LearningWellness – The Prototype
As partners in this design challenge, we (Kristin and Sandra) were able to imagine a prototype to address a problem we both see as pertinent to our current employment focus. With Kristin as a senior secondary teacher and Moodle administrator at a public distributed learning (DL) school and Sandra as the learning specialist teacher at the same site, it was a relatively smooth process to align the two needs. The design process brought to light a challenge both educators have been facing for many years; students with mental health concerns choose distributed learning (DL) but often have the lowest completion and grades of the student population, despite being a growing percentage. The imagined solution is an overlay program that can be plugged into any course. This plugin software would consist of four pillars of research-based mental health strategies paired with known learning frameworks. This plugin (working title; LearningWellness) would hopefully work toward helping educators address increasing anxiety and depression among secondary students in DL environments while at the same time giving the students the skills they need. While current global events undoubtedly exasperate this need, these mental health concerns have been an increasingly difficult issue among youth for many years. Below is outlined the imagined prototype and how it might alleviate low completion and achievement rates in students with mental health concerns by improving community connectedness and strengthening student coping mechanisms.
To address the need to support students with mental health issues, we developed a plugin prototype that consists of four pillars to be integrated into online courses. These elements are essential practices, such as mindfulness exercises, journaling, counselling, and community-building. The goal is to build strategies for students to better manage mental illness and provide support for teachers working with them.
The Context for LearningWellness
The context for this design challenge is a BC secondary DL school that delivers provincial curriculum courses using Moodle 3.8. This DL school is often referred to as the school of first choice and last resort. Students chose DL to avoid conflicts with peers or staff. Other students choose it as the anxiety of the brick-and-mortar building is too great. The current pandemic has also meant that many families have chosen DL to avoid the face-to-face environment. Other than deciding to attend a DL school, other students enroll after being expelled from the only non-alternative, brick-and-mortar high school in the district. Due to enduring budget cuts, the DL school has lost many supporting staff, such as an education assistant, counsellor, and full-time administration. These cuts have put more pressure on the teaching staff to address students’ mental health issues. This has led to feelings of hopelessness among all members of this school community. The isolation and increased screen time for online learning also are negatively associated with mental health. This prototype could potentially combat these issues while providing skills for students’ mental wellbeing.
Pillar One: Built-in Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the newest buzzword of our current world zeitgeist, and working with students and mental health concerns, it would be amiss to not pave the solution with its findings and supports. Recent research is shining a positive light on how mindfulness practices can help young people engage in their schoolwork and manage anxiety and depression (Borquist-Conlon et al., 2019). In this prototype design, this plugin program would build in specified breaks in learning and guided mindful activities that need to be completed to unlock continuing coursework (this would be a slow build-up with positive reinforcement to strengthen buy-in). Pairing with known platforms like Calm, Insight Timer and Mindshift, who have already shown proven successes in these areas, would be beneficial.
Pillar Two: Teamwork Capacity
The use of journaling and mindfulness tools in the LearningWellness plugin is meant to lead students to the point of working in small, face-to-face groups. In order to scaffold to small group work, students would first be invited by the mental health clinician to meet on or off-site. Once the rapport is developed, face-to-face interactions can be expanded to include the teacher and peers with similar struggles. This scaffolding of strategies aligns with similar theories such as Tompkins and Barkin’s “act-brave ladder” (2018). External motivating factors such as activities, outings, and meals can provide rewards for positive behaviours and not perpetuate avoidance behaviours. The group meetings allow students to not only learn from their experiences, an important part of mindfulness (Yeganeh & Kolb, 2009) but learn from others’ experiences too. Recognize the importance of community-based programs (Christensen et al., 2010).
Pillar Three: Monitoring
A critical aspect of this prototype add-on software would be a monitoring system. The educators using the program, already too busy, cannot also monitor all aspects of the usage and data it provides. With mindfulness, goal setting and breaks built-in, a caring adult on the other side of the screen has positive benefits for struggling youth (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2015). Many community-based and even Ministerial programs are available (Government of Canada, 2020), but what the youth need is connectivity. This prototype proposes that socially, community-driven programs are connected to this add-on and offer services through linking portals. This way, the student has access and is automatically connected to (as soon as they are identified as needing this additional support) all the local mental health programs in his/her area. It also gives the teacher peace of mind that other caring adults are looking out for these vulnerable youth.
Pillar Four: Journaling and Goal Setting
Journaling and goal-setting promote self-reflection and more effective use of mindfulness strategies such as goal-setting and behaviour monitoring. The idea here is that student journals could achieve multiple functions, such as reflection, goal-setting, and communication. Journaling is frequently used in counselling to help manage positive self-care habits such as proper diet and sleeping. Journaling also allows youth to identify and correct negative thoughts (Tompkins & Barkin, 2018). Other benefits of journaling include a channel for communication between students, educators, or community support. Communication through journals can also provide early warning for more drastic interventions. Students also recognize and celebrate growth and accomplishments through journaling, which would then motivate them to continue. Journaling plugins already exist for Moodle; however, the learning wellness plugin will also incorporate the previously mentioned features.
LearningWellness Focus Group
Thank you for taking the time to read our prototype outline. For us (Kristin and Sandra) to evaluate our design, we invite the following discussions:
- Would educators be willing to add yet another layer to already often robust online Learning Management Systems? If not, why?
- What’s missing? In your perfect learning world (as an educator or student), what would you like to see embedded for wellness into coursework?
- Please share any experiences (positive or negative) with wellness EdTech that you have had.
Tools of Interest
For Further Reading
Borquist-Conlon, D. S., Maynard, B. R., Brendel, K. E., & Farina, A. S. J. (2019). Mindfulness-based interventions for youth with anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Research on Social Work Practice, 29(2), 195–205.
Cascio M., Botta V., & Anzaldi V. (2013), The role of self-efficacy and internal locus of control in online learning. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 9(3) 95-106.
d.School. (2018). Design Thinking Bootleg. Stanford d.School.
Government of BC. (2020). Students, staff supported by new Mental Health in Schools Strategy. BC Ministry Website Retrieved January 03, 2021, from https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020EDUC0053-001823
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2015). Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience: Working Paper No. 13. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
Stanford University Institute of Design. (2016). A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking. Stanford d.School. https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/get-started-with-design
Tompkins, M. & Barkin, J. (2018). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook for teens: cbt skills to help you deal with worry and anxiety. New Harbinger Publications. https://royalroads.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1006521264