Today’s educators have received a crash-course in teaching from a distance over the past year. This fundamental shift towards online education demands tech skills, adapting lesson plans for the online environment, and engaging students with different learning styles.
But as higher education institutions settle into the new reality, another important issue is coming to the forefront: ensuring the wellness and mental health of students.
A recent survey from YouGov showed that over 8 in 10 university and high school students affected by COVID-19 reported feeling an increase in stress.
44% claimed that they were worried that this disruption would negatively impact their ability to enroll or stay enrolled in college.
To make matters worse, students are having difficulty accessing mental health care services as the number of students affected spikes, and providers hustle to get counseling services fully integrated online.
Another survey showed that 60% of college students felt that the pandemic made it harder for them to access mental health care.
The question remains, how can you ensure that your online students are properly assisted through virtual care? We will cover this and some actions you can take immediately in today’s article.
What Does Virtual Care Really Mean?
Virtual care for online students can seem like a vast concept. Today’s students experience a large range of mental health and stress-related challenges, and not all of these are necessarily related to their online schooling.
As an online educator, you are probably aware of some virtual care options that your institution provides. For universities and colleges, this can take many forms, including:
- Counseling services offered by your educational institution.
- Recommendations for external counseling services.
- Virtual self-care and wellness workshops.
- Crisis lines and telehealth services for serious hardships
However, what is your responsibility as an instructor to ensure that your students take advantage of these services? Is it best to take a step back and allow students to reach out when they need?
In today’s learning environment, you need to be more proactive. There is a good chance that some of your students can benefit from some sort of virtual care, which goes hand in hand with succeeding in online learning.
Here are some steps that you can take to promote virtual care and well-being in your online classroom.
Checking In: Communication with Your Students
The first step that you can take to promote virtual care in your classrooms is creating space for communication. Your students should have several channels they can use to talk to someone about their well-being, which includes conversations with educators and accessing virtual services anonymously.
Provide Opportunities to Reach Out
Give students several options of letting you know that they are struggling in any aspect of your class. First: ensure that you make it explicitly clear that your “office hours” can be booked for both questions related to content and discussion about mental health and well-being. This is the simplest route that students who are comfortable talking about what is going on in their life can take.
Another option can be a Google Form or Slack integration that checks in on student well-being regularly. For example, you can set a multiple-choice questionnaire for students to fill out every two weeks.
This can include general feedback about course concepts as well.
If students respond to your check-in that they are feeling high levels of stress or have other mental health concerns, you can offer support through one-on-one time, or refer them to your school’s mental health services.
Promote Community-Building in the Classroom
Part of promoting communication with your students involves giving them space to connect with each other. Make sure that you work in “idle time”, where students can have regular social interactions with each other, into your class schedule.
This is best done in smaller group environments. Using DaDesktop’s group breakout room feature, place students into small enough groups that they feel comfortable speaking up and engaging with another (3-5 students is a good number for this).
In addition to giving students problems to work through together, offer conversation prompts and icebreakers that allow them to learn about each other as people, not just faces on the screen.
In normal times, the social connections that students make are an essential part of personal growth and overall course satisfaction. Don’t let them miss out on this vital element because they are learning online – be proactive about building a community in your classroom.
Planning Ahead for Student Success
Aside from providing avenues for students to find virtual care and support when they need it, educators have a responsibility to adapt their lesson plans to the reality of the pandemic.
This means placing less of an emphasis on isolated learning activities like readings and individual assignments. Deadlines for class materials should be realistic and grades should be spread across a range of activities instead of high-stakes exams and assignments.
Does this all just sound like we are telling you to make your online course easier? It shouldn’t. Promoting well-being in your classroom and challenging students can be complementary concepts, but only if you take the time to understand the unique challenges that your students face.
Finding the Right Platform for Student Well-Being
Promoting virtual care is just part of being a better online teacher. Since blended (virtual and online) learning will remain part of the education landscape for years to come, you will want to keep up with the best strategies and tools to teach online.
Looking for a remote teaching platform with features like breakout rooms, unlimited video calling, and lightning-fast setup? DaDesktop has all of these features and more while being one of the most affordable platforms on the market.