Wellbeing in Course Design

Wellbeing in Course Design

This resource was developed in collaboration with the Student Wellness Center.

The relationship between learning and wellbeing in college is bidirectional. Research indicates that student wellbeing is critical for engaged learning and that students' academic experience can have a profound impact on their wellbeing. As educators and as active members of the Dartmouth community, faculty members play an important role in proactively supporting student wellbeing. Research shows instructors can help create the conditions that support wellbeing. The best practices fall into the following four categories:

  • Supportive classroom environment

  • Valuing meaning and application beyond the classroom

  • Flexible course design

  • Meaningful assessment

Recognizing the wide variability in class size, course content, learning objectives, and individual teaching style, this tool is intended to present a range of options to consider in each category.  


Supportive Classroom Environment

  • Incorporate activities/practices that explicitly focus on student wellbeing

    • Include a statement on your syllabus that acknowledges the stressors that students may experience at Dartmouth and identifies relevant resources.

    • Acknowledge that students have lives outside of the classroom. One option is to spend the first few of class time checking in with students when possible. 

    • Take a "moment to arrive" – a reminder to put away devices, take 1-2 full breaths, and/or other brief practices to acknowledge, as a group, the full transition into class time.

  • Clearly articulate your expectations and preferences regarding communication (e.g., don't assume all students will know your policy regarding returning emails at night). 

  • Use personal pronouns in your syllabus (i.e., "I" rather than "the instructor" and "you" rather than "the student").

  • Incorporate opportunities for students to build meaningful connections with each other

    • At the start of the term, build in time for introductions, possibly with additional prompts that can allow for community-building as well as normalizing students' fears and concerns (e.g., "What are you hoping to learn in this course?" "What are you most nervous about in this course?").

    • In a larger class, maintain the same groups throughout the term.

    • Design in-class assignments that allow students to work together and participate in small-group discussions.

  • Cultivate a classroom culture that acknowledges effort in addition to achievement. 

    • Share your own career path, highlighting setbacks and other challenges you've experienced.

    • Affirm effort (as well as accuracy) in classroom participation.


Valuing Meaning and Application Beyond the Classroom

  • Include regular opportunities for reflection (written or verbal) that allow students to articulate the connections they are seeing within and between their academic learnings, their co-curricular experiences, their personal lives, and the world at large.

  • Make explicit the connections that exist between course materials and the real world. Highlight applications of what they are learning and explain its relevance to students' goals and interests.

  • Consider the skills that students will need to succeed post-graduation (e.g., teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, empathy) and incorporate activities and assignments that allow for students to build and reflect on these skills.

  • Bring in guest speakers (live or via Skype) who can help connect the course material to current events and other contemporary issues.

  • If appropriate, consider working with campus partners (e.g., Center for Social Impact, Student Wellness Center, DCAL, etc.) to incorporate experiential or community-based service learning into your course.


Flexible Course Design 

  • Consider the deadlines for assignments, knowing that students are likely to complete and submit assignments in the hour before they are due (i.e., if an assignment is due at 6 AM, students are more likely to stay up all night and submit in the early morning hours).

  • Seek feedback from students throughout the term and be explicit about how you will respond to their feedback.

  • Allow students to sign up in advance for the date(s) when they will assume a leadership role in class (i.e., leading a discussion, presenting work, etc.).

  • Offer students the option to choose their best two out of three (or four out of five, etc.) grades for individual assignments or quizzes.

  • Consider ways to reduce the financial burden of course participation (e.g., put books on reserve, use Open Educational Resources, provide accessible PDFs).


Meaningful Assessment

  • Have clear, measurable learning outcomes and align assessment activities with these outcomes.

  • Break large assignments/projects into multiple stages and provide timely feedback on each component.

  • Use x-hours or other class time to offer workshops/sessions that teach skills needed to successfully demonstrate learning (e.g., writing a thesis statement, structuring an essay, using relevant software).

  • For course-long projects or papers, incorporate periodic check-ins with students to troubleshoot/assess progress/offer feedback. Use office hours and other opportunities for one-on-one meetings (in person or virtual).

  • Incorporate multiple methods of assessing student participation in courses where it is a component of students' final grade. 

  • Provide grading rubrics in advance.

  • Provide opportunities for smaller, more frequent summative assessments that measure progress over mastery.

  • Provide rapid feedback on exams/problem sets and allow students opportunities to see alternate approaches (e.g., two-stage exams).

Additional Resources

The Caring for Students Playbook, created by Every Learner Everywhere in collaboration with Online Learning Consortium and Achieving the Dream, provides guidance and example of putting care for students' wellbeing into action.


Simon Fraser University Health Promotion and Teaching and Learning Center. (2017). Creating Conditions for Well-Being in Learning Environments. Retrieved from http://www.sfu.ca/healthycampuscommunity/learningenvironments/WLE.html 

Harbin, B. (2015). Keeping Stress from Evolving into Distress: Managing Student Stress Through Course Design. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/keeping-stress-from-evolving-into-distress/ 

University of British Columbia Well-Being Lab (2016). Teaching Practices That Support Student Wellbeing: A Tool for Educators. Retrieved from http://blogs.ubc.ca/teachingandwellbeing/files/2016/12/TLEF_Handout_Round2_v2.pdf