How to support student mental health in a distance learning environment
The mental health of students in distance learning environments has suffered from the social restrictions of the pandemic. The transition from a classroom learning environment to a distance or blended learning environment has put pressure on students and teachers. Most of them admit to having experienced stress, anxiety or isolation and admit to having noticed limitations in their coping mechanisms. Many students report missing their usual school routines and daily interactions with peers, teachers and support staff. Teachers need to be able to implement a variety of effective approaches to support the mental health of their students through online education.
Student mental health – a priority in the distance learning process
Student mental health has become a critical issue in the distance learning process. In a traditional classroom environment, teachers have the opportunity to directly observe students and interact face to face. This eye contact allows teachers to see the warning signs of their students’ mental health problems. In the in-line configuration, direct sensory contact is significantly reduced. Thus, the dangers to the mental health of the pupils, as well as the remedies, must be well evaluated and constantly worked on. Online teachers need to develop strategies to identify critical individual or group psychological issues in their classrooms. In addition, a set of institutional policies addressing student mental health and performance should be applied to ensure a consistent and stable distance learning environment.
Student mental health – an overview of the issues
A major consequence of the pandemic restrictions is that many people have become more sedentary, anxious and often depressed. In addition, increased phone and computer use, as well as reduced physical activity and contact with nature, have increased students’ vulnerability to mental health problems. A higher risk of social isolation and the psychological problems that arise from it are observed in individuals who live alone and have less direct contact with family members and friends, as well as in those who are less integrated in a network social or community. Distance learning results in a higher rate of deterioration in student mental health compared to the ordinary classroom environment. The problems most frequently observed by tutoring professionals or revealed by students can be summarized as follows:
- Many students report being given tasks with very little teacher-student interaction.
- The lack of community engagement, study groups and classroom discussion leaves students feeling lonely and isolated.
- Many people share that they feel uncomfortable participating online with their cameras on.
- In some classes, a significant percentage of students report being unable to cope with the technical demands of the abrupt shift to digital communication channels.
- Distractions and technical problems at home prevent students from staying focused and motivated.
- Living space conditions, such as having a room that serves as both a bedroom and an office, cause discomfort and organizational difficulties for a number of individuals.
- Spending a lot of unstructured time in front of screens is bad for students’ mental health.
- Difficulties with concentration and motivation are reported as a particular challenge, as is time management.
- Many students struggle with their workload, as well as with understanding both the assignments given to them and the guidelines for their completion.
- In-depth self-study without a sufficient and detailed explanation of all the steps is reported to be frustrating in a number of classes and study groups.
- Using several different learning platforms leads many people to feel insecure and decreases their overall performance.
- Uncertainty about preparing for exams is another trigger for instability in student mental health.
It is important to note that students in general tend to take on the new challenges of distance education by demonstrating a high degree of self-discipline, taking on increased personal responsibility and being motivated to undertake their studies as a student. independently. Those who do not approach the situation in this way risk developing psychological problems.
Improving student mental health in a distance learning environment – better approaches
Distance educators must implement various approaches for the mental well-being and educational success of their students. In addition, they should make these group and individual strategies available to their students through the functionalities of the Virtual classroom. The following approaches are considered to be among the most effective:
- Emphasize socio-emotional learning and use all tools that support students’ personal growth and development.
- Allow students to actively participate in organizing their schedules, let them play the role of tutor or examiner, and motivate them to think of better time and schedule solutions.
- Strengthen relationships with students through teamwork, encourage cross-assessment between students and motivate them to share their feedback on their teammates and themselves.
- Provide consistent communication channels and opportunities; provide the opportunity for students and their family members to reach out to share their thoughts on difficulties and problems as they encounter them; encourage open discussions and personal sessions.
- Provide frequent support to parents and family members via online meetings with in-depth feedback and suggestions on student performance.
- Focus on student mental health through regular practices of relaxation, meditation, and other non-learning interactions.
- Bring more fun into every day with discussions of out of class activities, global topics, positive events, and more.
Implementing all of these strategies will result in an overall improvement in student mental health in the online environment. Flexibility in class schedules and a reduction in workload and class hours are immediate practical solutions. Regular check-ins, initiation of feedback, implementation of various hands-on activities and fun screen-less teacher-performed practices will further benefit your students’ mental health.
Supporting student mental health in a distance learning environment – challenge accepted!
With the increasing levels of stress and uncertainty, effective solutions to protect student mental health and educational performance should be put in place by online educators. School professionals must adapt to virtual reality by reaching out and providing support and guidance services to both students and their families. Less self-learning and more engagement are essential to make distance learning truly interactive, beneficial and valuable for the class, as well as for each individual. Teachers should actively support the mental health of their students in the virtual classroom. Thus, they will succeed in helping them feel safe, valued and cared for. One of the main educational goals should be to navigate safely within the social restrictions imposed by the pandemic and to ensure effective schooling during these difficult times before a new normal is established. Blending the perspective and ideas of students with the wisdom and dedication of faculty can provide effective new learning methods that can enhance the educational experience for everyone.