THUR: Introduction to a new open resource to help teachers support learners with anxiety in online environments (Claire Richardson)


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Claire Richardson
14 January 2018

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The prevalence of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression amongst students in Higher Education is high. In a 2016 survey carried out on university students within the United Kingdom, 27% of students reported mental problems of which 74% were anxiety related (Aronin and Smith, 2016). Levels of anxiety appear to be high even amongst students who do not report a mental health problem with only 19% of Higher Education students survey by the Office for National Statistics (2017) reporting low general levels of anxiety compared to 41% of the general UK population (cited in Neves and Hillman, 2017).

There is also an increased likelihood that students may be studying in an online environment. Digital activities are increasingly common within Higher Education in general (Newman and Beetham, 2017) and an increased number of university students studying entirely online in some countries such as the USA (Clinefelter and Aslanian, 2014 cited in University of Birmingham, n.d.). But despite the high probability that students with anxiety may be studying online, there often lack training in supporting students with mental health problems in Higher Education (Kendall, 2017).

To address this need, a new open education resource is being developed with the aim of helping teachers in Higher Education support learners with anxiety in online environments. As part of the ‘inclusion theme’ of the H818 online conference, an overview of the main features planned for this resource will be provided. These will include defining anxiety and background information on disability and the law. Issues relating to the disclosure of anxiety and confidentiality will be considered as well as barriers to participation and engagement that may exist in online environments for students with anxiety. There will be an emphasis on suggestions for adjustments to promote inclusion. Finally, the online resource will promote the opportunity to share best practice and to network with peers with common interests in supporting students with anxiety. During the presentation, there will also be an opportunity to provide suggestions to shape the direction of this resource.


Aronin, S. and Smith, M. (2016) ‘One in four students suffer from mental health problems’, YouGov News [Online], Available at (Accessed 11 January 2018).

Kendall, L., 2017. Supporting students with disabilities within a UK university: Lecturer perspectives. Innovations in Education and Teaching International. Available at (Accessed 11 January 2018).

Neves, J. and Hillman, N. (2017). Student Academic Experience Survey. New York,Higher Education Academy.Available at: 11 January 2018).

Newman, T. and Beetham, H. (2017). Student digital experience tracker 2017: the voice of 22,000 UK learners. JISC. Available at: (Accessed 12 January 2018). 

University of Birmingham (n.d.). Growth of online degree programmes and how they will change learning [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 January 2018).

Extra content

Introducing a new online resource to help teachers support learners with anxiety.

by Dr Claire Richardson, Associate Lecturer (Science), Open University.

  • An increasing number of students are now studying online (Clinefelter and Aslanian, 2014 cited in University of Birmingham, n.d.).
  • Online courses are often preferred by disabled students including students with mental health difficulties.
  • The incidence of mental health difficulties in university students within the UK is increasing with one in four UK university students reporting mental health problems in 2016 (Aronin and Smith, 2016).
    • Anxiety is one of the most commonly reported mental health problems.
      • Of students who report mental health problems, 74% have anxiety related difficulties (Aronin and Smith, 2016).
      • But teachers often lack guidance on how to support students with anxiety most effectively.
      • On Thursday, February 15th at 10:15 (GMT) I will be introducing a new online resource to help teachers support students with anxiety.
      • This presentation will be part of the H818 Online Conference 2018 (Ball, 2018).


  • I will be providing an overview of the main features of this resource.
    • This resource will aim to provide....
      • Background information on anxiety
      • Guidance on disability and the law
      • Consideration of disclosure and confidentiality.
      • The focus of the resource will be on removing barriers to educational inclusion for students with anxiety.
      • There will be opportunities to network and share best practice with peers online.


  • I hope to see you there!



Aronin, S. and Smith, M. (2016) ‘One in four students suffer from mental health problems’, YouGov News [Online], Available at (Accessed 11 January 2018).

Ball, S. (2017) OU H818 ‘The Networked Practitioner’ Online Conference 2018 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 15 January 2018).

University of Birmingham (n.d.). Growth of online degree programmes and how they will change learning [Online]. Available at (Accessed 11 January 2018).

Claire Richardson
19:49 on 15 January 2018

Below some notes from my experience working with students with anxiety. Reflections here on ways your work could be very useful to us at the Open University. 

Useful ideas:

·        the confusion caused by using ‘anxiety’ as a commonsense word and a medical term;

·        A ‘scale’ of anxiety, from low level ‘normal’ anxiety about an assignment to the medical conditions associated under anxiety disorder.

Maybe some kind of table? With columns showing who is the best person to support the student in different kinds of anxiety, and hyperlinks to support provided by the university. Some of this could be in the form of OER similar to NHS online support? With some of these forms of anxiety, it may not be appropriate for the tutor or other university services to intervene, other than offering support with studies. Figuring out the inevitable ambiguity about what is appropriate could helpfully be supported by some kind of discussion page for tutors/Student Support/students to access. (One might even exist already! which the resource could publicise better.)

There is poor communication across all sectors of the Open University, as evidenced in the recent Pecan Partnership report describing a ‘silo’ culture. Something like this could help promote better communication eg by reminding tutors about existing mechanisms to communicate with Student Support Teams and vice versa, to ensure collective support.

·        Anxiety about assignment – tutor.

·        Anxiety about other circumstances in life (very common for OU students, who have much else going on in their lives) impacting on studies – tutor + Student Support Team.

·        Anxiety disorder – tutor + Student Support can advise about impact on studies, but external professional support will be needed. May be appropriate for tutor/Student Support to ask if student has got this and guide student to list of services/Student Union mental health support.

I personally often have to deal with the second and third of these. I’m never quite sure how much my remit ought to extend in supporting students through them. Guidance of this kind would be very helpful to me as an AL.

I’m mindful that you may end up doing a lot of work on this which is really useful to the university, but for which there is not a straightforward mechanism that would reward or recognise that work! I’m starting to make sure I put the Creative Commons License logos on my stuff to highlight my contributions at the OU.


Anita Naoko Pilgrim
09:01 on 26 February 2018

Embedded Content


7:32pm 23 January 2018

I look forward to learning more about this resource and wonder what age range it is designed for. There are a lot more Primary age children (5-11) showing and being diagnosed with anxiety. Will this presentation be a walkthrough of the website?

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