For many people, learning how to build resilience in a classroom or practicing yoga outside of it can be a great way to relieve stress or improve mental health. But these approaches are not universally effective. In fact, Eileen’s research shows us that it is important to consider individual students’ learning motivations before identifying interventions that may benefit them.
“Those strategies have a very important role and can be effective for some, but they don’t always align with what students want from their education. Many, if not most students, are at uni to be equipped to work in their field. In my research, participants were often motivated by their creative practice and by getting a job in their creative field,” she says.
“This is an opportunity for educators and key stakeholders to consider how wellbeing can be promoted in ways that align with students’ disciplinary motivations.”
Some of the changes proposed by students seemed simple. For example, participants suggested that assessment criteria be more structured and less ambiguous. However, as Eileen points out, these suggestions grow complex when we begin to consider the context of creative learning environments. Arts educators often purposefully include ambiguity to encourage creative exploration. But for students, this type of teaching needs to be used in an environment where they trust the individual mentorship of their lecturer or tutor.
“If we consider different teaching conditions for some Australian universities, studio-based models have been replaced by more standardised and impersonal classes, and students have limited contact with their time-poor educators. So, this student recommendation—to ensure assessment criteria isn’t so ambiguous—could involve broader change relating to creative arts curriculum, the structure of university education, and educators’ working conditions," she says.
“It’s important for us to protect the wellbeing of our university staff too. Hence, the need for strong leadership and the collaborative efforts of the entire university community.”
“Tackling the wicked problem of student mental health requires change that can be messy or difficult, but whatever risks and efforts that are required, I think that they are far exceeded by the consequential benefits to our communities.”
PhD student Eileen Siddins