Building Student Mental Wellbeing through Curriculum Design
Whilst we are all familiar with the term “curriculum”, how much thought do we put into its impact on student mental wellbeing, both positive and negative?
As Hughes et al (2018) point out, the curriculum is the one guaranteed point of contact a student has with the university. So, clearly a curriculum designed to support student wellbeing would be of benefit. Indeed, you may already think/believe your curriculum incorporates all aspects of student wellbeing, because it demonstrates:
- Coherent, structured and scaffolded curriculum which makes clear links with future learning
- Modes of assessment and methods of assessment which help students develop a learning focused approach to study – Assessment for Learning, no less!
- Development of safe classroom environments, where errors are not punished or mocked.
But, and there is always a but… the story doesn’t end there.
Even if we get all the above right, the risk is that without curriculum coherence across modules, student wellbeing may still be jeopardised. For example, poor planning can lead to assessment bunching, which can quickly counteract any benefit to students. This can lead to learning environments which foster unhealthy behaviours; lack of sleep, unhealthy eating and long hours in front of a screen.
We have been talking about this for many years and we know that these issues can be overcome with sound pedagogy and good curriculum design. The toolkit offers a timely reminder and sense check.
The Education for Mental Health toolkit can help new colleagues, and experienced colleagues, consider their curriculum. It unravels the terminology around mental wellbeing and breaks down the myths which cause barriers to curriculum change. It provides accessible, straight talking, evidence informed guidance on developing curriculum which stimulates learning.
Meanwhile, for those supporting curriculum design, the ”Curriculum design for mental health and wellbeing” offers tried and tested activities which can be used to help colleagues consider changes to their curriculum which will in turn help student mental wellbeing.
Utilising the resources, and considering the student perspective, can transform the curriculum; ensuring our HE institutions are safe, nurturing and encouraging places to learn, and work. So, let us continue to strive to design curriculum which enables students to thrive and flourish.
Hughes G, Panjwani M, Tulcidas P, Byrom N. (2018) Student mental health: The role and responsibilities of academics. Oxford: Student Minds.
Hughes, G, Upsher, R, Nobili, A, Kirkman, A, Wilson, C, Bowers Brown, T, Foster, J, Bradley, S and Byrom, N (2022) Education for Mental Health. Online: Advance HE
For more information and resources to support student mental wellbeing and the curriculum go to “Education for Mental Health: Enhancing Student Mental Health through Curriculum and Pedagogy”. and “Curriculum design for mental health and wellbeing: guidance and resources for learning and teaching development programmes in higher education”. This project was developed as a partnership between the University of Derby, King’s College London, Aston University, Student Minds and Advance HE. It was funded by the Office for Students via a Challenge Competition.
Professor Sally Bradley is an Honorary Professor at Sheffield Hallam University where she worked for 15 years prior to joining Advance HE (formerly the HEA). She recently retired from Advance HE , where she was a Senior Adviser (Professional Learning and Development), having initially been appointed as Academic Lead for Fellowships and UKPSF at the HEA. She is a motivational speaker and qualified Executive Coach. She continues to work as an Associate for Advance HE, primarily working with strategic leaders of learning and teaching. She is also an Advisor to the Joint Training Requirements Authority, Defence Academy of the UK and a member of the Steering Committee of the Technician Commitment. She holds a Senior Fellowship of SEDA (SFSEDA) and a Principal Fellowship (PFHEA).
With acknowledgement to Elizabeth Mullenger, reading Public Health and Community Studies and Coventry University Curriculum Change Intern, for her invaluable comments.