Supporting Online Graduate Students Holistically with an Open Access Mindfulness Course: A Mixed Methods Study
Concurrent Session 7
Online graduate students face unique challenges as they often must juggle school with work and families. To support students holistically, and help students develop non-cognitive skills for persistence, an online open access mindfulness course was developed. This presentation will elaborate on the course design and the findings from the study.
As enrollment in online graduate education increases, retention continues to be problematic for many colleges and universities across the United States. Retention is greatly influenced by persistence or continued enrollment from one term to the next. Non-traditional students, who represent the majority of online graduate student enrollment, have unique issues related to persistence considering they often must juggle the demands of graduate school with work and families. The competing demands can lead to increased levels of perceived stress, which can impact academic performance due to increased mind wandering and decreased attention. Mindfulness is a practice that has been shown in the literature to decrease levels of perceived stress and mind wandering, therefore, the integration of mindfulness practice could have a positive effect on student persistence in online graduate education. The purpose of this explanatory sequential pilot study was to explore the impact of teaching mindfulness to online graduate students. A total of 31 online graduate students completed Module One of an open access course, “Mindfulness and Optimal Performance” and the associated pre- and post-surveys. The pre-and post-surveys included valid and reliable instruments to measure self-reported levels of perceived stress, mind wandering, and persistence. To expand on and clarify the quantitative results, six one-on-one interviews were conducted after the post-survey. Self-report levels of perceived stress and mind wandering were significantly lower after students completed Module One of an open access mindfulness course. Self-reported perceived persistence levels were found to be significantly higher after Module One with students in the first or second quarter of their program, students with little or no mindfulness experience, and students who meditated four or more times a week. Furthermore, students interviewed felt that the course provided excellent foundational information about mindfulness that could be immediately applied, and therefore should be a requirement for all incoming students. This presentation will elaborate on both the design of the open access mindfulness course and the findings from the mixed methods study. Additionally, this session will discuss how colleges and universities can create open-access mindfulness courses or modules for incoming and current students as a way to support students holistically and provide strategies to help students manage their stress, increase their focus, and potentially increase their persistence to graduation.