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E-Learning and Mental Health: Tools, techniques and resources to help you and your students

29 September 2020 Posted in: Articles Tagged: , , , , By: Richard Chantler

Covid has impacted every aspect of our lives and brought many changes to the way we work and how our students study. We have seen large scale, rapid change over the past 7 months or so and a prolonged absence of physical interaction, so we need to ensure that appropriate attention is paid to our mental health.

Adopting new/additional learning technologies may have been the cause of some of the anxiety/stress for staff, especially if staff had not encountered these to date or used them widely for some of their modules. Rapid upskilling and changes to teaching style has undoubtedly caused additional workload and new challenges to be overcome too.

In this article, we aim to provide you with the tools, techniques and resources to help you with your own e-learning challenges, as well as to equip you to help your students as much as possible.

Support for you

As work pressures mount, its important to remember that you are surrounded by a great network of collegiate staff at QMUL who can help you to find efficiencies, provide training and offer support.

The E-Learning Unit is here to provide you with technical support for the breadth of learning technologies in a number of ways, via: twice weekly lunchtime drop in sessions, bespoke training sessions, e-learning workshops, self-directed guidance material, our video channel, resolving tickets raised via the Helpdesk and answering inquiries sent to the elearning mailbox.

It’s easy to get consumed by tasks, especially when there are tight deadlines. Do get in contact with us as soon as possible, to ensure that we can advise and support your needs. It might be the case that we can help make life easier and find ways for processes to be completed more quickly; there is often a multitude of ways to approach different tasks in QMplus (or other systems) and it might be the case of finding the right one for you.

Supporting your students

These uncertain times may have created as much anxiety and stress for students as for staff, so it is important to minimise/negate as many of these sources as possible. For many students they are having to re-learn how they learn as they adapt to distance learning, so the following steps can help:

  • Clear structure & information for your module – structured timetable, module outcomes, details of how the module will be assessed & when, contact details for the module convenor, teachers, TAs, etc., what to do if there’s a problem, provide information on when students can expect grades/feedback & how, etc. (E-Learning Baseline Standards document lists all the information required).
  • Human presence – little differences can be key! Add your own profile images to QMplus, MS Teams, Blackboard Collaborate, etc and encourage your students to do the same. If you can include video of yourself, do. It is warmly received when students (and staff) have been working or studying in isolation. Some students may not feel comfortable having their cameras on but may feel it is expected of them, so allow some time at the start for ‘housekeeping’ to let them know that they do not have to have it on.  Let them know how they can contact you if they have any questions after teaching sessions.
  • Breadth of engaging learning technologies & activities – there are often a number of ways to make content more engaging – such as video quizzes, H5P content, synchronous sessions as well as recorded content & the use of video feedback. It is important to provide variety, but keep routine, though.
  • Provide opportunities for students to engage with each other – your students may not have the same chances to meet each other this year, so collaborative projects and sessions may provide this opportunity to form friendships, support & improve mental health. Offer some guidance on etiquette for this, or an opportunity for informal introductions, as some students report anxiety of receiving direct messages from students they’ve never met before.
  • Provide pauses and opportunities for students to set their pace – it can be easy to present at a pace that is comfortable to you, but with students embarking in a new style of learning at distance, it can help to provide pauses for a ‘breather’ so they can look up terminology and its also important to set the right pace. Provide your students with the opportunity to let you know if you’re going to fast or if there’s areas to recap on.
  • Visual cues & verbal consent – avoid awkward silences & allow students to prepare themself by giving notice when you are going to one of them a question. If using a virtual classroom solution, you may wish to allow them to ask the question in the general chat area (rather than verbally) or to direct questions to yourself/moderators privately (so you can read out the question for them).
  • Record synchronous teaching sessions – it is easy to forget to ‘hit record’, so set yourself reminders however you can & your students will thank you for it. The recordings prove invaluable to those who have missed a class through sickness and those who wish to review the content at their own pace and revise from it.
  • Moderate forums & chat – personalities and behaviours in the online environment can differ from those displayed in the physical environment. It is important to moderate what is happening in the chat sessions, forums, virtual classrooms, etc & report anything which breaches QM codes of conduct.

How to spot potential mental health issues

There are a number of guidelines which may prove useful in identifying potential mental health issues through students displaying repeated behaviours, as outlined by Sharkin (2006):

  • Patterns of atypical behaviour: this is behaviour that is “out of character for a particular student” (p.23) (e.g. being unusually quiet/not participating in discussion when they usually do; repeated absences from particular modules or activities)
  • Patterns of unusual behaviour:  behaviour that is abnormal or bizarre; such as paranoia, ongoing magical or fantastical thinking, or actions which interfere with the learning atmosphere. (e.g. saying to writing things which seem unusual and removed from reality)
  • Patterns of poor academic performance: distressed students often fall into a cycle of emotional issues resulting in academic problems leading to worsening emotional distress and worsening academic performance.

If repeat behaviours are identified, then you may need to get in contact with the Dysability and Dyslexia Service or Advice and Counselling, to explore avenues to support the student(s).

*Information on providing support to students in distress/urgent situations can be found here.*

Staff Resources:

  • Apps4Learning – Student & Academic Services’ staff & student resource, listing & providing information on engaging apps to help with teaching online.
  • Inclusive Practice – Staff resource created by DDS at QMUL.
  • DDS staff resource area – Advice, policies and guidelines for QMUL staff to support students registered with the Disability and Dyslexia Service.
  • Employee assistance programme – Broader assistance for staff, providing support on work-life balance, depression & anxiety.
  • Togetherall (previously called Big White Wall) – Engaging resource for staff & students to anonymously support each other.

Student Resources

  • Apps4Learning – Student & Academic Services’ staff & student resource, listing & providing information on engaging apps to help with student studies.
  • QM’s Advice and Counselling blog – Student blog where counsellors explore emotional and mental wellbeing issues which may arise at university.
  • Student Space – Student resource on how to manage uncertainty, respond to change & improve experience.
  • Togetherall (previously called Big White Wall) – Engaging resource for staff & students to anonymously support each other.
  • Young Minds – Student support area to help students with coping on campus 
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