Variety necessary to bring anxiety-reducing meditation to university classrooms

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Attentive students in large classroom

Variety may be the key to encouraging large groups of students to engage in anxiety-relieving behaviour, according to a study at the University of Waterloo.

The researchers examined whether mindfulness meditation could be used in large classrooms to ease the anxiety first-year university students tend to experience around written assignments. Small-classroom studies have shown that it can help unlock thoughts and feelings that improve written communication.

The researchers found that while there was initially great interest in the meditation, it dropped from almost full participation in the first few classes to 20 per cent at the end of the study.

Co-author Wade Wilson, a Kinesiology lecturer, said that based on the questionnaires and other feedback, the drop in interest was due to the meditation script itself (which did not change throughout the course), the length of the script, and the challenges inherent in large classrooms, such as distraction from other students.

“Besides variety in the content and length of the mindfulness script, we also recommend that the instructor engage in the activity with the students and have students put away electronic devices,” Wilson said.

Co-author Nicole Westlund Stewart from Waterloo’s Writing and Communication Centre added, “When working in a large classroom setting, it is important that you get buy-in from the students. They need to understand the value of taking a few minutes during class to engage in mindfulness practices. Student buy-in can be further enhanced if you can provide students some choices, such as which mindfulness activity to do on a given day.”

The researchers surveyed 434 students in two sections of Wilson’s large lecture-style communications class. The students were mostly 18 years old, with 78 percent identifying as female. They were asked to quietly listen to one of two mindfulness scripts over eight weeks. Each script was about eight minutes long. Students were then asked to complete a short questionnaire at two points in time.

“With the push for increased mental health and well-being, mindfulness can serve to alleviate anxiety when it comes to written work,” said Wilson. “Mindfulness meditation is becoming more prevalent as a stress reduction technique that virtually anyone can do with minimal training. We wanted to share our experiences of what worked and what didn’t with other instructors for the benefit of their students and to demystify mindfulness techniques.”

The paper, “Mindfulness exercises for written communication: Key issues in large classrooms,” was written by Nicole Westlund Stewart, Wade Wilson and David Drewery, and published in Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

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