The Mind's Design: Powering Student Success with Positivity

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

Neuroscience and positive psychology converge to provide innovative insights into teaching and learning. With the biological underpinnings of learning and emotion as our foundation, we will examine how positive psychology strategies can be employed to build community, increase learner resilience, promote engagement, and contribute to learning outcomes. Participants will leave with actionable strategies that can be immediately employed in online classrooms.


Dr. Ellen Beattie is an educational leader, innovator, and consultant specializing in positive academic leadership, online teaching and learning, and neuroscience. As an assistant professor in the Ph.D. in Education program at the University of Arizona Global Campus, she strategically supports doctoral learner success through curriculum design and research mentorship. Prior to joining the university, Dr. Beattie advanced into central leadership roles as Director of Student Services, Director of Literacy, and Chief of Adult Instructional Services across private, public, and government entities. In 2020, Online Learning Consortium recognized Dr. Beattie’s commitment to diversity and inclusion with the Leadership in Equity and Inclusion in Online Learning award. Dr. Beattie's teaching began in 2007 and currently spans undergraduate through doctoral learners in the content areas of student success, educational leadership, and educational technology. Her intense focus on creating conditions where all students can thrive earned her a recent nomination as Distinguished Faculty Member of the year. Dr. Beattie’s research mingles cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, positive psychology, and evidence-based wellness practices. Her most recently published work, The Power of the Positive: Enhancing Online Student Engagement for Adult Literacy Learners, is highlighted in Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy.

Extended Abstract

Engaged online learners are more active, self-directed, and responsible and persist and find higher rates of academic success. This session aims to maximize learner outcomes by combining the research and frameworks of online student engagement with the neuroscience and psychology of positive emotions. The evolving neurobiological and psychological understanding of emotions, specifically positive emotions, provides fascinating insights into how emotions can be crafted and employed to maximize student engagement in the online learning environment.

This session proposes that the positive psychology inventions, which have been consistently and directly correlated to positive organizational outcomes when similarly used in business initiatives, apply to the online classroom. Positive psychology inventions support student engagement and academic outcomes when applied to the online classroom. The organization of the session begins with an overview of foundational topics, including online student engagement, the dynamics of online learning, the neurobiology of adult learning, emotions and learning, and transactional distance, before exploring positive psychology interventions and the use of positive emotions. The session concludes with the infusion of practical positive psychology principles and the purposeful use of positive emotions in the online setting to increase learner engagement and achievement.

Participants will reflect on personal educational experiences that promote engagement to determine potential strategies. This reflective interaction will then turn to the presentation of the literature on online student engagement, positive psychology, and adult learning. From this theoretical base of understanding, participants will divide into 6 small groups, with each exploring a positive psychology intervention to be applied to the online classroom. The group will come together to share key insights from the small group discussions. The facilitator will conclude by sharing key takeaways that can be immediately applied to the online learning environment.