A Student-Centered Approach to Wellbeing. In Search of a Simple Solution.

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Why is student well-being so important in education?

The majority of principals and deans around the world will tell you that their school or university is student-centered, but what does a truly student-centered school look like? 

Student-centered learning

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation describes student-centered learning as a way to engage students in their own success in the learning process, so every decision, administrative or operational, is focused on the benefit of the student’s wellbeing. Student wellbeing underpins every aspect of a student’s life: from learning and engagement to the physical, social, mental and emotional state necessary for good academic performance. So, how can educators proceed to achieve student well-being?

Prevention is better than cure

Today, more than ever, it’s essential that educational institutions provide the resources, tools, programmes  and skills to cope with student well-being. Students should be aware of mental health issues and be taught resilience skills like how to manage their emotions in an environment where they feel supported, connected and confident. If we really want to be student-centered, that means every student should have the right to this support and when they are faced with a problem, institutions should react in a quick and personalized manner. Prevention is key and relies on having a support network dependent on engagement and the relationship and communication with other students.

So, have you got the resources and network in place to support student wellbeing?

One approach to student well-being

Finland is well-known for being ranked highly in multiple global reports and indexes in education, probably because the Finnish education system is focused on wellbeing. They’ve been named the happiest country in the world three years in a row (UN World Happiness Report) and ranked the third best country in the world in terms of quality of life (Social Progress Index, 2020).

How can educational institutions achieve Finland’s level of happiness and quality of life for their students?

By following a successful example. Take the University of Vaasa, an institution of around 5.100 students and more than 500 staff known for its student support and guidance. They wanted to take action to improve students’ well-being by allowing them to get help quickly, which became especially important during the Corona pandemic with growing concerns about students’ academic achievement, social relationships and wellbeing.

They explored different programs and resources but were faced with barriers: all of them required considerable staff dedication, application time, and complicated roadmaps; not to mention the effort and budget required for quick and effective implementation.

So the University of Vaasa took it step by step, initially offering support and guidance with a low-threshold SMS chatbot to make sure students found the help they needed as early as possible, sounding an alarm as soon as possible and taking proactive steps at prevention. 

They saw immediate results, Susanna Mäenpää, Amanuensis at University of Vaasa said “Using text messages is a better way to reach students, because they don’t get lost among emails, social media messages or websites.” 

They were using Annie Advisor, an intelligent artificial chatbot that automatically directs students who need help to informational content or mental health professionals, “Annie has been an easy way to support a large amount of students.” 

The use of technology like AI chatbots can be highly effective in situations like these, lessening the load on humans and experts, and allowing them to focus on helping those that truly need it.

Now the University of Vaasa addresses 53% of its support needs with the AI chatbot and has an 85% average response rate. Setting an example to follow for how to make student-centered learning a priority and proof that taking small actions that don’t require a big budget can have a big effect on student well-being and success