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Innovative plans to address students' mental health using Fika app in tutoring project

09/10/2020
"We want to help students develop the right mindset to succeed in their academic studies and future careers."

A major new personal tutoring pilot project at Middlesex University is taking innovative steps to boost wellbeing among students and start conversations about mental health.

With Mental Health Day on Saturday October 10, MDX can reveal students being tutored through the pilot project will use exercises and tests on the mental fitness app Fika.

The Fika platform offers assignable, tech-based courses in confidence, connection, positivity, focus, motivation, stress management and meaning - with three levels in each skill - meaning tutors can use the platform as a guide in one-to-one conversations with students, or assign specific courses or exercises depending on the greatest areas of need.

“A difficult issue in advising and tutoring, both in the UK and globally, is that academics don’t always feel comfortable having conversations with students about topics like this." Dr Emily McIntosh, the Director of Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement.

Fika also offers in-app mental fitness literacy tests, knowledge checks in each skill, and mental fitness profiling which outline key strengths and areas for improvement.

Dr Fran Longstaff, Head of Psychology at Fika, said: "Personal tutors are often a first point of contact when it comes to student mental health and self-regulatory development yet we often hear from tutors that they haven't received much training or feel ill-equipped to manage these important conversations with students.

"Fika's Mental Fitness Curriculum Framework is a fantastic, easy-to-use resource for personal tutors looking to help students develop the skills and resources associated with positive mental health, improved academic performance, continuation, employability and work-life balance.

“We're really excited to kick off this pilot with Middlesex University alongside the additional work we are doing to embed Fika into curriculum and enhance the university's teaching and learning strategies, we are confident it will achieve brilliant results during a challenging year for students."

The pilot project at MDX involving 11 different programmes will include six scheduled conversations throughout the year which will mirror the academic curriculum and are themed as starting out, press pause, using feedback effectively, wellbeing focus, seeking opportunities and preparing for the new academic year.

Dr Emily McIntosh, the Director of Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement at Middlesex, said: “What I’ve noticed in my work in advising is that we’ve put such an emphasis on mental health and wellbeing and usually in a reactive rather than proactive way.

“So the focus on tools and techniques, small exercises to encourage students to reflect is very much what we’re seeing in the mental health awareness sphere at the moment - people advocating mindfulness, reflection and journaling the way they are coping and particularly in the pandemic.

“A difficult issue in advising and tutoring, both in the UK and globally, is that academics don’t always feel comfortable having conversations with students about topics like this.

“This is where Fika comes into its own: it is informed by mental health professionals so the exercises and reflections are all above board and structured and take the focus away from the academic and the student and put the focus on the conversation.

“Fika have worked with us throughout the project and adapted their application and I see it growing exponentially as a tool.”

Dr Deeba Gallacher, Head of Academic Practice Enhancement, said: “This pilot project is designed to be personal tutoring for all, with more focus on skills development, self-seeking behaviours and enhancements to support the student’s mental wellbeing and life skills alongside learning.

“We want to help students develop the right mindset to succeed in their academic studies and future careers, and Fika is a fantastic skills development tool to help them achieve that.”

Students will also be able to sign up for the Togetherall app, an online service providing support and advice to millions of people with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, which is funded by more than 250 organisations.

Tutors in the pilot project also have access to learning analytics and be able to calculate daily engagement scores for students based on factors such as library usage and attendance.

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