College life can be challenging, especially when students enter a new field of study and struggle to keep up with workloads. As I sat down to write this blog post and thought about the theme, “Promoting Students’ Academic Wellbeing,” I kept asking myself what I have seen and what I have benefited from over the past few semesters. Like many students, I have experienced stressful classroom situations, such as poor comprehension of class materials. However, I also recognize that a positive and supportive learning environment plays a significant role in students’ performance. The learning environment can, at least to some extent, offset the stress and help students survive intense circumstances.
Create Opportunities for Peer Feedback and Collaboration
Some instructors managed to establish and maintain such an environment by incorporating particular teaching strategies into the classroom. For instance, a couple of the writing courses that I took held peer review sessions either in class or online, asking students to review and comment on one or more peers’ drafts. While students generally considered writing courses uninteresting, this strategy focused on students’ contribution to the curriculum and led them through an interactive learning experience.
I personally found this method helpful because I not only received constructive feedback on my own writing but also gained insights on writing techniques by examining another’s work from a reader’s perspective. The more I practiced in this kind of peer-mentorship activity, I was aware of the need to pay special attention to my areas of improvement.
One of my weaknesses in writing was that I often failed to provide sufficient background information before getting to the key points. Having others read my drafts, accordingly, helped me concentrate on what readers wanted to know about the topic instead of on my own knowledge. On the other hand, I saw the ways others synthesized and articulated messages in the content they crafted. Surprisingly, there may be a different, creative angle from which another approached the subject. This peer-to-peer feedback, as a teaching strategy, allowed me to consistently improve my writing skills.
Working collaboratively on assigned tasks is another typical strategy that contributes to students’ learning. Ivan Yang, who minors in fashion retail, said his professor always created groups in class so that students would feel more confident about what they had accomplished. By brainstorming as a group and discussing with one another, students are able to develop team-building skills as well as a more in-depth understanding of what is taught. Additionally, they may be more comfortable with speaking in class because they feel they are being supported by group members.
Offer Alternative Ways to Interact
In addition, a collaborative and connected classroom environment contributes to students’ engagement beyond passive communication. Ziyue Yang, an international student in the Fisher College of Business, told me that one of her marketing professors used Carmen’s discussion board to facilitate students’ participation in in-class discussions.
“It gives students who don’t feel like speaking in class an opportunity to share their thoughts,” she explained.
While some students think they are not as capable as others of coming up with a good answer to instructor’s questions, some may feel nervous about talking in front of a group of people even if they have an idea. From my perspective, a large class limits the ability to engage students throughout the semester when participatory activities are absent. Online involvement, in this circumstance, puts less pressure on students and allows for an open and effective exchange of ideas among them.
Identify and Address Students’ Needs
Moreover, a positive learning environment entails instructors helping students address their conflicts. Confronted with pressures from various sources, students can sometimes be affected by psychological distress. Although those negative emotions are not necessarily caused by school, what the instructor does can make a huge difference to the student.
My friend Ziyue Yang, who was diagnosed with mild depression in her third year, shared her story. She suddenly lost interest in usual activities and socializing, could not concentrate in class, and was having a difficult time balancing her commitments during an overwhelming semester. As she approached one of her instructors and told him about her situation, the instructor was aware of how important his support would be for a depressed student at this point. Thoughtfully, he decided to give Ziyue more time to work on her assignments and let her take a breath. This action, although small, eventually saved Ziyue from failing more than one class. (To learn more about supporting students who are in mental distress, try the free At-Risk simulation training.)
Abi Degesus, another senior whom I talked to, also said many professors were willing to listen to students’ voices and help them solve problems, both in life and academically. Based on students’ needs and their feedback on the course, lots of professors are open to rearranging the assignments and consistently improving syllabuses in order to help students achieve their professional goals.
Meanwhile, students who find themselves in a difficult learning environment shouldn’t be shy about expressing their academic needs and concerns. I understand that many of us are not used to doing so, but talking to professors not only facilitates our own learning but also supports their work in a long term. Students can always share their thoughts with professors on what could be effective in class or fill out SEIs at the end of the semester to recap the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum. This is the way in which we can together tap into the power of various teaching strategies and take the classroom environment to the next level.
Joy Qiao is a senior at OSU majoring in Strategic Communications and also a Marketing and Public Relations Intern for UCAT.