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National Teaching Fellows

Co-creating wellbeing activities for students – a little tale

Dr Elena Riva, Head of Department at the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning – (IATL) – University of Warwick 

What works wellbeing? Often, I find myself pondering on this question in so many different circumstances at university. Is there a recipe? Is there a silver bullet? I don’t think so, yet there are approaches and ways of entering in relation with this question that, in my experience, can be truly beneficial. 

Indeed, tackling the roaring student wellbeing crisis has become a priority for the higher education sector, and holistic, “whole university” approaches have been recognised as the most effective for this complex task (Hughes and Spanner, 2019). I am convinced that, as part of this global approach, co-creating wellbeing interventions with students (Slates et al., 2023) is, I dare to say, the only way forward. The “experts” of student wellbeing and university life are the students themselves, and therefore they need to play a pivotal role in the creation of any activity aimed at ameliorating their wellbeing.  

For example, at Warwick University, we identified the need of increasing students’ wellbeing literacy. Thus, we developed the open access online “Understanding Wellbeing” module that helps students to better understand what wellbeing is and to learn how to support themselves and their community. The students who co-created this resource were involved at every stage of its development, and they led on the main decisions that shaped the final module. Co-creators had agency and a meaningful voice throughout the process; they established the learning objectives after consulting a large pool of students and they determined the module’s content, selecting relevant topics such as unpacking the relationship between social media and wellbeing. 

Co-creators also decided on content formats, opting for podcasts that captured conversations between a disciplinary academic expert and a student about a particular aspect of wellbeing. Podcasts were chosen so students could listen to them whenever needed or suitable, perhaps while walking or shopping or for winding down at the end of a long day, gearing up the module for the time constraints of university life. Again, the co-creators decided to gain formal HEAR accreditation for the module, to underline the value of wellbeing literacy for students and to act as further incentive for students to enrol.  

I and other academic staff offered regular support and acted as a sounding board, leaving the space to co-creators to discuss and trial ideas. Students were also trained by IT staff and by an external podcast producer to make sure that they could develop the module in its entirety, shaping it according to students’ recommendations and ideas.  

The co-creation effort allowed us to incorporate students’ experiences and needs from the module’s inception and to shape its form and content accordingly. Needless to say, it has been a tremendous success with over 5000 Warwick students taking the module in less than 2 years, and with the module been adopted by other 2 UK Institutions and translated in Danish for the University of Copenhagen (Koushede and Rasmussen, 2020)! 

This experience has taught me that only a co-creative approach that removes traditional hierarchies and it is based on a real partnership with students can allow us to deliver inclusive wellbeing interventions aimed at the whole university community.  

On behalf of the Association of National Teaching Fellows we would like to welcome Elena as one of the National Teaching Fellows awarded in 2023.  We hope that this will be the first of many valued contributions to the Association blog and congratulations again on your award Elena. 


Hughes, G., Spanner, L. (2019). The university mental health charter. Student Minds. Available at: 

Slates, S., Cook-Sather, A., Riva, E., et al. (2023). How can students-as-partners work address challenges to student, faculty, and staff mental health and well-being? International Journal for Students As Partners, 7(2), 221–240.  

Koushede, V. and Rasmussen, M. (2020). Head of department and dean: It is time to put mental health on the curriculum. Altinget. Available at: 

Image: Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay 

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