Part of the 4TU.Federation
4TU.
Centre for
Engineering Education

Project introduction and background information

The pandemic has put wellbeing on the global agenda like never before and has sparked further interest in the role of organizations to attend to wellbeing outcomes, not just economic growth. Nevertheless, the economy in The Netherlands is returning to its pre-pandemic state faster than expected while numbers on wellbeing are lagging behind. The COVID-19 pandemic severely reduced wellbeing around the world. In our local university context, we experienced the challenge of understanding community needs and responding to them in an adequate manner. We, therefore, designed "My Wellness Check," a service to help university administrators to assess student/staff wellbeing and to take action. While there are numerous assessments of wellbeing, presently a gap exists in knowing how to effectively assess for the purpose of supporting action. This is a problem because many organizational questionnaires (e.g., of employee satisfaction) end up  gathering dust because they do not have direct implications for policy. Thus, we can describe our design research question as: How might we assess wellbeing at a university so that the data can lead to useful action?

Objective and expected outcomes

Our immediate goal was to identify potential areas of action to support student and staff wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis. We wanted to help university administrators understand and respond to student/staff wellbeing needs. Outcomes should provide insight into wellbeing fluctuations over time due to changes in the specific context, as well as provide actionable results that could directly inform institutional action. 

Results and learnings

Through the controlled experiment, it has been shown that context-sensitive assessment of wellbeing leads to a better user experience, leading to more accurate assessment of wellbeing. Further, our human-centered design approach allowed for receiving continuous feedback from stakeholders prompting a constant interrogation of the assessment instruments and whether it yielded the desired results. Lastly, data that has been collected on the wellbeing of students showed a negative trend over three moments of assessment (June 2020, October 2020, March 2021), with a slight uptake in the most recent moment of assessment (June 2021), which was expected from related research. 

Recommendations

Moving forward, there is still much to do to make wellbeing a core objective of university governance and support a vibrant wellbeing feedback loop. Traditionally, universities focus on learning attainment not affective outcomes like wellbeing. How might wellbeing  assessments be used to support wellbeing as an explicit and measurable goal in education? The university has an official policy now to assess wellbeing at least twice a year for all staff and students. Work continues to improve communication, reduce effort and gather deeper insights on specific topics. Our immediate next steps, now that campus  participation is possible again, is to offer in-person community-led design workshops to envision new ways of supporting wellbeing on campus. We expect these workshops will help ensure that we’re still asking the right questions (or indicate new questions we should ask).

Practical outcomes

Having presented to the executive board multiple times, we believe so. Some changes were small, like in the tone of administrative emails (based on the finding that optimism for the future was so important). Some were expensive: for instance, based on the finding that the home environment strongly impacts wellbeing, the university funded a program to provide staff with more ergonomic chairs and desks. Based on the requests for spontaneous social contact, a program was initiated to randomly connect new PhD students together. A  Wellbeing Week” was organized based upon input from the survey.  Many other small, incremental improvements were likely made throughout the university.