Engaging online students who experience high anxiety
As well as being a cause of anxiety in itself, the COVID-19 Pandemic has necessitated a pivot towards greater use of online learning platforms for both synchronous (all together) and asynchronous (individually paced) learning.
Although some students who experience high anxiety find the online learning environment positive, for many others this is not the case.
Fortunately, there are effective strategies to mitigate levels of anxiety for all students and to engage those with high levels of anxiety in online learning environments.
What is High Anxiety?
Anxious feelings which: don't go away; happen without a reason; and, make it hard to cope with life
On average, 25% of Australians will experience anxiety at some stage.
- Design a supportive online classroom
Before the course begins, use the data to know your student cohort. Check if you have any students who have Access Plans due to anxiety.
Invite students to share why they are at university and in your course. Offer a wide choice of response formats. Alert students to a participatory activity 5-10 minutes before it begins. Model the behaviour you want to see.
- Acknowledge the presence of high anxiety
Talk about anxiety and tertiary study, and introduce coping strategies e.g. regular stretch and eye breaks, a relaxed, topical question/story to begin each session, active mentoring, small group work, anonymous and non-verbal response techniques.
- Create a welcoming and inclusive online learning community
Balance learning dialogues, i.e., you to the student; student to students; students with resources; Plan for personal introductions and culmination and celebration activities to provide a community-based start and end to the course.
- Be flexible
Design curriculum that provides opportunity for students to individualise their work if they wish. For some, this enables a sense of control and relationship with the familiar.
- Use and encourage supportive language
Use terms consistently; Use simple and clear language wherever possible; Check for understanding, especially about course-specific terms; Model language and tone use in discussion forums; Establish your standards early and know and share how you will address contravention.
- Seek student feedback about anxiety at critical times
Student anxiety about some issues reduces with time and familiarity. Week Three is often a good time to check-in with students about high anxiety issues like IT access, workload and time management.
- Be available and present
Be very clear and consistent with students about your expectations and your availability; Use and monitor a range of tools to communicate with students during and after classes; Know and use referral services available to students; Safely share empathetic aspects from your life if you can.
- Link learning to the world and students’ ambitions
Students are usually motivated by a future vision for themselves. Refer to these individual futures to reinforce perseverance and relevance; Link content to current topics and students’ life experiences when possible to foster a sense of the familiar.
- Make students’ progress visible to them
For anxious students especially, knowing how they are progressing can reduce uncertainty and aimlessness. Regularly encourage the use of personal dashboards and progress reviews and any consequent help seeking; Find opportunities to praise the class as a whole; Acknowledge the challenges inherent in tertiary learning.
- Be explicit and consistent
Trusted consistency is a security blanket that can help students reduce their stress levels.
Being explicit respects students’ need for clarity and reduces the amount of uncertainty
(= anxiety) which they experience.
When I’m highly anxious I feel…
Nervous, fearful, tense, worried, irritable, anxious, perfectionistic,
impending danger or doom, slighted by feedback, unworthy,
unconfident, silent, unmotivated,
unable to concentrate ……
Author: Lyn Dunn
Online Ice breaker activities for tertiary students
Icebreakers with Discussion Boards (University of Queensland)
Icebreakers for Online Classes (University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada)
Facilitating online discussions
Guide to Online Discussion Boards - Facilitation (University of Tasmania)
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