When Advance HE launched the first Embedding Mental Wellbeing in the Curriculum (EMW) project De Montfort University (DMU) were keen to be actively involved. In March 2020, as the UK moved into lockdown due to Covid-19 a new team formed to devise and deliver a project to embed mental wellbeing to best support the University community.
What could be achieved?
The starting point was to reflect on work to date within the University and across the sector and ask ‘what could be achieved at this time?’. This led to a project proposal founded on five core areas: the expansion of existing online support, the development of new welfare-based resources, the enhancement of online workshops for colleagues, a renewed academic development offer and the sharing of best practice.
Embedding mental wellbeing during a pandemic
The aim was to ensure that as many students as possible had the opportunity to engage with EMW activity; the five core areas were key to facilitating and delivering this. The existing online web pages and resources for students and staff would be developed, raising awareness of the support already available and highlighting the new and expanding offer. New welfare training resources and online workshops would focus on supporting students with their mental health and identifying and managing professional boundaries. The academic development offer would ensure EMW was a core part of mandatory training for new academics, the University’s existing approach to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) would be extended, and new resources would explore emotionally intelligent teaching. New downloadable tutor packs for use in taught sessions and a menu of support options provided materials for use by academics in a range of settings, empowering colleagues to explore topics relevant to mental wellbeing aligned with curriculum content.
Embracing collaborative teamworking
An interdisciplinary team needed to come together, understand each other and swiftly embrace collaborative working. It would include colleagues and students from across the University community who had not previously worked together but who held responsibilities aligned to the five core areas of the project.
The CATE claim was an opportunity to reflect on the development of relationships amongst the team; the connections between individual team members and what it was that supported these to develop, extend, expand and thrive. Taking the time to understand roles and relationships in relation to mental wellbeing provided a strong foundation for understanding one another, enabling the team to recognise commonalities and differences, and consider how to support and empower one another.
The team included academics, professional services, academic development colleagues and the Students’ Union. Working collaboratively the team explored how they could work together, creating a unique state of interdependence for creative, innovative and impactful activity.
As the initial Covid-19 lockdown commenced the University reviewed progress around EMW to date and recognised the need to re-scope plans to deliver what was possible in the emerging pandemic environment. New and enhanced resources, workshops and recognition of existing practice were developed, many launching during the summer of 2020 to provide support for the University community ahead of the 2020-21 academic session. During 2020-21 further activity was piloted, reviewed and evaluated. Based on feedback from students, colleagues and the experiences of facilitators, the new and enhanced resources were further developed and incorporated into activity for 2021-22 and beyond.
Impact and reach beyond initial context
The CATE claim facilitated an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the project beyond initial plans, and highlighted the extent to which the outputs of this work had reached students and colleagues, both within the University and across the sector.
Evaluating data from within the University it was possible to track the reach of activity against a baseline. Feedback and testimonials identified impact on the individual, some students achieved recognition on their Higher Education Achievement Reports following engagement with the resources available whilst others participated directly in developing new materials, and the Students’ Union introduced new Welfare Champion roles and changed the bye-laws to ensure a clearer focus on welfare.
The project acted as the foundation for other activity; the project leader (Zoë Allman) having subsequently successfully secured Quality Assurance Agency funding to lead a national project involving the University, Students’ Union and six other providers to identify sector-wide definitions, examples and benefits for EMW. Team members referred to the project in personal recognition claims and applications for awards. The University provided pedagogic innovation funding to further develop a co-created students as producer project focused on emotionally intelligent teaching. Details about the project and best practice were shared via nine conference presentations, symposia and events, three journal articles and publications, two blog articles and a book chapter.
The CATE claim provided an opportunity to reflect on the project as a whole, the possibilities that had been realised in the most unexpected of circumstances, and the resilience and passion demonstrated by the collaborative team in support of the whole University community.
Zoë Allman is an academic leader driving change in embedding mental wellbeing in the curriculum, leading to enhanced experiences for students and colleagues. She is an Associate Dean (Academic) at De Montfort University, read more about Zoë and related project activity via DMU’s website.