Understanding academic educators' work in supporting student wellbeing

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Curriculum Transformation Vol. 40

June, 2017, 455 pages
Published by
Ruth Walker & Simon Bedford

Universities are increasingly concerned with student mental health, as empirical studies indicate a high prevalence and severity of psychological distress among student populations (Larcombe et al., 2016; Bore et al., 2016). From a developmental systems perspective, discussions about student wellbeing must include the perspectives and needs of academic educators. Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) offers several suggestions for how academic educators can facilitate wellbeing through their teaching, but there is still little evidence of the work that educators do to promote student wellbeing as part of their everyday practice. Using an online survey, we asked 315 academic educators from diverse disciplines at three universities about their experiences with student mental health: their awareness of related issues, their strategies, and institutional supports. In general, respondents were aware and concerned about student mental health. They described diverse strategies for promoting student wellbeing, many of which were common practices in higher education, and all of which were consistent with Self-Determination Theory approaches. The implication for educators concerned with wellbeing is to identify the elements of their teaching that might already be promoting wellbeing. Respondents also wanted greater institutional support around responding to student distress and around mental health literacy. Their comments highlight the importance of a developmental systems approach to student wellbeing in which university systems work together and support each other.

Keywords: Student wellbeing, academic educators, self-determination theory