counseling or mental health evaluation work (we will include information on recognizing and referring for issues best assisted by health, counseling, and/or accessibility and student support services), our project supports faculty as they learn to recognize how classroom environment (including syllabus policies, course structure, classroom language, etc.) can influence student well-being and engagement.
This project will bring faculty together across all ACM institutions to enhance their approaches to improving student academic engagement by incorporating strategies that address student well-being. This project’s impact will derive from two distinct levels of collaboration: faculty-faculty collaboration that helps participants workshop and improve their strategies and build relationships with one another, and faculty-staff collaboration that combines staff expertise on student well-being, health promotion, and human development with faculty expertise on pedagogy and student advising.
Participants will develop strategies to support student well-being in their individual interactions, classrooms, and beyond, as well as consider institutional-level policies to support student, faculty, and staff well-being. Follow-up meetings – on individual campuses and via virtual small groups of colleagues across ACM colleges – will provide opportunities for sharing successes and challenges, getting input from colleagues, and generating further ideas.
Finally, we will provide funding and materials to support participants in leading mini-workshops on their home campuses, thereby engaging more faculty in this collaborative work. Expanding the project at participants’ home institutions will extend consideration of well-being in course development and classroom teaching to more faculty, as well as develop faculty, staff, and administrative partnerships in service of these goals.
The key activities of this proposal center around the provision of opportunities for participants (faculty, wellness and student life professionals, other student-facing staff) to come together to share knowledge and information, and to collectively generate low-effort interventions and strategies for positively influencing student well-being and academic success (e.g., setting assignment deadlines that support healthy sleep schedules, modifying grading structures, and syllabus/classroom language to encourage growth mindset). The first of these will be a three-day virtual workshop to which we invite up to three colleagues from each ACM campus. A virtual workshop maximizes the number of ACM institutions who are able to participate while minimizing potential pandemic-related disruptions and environmental costs. This workshop will be modeled on a workshop for Grinnell faculty in 2018 and 2019 that presented evidence-based information on the relevance of understanding the whole student with respect to their academic engagement and offered opportunities to reflect on the many factors that affect academic performance and student well-being. Post-workshop evaluations indicated that participants learned a lot in the workshop, found it a good use of their time, and would recommend it to others (100% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with each of these; full workshop materials and assessment available on request).
In late Fall 2022, after allowing time to implement the strategies developed during the workshop, we will conduct a virtual check-in for participants. Throughout the grant period (Fall 2022 through Summer 2023), participants or project leads will also hold mini-workshops/discussion groups on their home campuses, which will serve to enhance faculty engagement and disseminate information from the initial workshop.
We see three primary avenues for dissemination of our work from this project.
- Creating a publicly-accessible resource repository. The repository will include research and other resources on student well-being and academic success and, more importantly, would house strategies, approaches, and policies developed by project participants, along with their experience implementing these strategies. We will also set up an associated discussion space (e.g., a Facebook group or other online discussion forum) open to both workshop participants and other faculty and staff to join. This will provide an opportunity to not just share ideas but discuss and get feedback from colleagues with varied backgrounds and institutional contexts.
- Carrying information back to home campuses. Project funding will support smaller workshops or meetings (e.g., a “lunch and learn”) led by the project team and/or summer workshop participants for faculty and staff on their home campuses. These could take the form of presentations on a single concept from the larger workshop or campus-specific student well-being data for that institution followed by a brainstorming and reflection session designed for faculty members to develop/select at least one strategy that they will implement in their own teaching.
- Presenting and promoting the approach that we are developing through published articles and conference presentations. We will target venues such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, AAC&U meetings, the NASPA Strategies conference, and/or the North Central College Health Association Conference to reach a wide audience of faculty, health promotion professionals, student affairs professionals, and academic leaders.
Resources & Materials
Project leads will jointly develop a digital, public-facing repository of resources collected and developed by participants. This will be made available in a format that allows interaction (e.g., commenting functions, discussion board, or associated social media group), in order to encourage continued discussion, along with expansion and refinement of the resource collection.
Outcomes and Significance
Intellectual and academic development, personal growth, social responsibility, and making contributions to a diverse world are core values of the ACM colleges. It is impossible to promote and support these values without attending to the whole student, including the institutional environment and classroom practices that affect our students. Classroom practices for reducing student stress, including employing universal design principles and designing assessment to emphasize growth principles, have positive impacts on all students, with research suggesting particular benefits for BIPOC students and students from low-income backgrounds. Development and implementation of wellness strategies will be made stronger by the collaboration of faculty and staff from a variety of institutions with shared goals of supporting academic excellence by supporting the whole student.
Our expected learning outcomes and products as a result of this project include:
- Increased awareness and continuing communication about faculty’s role in supporting student well-being, both within each institution and across institutions
- Increased faculty confidence in addressing well-being or other student life concerns in and out of the classroom
- Strategies and practices to implement in course development, classroom teaching, and one-on-one student interactions
- Increased student academic engagement
- Improved student well-being outcomes
- Improved, targeted partnerships between faculty and professional staff with expertise in public health, wellness, and student life
- An inventory of resources and strategies (including policies and procedures) that faculty and other teaching personnel might use to support the well-being of their students and create a more inclusive classroom