Naomi Clark presents Mindfulness: its relevance and recent developments in the modern university at Learning & Teaching conference.

With record numbers of requests for counselling, the student wellbeing epidemic has never been so great, with the vast majority reporting suffering from stress. Besides having a detrimental impact on student wellbeing and mental health, prolonged stress can also impair cognitive functions including working-memory and recall, and consequentially academic achievement. Professional 1:1 sessions can never address this.

Mindfulness meditation as a preventive (resilience building) approach has recently been developed by universities such as Cambridge to address this (Galante et al., 2018) and shown to be effective for students enrolled in it. These adopt traditional face-to-face group mindfulness-based training format, but to scale this up at Glasgow we would need to offer this to about 8,000 students per year, while one instructor working flat out at 16 sessions of 30 students a week could only address about 500 students per every 8-week course. Dozens of instructors and rooms might be needed.

Numerous informal reports show however that many students learn not from instructors but from apps on their mobile phones (e.g. Calm, Buddhify), and furthermore return to meditation to ‘self-medicate’ when their stress rises. This appears a more workable approach, about which very little has been published. We will report on a pilot scheme to promote this self-taught approach in Computing Science, and on a survey to show how widespread this approach already is. We are also piloting the use of EEG headbands to assist in self-administered mindfulness practice.

Reducing stress by regaining control of one's attention is however only one ‘function’ that mindfulness meditation addresses, and there are trials of how other types of meditation within popular apps may improve learning. One of these is the impact of integrating brief pre-lecture mindfulness meditations into teaching (Miller et al., 2018).

First published: 3 April 2019