The role of technology in student wellbeing

How can universities harness the power of tech to maintain student wellbeing? Steve Willetts, head of education and local collaboration at Atos, explains

In recent years, there has been a shift in focus towards the importance of mental, as well as physical, health. Times of transition can take their toll on our mental state; not least the move from school to university, where pressures can mount around relocation, socialising and assessments to name a few. Luckily, advances in certain types of technology, such as FaceTime and WhatsApp, can help to dispel feelings of isolation and pressure, keeping people connected and positively contributing towards wellbeing.

A period of immense change, university sees youngsters move away from home, often for the first time in their lives. They must get used to a new way of life, a new city, new people, new subject matters and a new way of learning. This shift can have a significant impact. But thanks to ever-evolving sophisticated technology, universities are able to perform their duty of care well, identifying potential problem areas and intervening long before an issue gets any bigger than it has to.

Mental health matters

Technology acts as an enabler of support with university applications and web portals keeping track of student attendance records. By simply using a device in a certain building, universities can see who is present, highlighting those whose attendance is slipping and who may seem less engaged. This allows staff to reach out and have an initial conversation with the individual to see if they are struggling and offer support. This early intervention helps to capture and assess issues early on.

We’ve witnessed the importance of a strong tech backbone in the education sector first-hand thanks to our work with a number of universities. For example, we designed and implemented a complete UC solution for 7,000 to 10,000 end users at the University of Vienna, providing the university with a state-of-the-art IP communications system.

Sometimes all that’s required is simply asking someone how they are or if they need help, and technology ensures there are more touchpoints to do this than ever before

On a day-to-day basis, university web portals are a resource frequently accessed by students as they host necessary information including timetables, as well as information on upcoming activities, clubs and societies, message boards and useful links. Intuitive websites are built in such a way that if someone navigates through to a particular section (such as one around seeking support), this can trigger a chatbot which reaches out to someone who may need a friendly ear.

Ethical considerations

If eyes are windows to the soul, then technology can be harnessed in a way to provide a window into the mental state of an individual. However, there are some potential pitfalls when it comes to monitoring and tracking students via their tech interactions. Many ethical questions raise their head, with the big one firmly centred around whether student wellbeing out-ranks privacy.

There’s a general consensus today that we don’t like the 1984 ‘Big Brother is watching us’ state of affairs and we start to question our freedom and our right to privacy when our data is being analysed. But ultimately, a life being saved by technology can outweigh the privacy argument. It’s all about how the information collected is used; if it is used wisely, with the best intentions surrounding student welfare, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

Technology ensures that a student having difficulties can have the supportive intervention they require at the earliest possible moment. Sometimes all that is required is simply asking someone how they are or if they need help, and technology ensures there are more touchpoints to do this than ever before.

It is safe to say that technology plays a vital role in student wellbeing and mental health and this role is only going to grow as technology evolves. It’s a brave new world we are living in, and tech can help us all feel a little braver.

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