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Empowering Online Students: Enhancing Well-being and Academic Success

Supporting Student Well-being in Virtual Learning

My first and only fully online class as an undergraduate was a disaster. Aside from a bare-bones syllabus, the professor never engaged with us. Our grade depended on a single class project, yet no instructions were posted. After emailing the professor multiple times without a response, the project was ultimately canceled, and everyone received an A. This lack of instruction was troubling, especially since the course was essential to my field and future teaching responsibilities.

While this experience might be extreme, it’s not unique. Faculty often juggle numerous responsibilities, and asynchronous online courses can be easily neglected. In our post-pandemic world, more students are opting for online education, either to supplement face-to-face instruction or for their entire degree program. So, how can we best support these online students?

Online Student Struggles

Empowering Online Students: Enhancing Well-being and Academic Success
Empowering Online Students: Enhancing Well-being and Academic Success

When considering student support, academic interventions like tutoring and writing centers come to mind. However, online students face unique psychological challenges:

These challenges require universities to look beyond academic interventions when planning support services for online students.

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Promoting Student Well-being and Mental Health

University-level interventions, such as counseling and psychiatric services, are valuable. However, faculty have a unique opportunity to interact with students regularly, impacting their mental health and well-being. Here are some strategies:

Use Intentionality in Course Design

Faculty should mindfully design content, learning activities, and assessments to align with course objectives. TILT Higher Ed (Transparency in Learning & Teaching) provides resources to help faculty explain the “why” behind assignments, increasing student buy-in and improving retention and completion rates.

Bridge Achievement Gaps with Increased Course Structure

Empowering Online Students: Enhancing Well-being and Academic Success

Achievement gaps often start early and persist through college. Research suggests that increased course structure in online courses can reduce or eliminate these gaps. Consistent, routine schedules and clear expectations help students succeed. Regular communication, such as weekly orientation emails and mid-week check-ins, is essential.

Inclusive and Accessible Course Design

Quality Matters emphasizes the importance of inclusive and accessible course design, which encourages interaction and ensures all materials are accessible. This is especially critical in online courses where interaction is primarily virtual. Proper captions and alt tags are necessary to prevent students from missing vital information.

Incentivize Self-care

Faculty can emphasize mental wellness through assignments. For example, in an undergraduate statistics class, I offer extra credit for students who identify and reflect on their self-care activities. Dr. Sarah Kyte from the University of Arizona allows students to make up absences by completing well-being modules. These small opportunities help students feel valued and promote self-care.


Implementing these strategies requires incremental changes and thoughtful consideration. However, the potential outcomes are significant. Students who feel seen and supported are more likely to persist, graduate, and prioritize their mental health. While these strategies benefit all students, they are especially crucial in fully online courses. By being intentional about course structure and creating an inclusive environment, we can bridge achievement gaps and promote mental health for all students.

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