Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
It is pretty basic – choices make people happy. Would you rather write a paper or create an infographic? Would you prefer to contribute to the discussion aloud in class or post your thoughts to a course chat? Choices provide freedom, decrease stress and research shows, increase a student’s desire to do well in a class. 
“It’s not about following someone else’s rules; it’s about you as a student saying I’m going to choose to do X,” said Rose Muravchick, a co-creator of a new University of Delaware resource dedicated to decreasing student stress through course design.
Muravchick and her colleagues in UD’s Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning (CTAL) pulled together tips to help faculty create better learning environments in their classrooms, both virtual and IRL. Experts in what evidence shows works in teaching and learning, they also sought input from other experts on campus in the Center for Counseling and Student Development as well as Employee Health and Wellbeing. They used their own experiences and conversations with UD instructors and students to develop advice tailored specifically for Blue Hens.
“Anybody can Google anything these days, and we want to make it immediate and specific,” Muravchick said. This also ensured users have up-to-date details about support systems specific to the UD community. For instance, the authors not only suggest instructors include a statement about wellbeing in their syllabi, but provide template language to make it easy. It contains accurate information on how to access services along with carefully crafted language such as “getting help is a smart and courageous thing to do.”
Normalizing mental health awareness is a major reason CTAL and its partners began this process.
“It helps students see that getting help is an okay thing to do,” said Lynn Okagaki, deputy provost for academic affairs. “If faculty acknowledge it, it goes a long way for students.”
The resource provides a smorgasbord of course modifications, including:
Provide opportunities for students to connect with each other.
Consider low-stakes assessments, homework or quizzes where the lowest grade can be dropped.
When possible, build flexibility into due dates.
Begin class with a check-in or mindfulness activity.
The creators realize that, just like their students, every instructor is different, with different preferences. Not every suggestion will work for an individual instructor. 
“But, there’s a long list,” Okagaki said. “Pretty much anyone can do at least one or two of them.”
The final tips offered are specific to instructors’ personal health. CTAL conducted more than 700 one-on-one consultations with instructors since the pandemic began. During those conversations, they began to notice instructors’ stress spiking prompting them to contact Employee Health and Wellness for insights.
“Instructors are humans as well,” Trevett-Smith said. “If they can’t support their own wellbeing, then they certainly can’t support their students and their students’ learning.”
UD’s Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning offers a variety of programs throughout the year to meet the needs of instructors at every stage of their teaching careers. Services include: one-on-one consultations, programs/workshops, consultations on the development of courses and programs, and guidance on their assessment. The stress reduction module was designed by Muravchick, Trevett-Smith and Stacie Larkin, as part of the educational development team.
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