The connection between flexibility and student well-being

Health Promotion team
SFU’s Health Promotion team partners with instructors to organize courses in ways that promote student well-being. From left: Tara Black (Associate Director); Crystal Hutchinson, Alisa Stanton, Rosie Dhaliwal (health promotion specialists).

When Tara Black hears “flexible education,” she thinks “student well-being.”

Black is the Associate Director of Health Promotion in SFU’s Health and Counselling Services unit. Her team takes a systemic approach to the creation of a healthy campus community by treating the university as an ecosystem and identifying factors that influence student well-being. Inevitably, classrooms enter the conversation.

“If you think of SFU as a setting, the classroom is such a core part of the student experience,” says Black. “Classrooms have a really profound impact on student well-being.”

She’s talking not just about the physical space, but about the academic experience, which can generate high levels of stress, isolation and depression in many students.

Often small adjustments in course design and delivery can dramatically reduce these negative aspects of the learning experience. Black cites the example of instructors who foster a sense of community by inviting students to introduce themselves at the beginning of a course.

“The idea isn’t to create a ton of work. It’s to raise awareness about the impact the classroom can have.”

For Black, the link between flexible education and the promotion of student well-being is the emphasis on being aware of, and responsive to, student needs. She places particular emphasis on the value of providing students with choices and creating inclusive environments that support diverse groups of students.

And she notes that there is a pedagogical argument for this approach: “There’s a definite connection between student well-being and academic success. If you have a positive classroom culture, the learning outcomes will be better.”

In collaboration with the Teaching and Learning Centre, the Health Promotion team partners with instructors and departments through its Well-being in Learning Environments Project to create courses that support positive learning experiences.

The project website offers resources and profiles a number of instructors whose classes embody principles of both flexibility and well-being. Black is eager to welcome additional faculty members to the “growing network.”

“We’re more than happy to meet with them individually to find opportunities.”