Review your understanding of student wellbeing and curriculum design by applying a ‘wellbeing essentials’ approach to some persistent curriculum challenges and current debates.

Consider how you would answer the following questions, remembering that your goal is to create opportunities for students to experience autonomous motivation, belonging, relationships, autonomy and competence (M-BRAC). Click the + symbol to see our responses.

No, whether students’ psychological wellbeing – M-BRAC – is supported or undermined by working with such materials and topics will depend on factors such as:

  • How they are introduced to students
  • Whether students are equipped cognitively and emotionally to engage with the materials/topics
  • How students who experience distress are supported
  • Whether the materials or topics are perceived by students as relevant and important to the required learning.

In short, it is how and when potentially distressing materials and topics are introduced to students that matters. That said, it is important that you recognise which materials and which topics may be psychologically distressing for some students (even if they are not to you); otherwise, students may feel that their reactions are inappropriate, or that teachers are uncaring.

This is a complex question. For various reasons outside many curriculum designers’ control (e.g., employers’ requirements, departmental assessment policies) it is often not possible to eliminate high stakes assessment and normative grading. However, curriculum designers can do quite a lot to reduce psychological stress and help students experience a greater sense of competence by:

  • Ensuring that guidelines and criteria for assessment are made explicit and that students understand them
  • Helping students understand the standard required for a good result in the subject, perhaps by working through an example together
  • Giving students numerous opportunities to rehearse and practice the skills necessary to complete the assessment task
  • Providing numerous opportunities for students to receive formative feedback on their learning during the subject
  • Helping students develop metacognitive and self-regulation skills.
It depends. Group work can only provide opportunities to experience positive relationships if it is well designed to fit students’ capacities and learning goals, and genuinely requires group interaction and collaboration. If the task is designed poorly or if students have not been supported to develop group process skills (e.g., interpersonal, organisational, problem solving and managerial skills) assigned group work may be a source of disagreements, tensions and problems that the students are not capable of resolving independently. This will undermine students’ feelings of competence and positive relationships with others.
It depends. Choice in assignment topics will be welcome if it permits students to explore their interests or approach the task in a preferred way – for example, when students are given the choice to submit an expository, creative or persuasive response to a topic. However, the choices must be meaningful and options must be equally supported and of comparable difficulty. Otherwise, students may not be able to distinguish between the options, or those who choose one option may be disadvantaged. It will be important to consider your students’ level of academic preparation and the level of support you can provide before permitting students to develop their own topics for assessment tasks.
No, making course content and pass requirements ‘easier’ may in fact undermine students’ motivation because the coursework no longer offers students optimal academic challenge. Reducing the academic demands of a course may also leave students feeling under-prepared for internships and work-placements.

Student mental wellbeing is better supported by strategies such as:

  • Providing appropriate academic skills training and support for those who need it
  • Ensuring that threshold concepts and skills are acquired early and consolidated throughout the course
  • Ensuring that curriculum crowding is not preventing students from pursuing topics of interest in depth.
Not necessarily. It depends on several factors and how these contribute to students’ experience of competence and autonomy. These include:

  • The requirements of the assessment tasks – i.e., do the low value tasks reflect the effort it will take for students to complete regular assessment?
  • The relationship between the assessment tasks and the subject learning outcomes – i.e., do tasks build on each other to align with and develop the core learning outcomes?
  • The opportunities students have to receive feedback on their performance and use it to improve in future assessments.
It depends. Work-integrated learning experiences such as internships or work placement can provide students with valuable authentic learning experiences and foster autonomous motivation by helping them see the practical relevance and value of their learning in the ‘real world’. To benefit from their work placement however, students need to be well-prepared and supported to face the potential issues and challenges that can arise in a professional work setting. Being ill-prepared to undertake a work placement or internships often leads to students feeling overwhelmed and this will undermine their feelings of competence and autonomous motivation.