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Mental Wellbeing

Education for Mental Health Toolkit - The Design Process – Who and How?

Evidence gathered for this project from academics, curriculum development teams and quality staff, suggests that there is a spectrum of approaches to curriculum development across the sector.

The Design Process – Who and How?

Evidence gathered for this project from academics, curriculum development teams and quality staff, suggests that there is a spectrum of approaches to curriculum development across the sector. Central to curriculum development is the question of who designs (or redesigns)? This can generally be broken into three approaches. 

  1. An individual academic (often a programme leader) is tasked with developing curriculum. In these circumstances, academics identified that their main support comes from colleagues, but the bulk of the task is often completed by them alone. 
  1. A teaching team work together to develop the curriculum, sharing the load between them and co-ordinating their thoughts, ideas and content. 
  1. A wider cross university team is brought together to collaborate on the development of the curriculum. This team can include the programme team, curriculum design staff, study skills staff, librarians, Teaching Fellows and current or former students drawn from across the cohort, to ensure adequate representation of all voices (1-2). 

Education for Mental Health

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Staff reports indicate that the higher the level of teamwork and collaboration, the better the quality of the curriculum. Considering the wider needs of the whole student body, within a curriculum, is a complex task made easier by employing a wider range of expertise (2).  

The presence of a broader team can support wider consideration and the development of a more robust curriculum that has been developed critically. This can ensure proper consideration of the needs of all students as they transition into university, which is therefore, likely to benefit wellbeing (3). A collaborative approach is also likely to be better for staff wellbeing by spreading the creative load and providing staff with a sense of community and team purpose. The finished curriculum is also more likely to be embraced by the whole teaching team, as they are more likely to feel a greater sense of control, ownership and meaning and to have a collective understanding of the course narrative. 

In research for this project, these collaborative approaches also appeared to exist on a spectrum. In some cases, academic staff reported tokenistic activity of “ticking off that you’d spoken to people.” In other cases, staff from across the university were brought together, in design sessions, to take part in structured development activity. This allows for expertise to be shared between colleagues, which in turn leads to the development of all of the staff involved. This approach also meets Cowan, et al’s (4) call for curriculum development and staff development to be seen as the same process. 

Kift’s Curriculum Design Table (5) provides a broad example of who could be involved in curriculum design. Alongside academic teams, learning experts and librarians, it also proposes the inclusion of student services staff and disability and inclusion experts. This would ensure that informed voices can ensure that mental health, wellbeing and the needs of all students are considered at the earliest stage of conception.  

There are clearly implications for such a move. Academic staff may at first feel that the presence of staff in non-academic roles is intrusive. Student services staff may not initially have good knowledge of teaching, learning and assessment (6). For this collaboration to work, the process needs to be properly facilitated to ensure all voices can genuinely contribute to co-creation. However, involving student services staff in curriculum design would also allow the process to inform their own development, create better relationships with academic staff and eliminate gaps in understanding, culture and practice between academics and student services.  

This more collaborative and comprehensive approach to curriculum design would make it more likely that curriculum is able to consider students as they are and deliver teaching and assessment that supports student learning and wellbeing. 

Key Lessons 

  • Collaborative approaches can benefit the development of curriculum that genuinely meets the needs of students. 
  • They can also support staff wellbeing by spreading the load and creating a broader sense of ownership. 
  • A genuine whole university approach can bring together a range of expertise, including student services experts in mental health, disability and inclusion that can benefit the quality of curriculum design, alongside the voices of students, as experts by experience. . 
  • However, this process may need careful facilitation and staff development. 

Top Tips 

  • Cowan suggested that universities should reconceptualise curriculum development to see it as an opportunity to develop staff knowledge and understanding of teaching, learning and assessment. 

  • Some universities have seen benefits from creating half or whole day sessions to bring together staff from across the university to work on curriculum design. 
  • Whole university approaches may be enabled if staff in professional roles are provided with staff development on teaching, learning and assessment. 
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  1. Burrell AR, Cavanagh M, Young S, Carter H. Team-based curriculum design as an agent of change. Teaching in Higher Education. 2015 Nov 17;20(8):753-66., DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2015.1085856 
  2. Bartholomew P, Curran R. Translating Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design into Practice–a Leadership Perspective. In: Learning-centred Curriculum Design in Higher Education 2017 Oct 20 (pp. 29-68). Libri Publishing.
  3. Kift S, Nelson K, Clarke J. Transition pedagogy: A third generation approach to FYE-A case study of policy and practice for the higher education sector. Student Success. 2010;1(1):1-20.
  4. Cowan J, George JW, Pinheiro-Torres A. Alignment of developments in higher education. Higher education. 2004 Dec;48(4):439-59.
  5. Kift S. A decade of transition pedagogy: A quantum leap in conceptualising the first year experience. HERDSA Review of Higher Education. 2015 Jul;2(1):51-86.
  6. Hughes G.  The Challenge of Student Mental Well-Being: Reconnecting Students Services with the Academic Universe. In: Padró F.F., Kek M., Huijser H. (eds) Student Support Services. University Development and Administration. 2021 Springer, Singapore.