Our Student Wellbeing Adviser Jenni Moreland spoke to the College Development Network about how our College has been supporting students during the Coronavirus crisis…
Those of us who have worked in any capacity supporting College students during the best of, or what we now view as ‘normal’ times, are well aware of the levels of anxiety, low mood, stress and challenging life circumstances that they face, and the range of resources and approaches drawn on to meet those needs. As recently as a month ago would any of us have imagined we’d be working to recreate that nurturing network in a new virtual world, bringing new anxieties and fears into all our homes?
Globally, nationally and locally we are seeing new connections emerging which we are embracing with what seems a newly found enthusiasm and creativity, perhaps based on the dawning realisation that life has changed radically, and the question is – for how long?
This blog entry will give some evidence of those kind of developments happening at Edinburgh College, as we strive across Student Experience (SE) collectively to respond to and provide some continuity of support for our student population.
Challenges For Students In Early Days Of Lockdown
Unsurprisingly many of the main challenges for our college students in lockdown in the early days were around the basic financial constraints of meeting rent and bill payments, and buying food when workplaces like bars and restaurants were closing and laying off staff. Another challenge that became clear was the extent of digital poverty with many students disclosing limited or no access to a laptop or PC, rendering continuing meaningfully with coursework impossible, causing high levels of stress and anxiety. Other study-related challenges described by colleagues in Learning Support included low motivation with the sudden loss of the structure of classes, contact with lecturers and fellow learners. Also the tendency to set expectations and then experience heightened anxiety when early goals weren’t met, and unsurprisingly the impact of pre-existing mental health difficulties exacerbated by heightened levels of anxiety around Coronavirus and related uncertainties and fears. Many of our students were also coping with the sudden impact of having children at home, perhaps with their partners either now working from home, or facing the loss of employment alluded to above.
Meeting The Needs
Above are outlined the priorities which emerged during these early days, and it will be informative to see how different teams and institutions have dealt with these as time goes on and situations develop. Providing reassurance, being available and offering practical help proved to be key aspects of the initial response, so all staff in SE were involved in answering calls, responding to emails and signposting. Adaptations to funding processes were made so there was increased flexibility around supporting evidence to ensure no urgently needed payments were delayed and we prioritised calls to known vulnerable students. Students were also signposted to local crisis services, local and national Government websites – which were constantly updating their advice and support due to the escalating Coranavirus situations across the Lothians. This collated information was communicated via Moodle, social media, and circulated to all SE staff who could give it directly to students where required.
The issue of access to IT has been outlined – around 30-40 students are currently being supported by colleagues in the Guidance Team to apply for an equipment loan scheme through Pass IT On, an Edinburgh based charity, to enable them to continue with their studies.
Learning Support and Wellbeing staff worked together to provide a combination of bite-sized digestible Study Survival Guides and Wellbeing hints and tips, having become aware of the need to resist swamping our student population with too much information (resulting in overload) at this early stage. Colleagues in the Students’ Association have been working on social media with the campaign #StillAStudent to create a virtual campus, aiming to generate a sense of continuity and inclusion, using weekly live Facebook chat sessions. Our Counselling colleagues continued to work with students who had already been referred and on a waiting list by offering phone or email support. They are working on developing a secure method to communicate with clients via video link and will continue to work in close partnership with colleagues in the Wellbeing Team.