UNCG Bryan students aim to relieve pandemic stress through innovation
The COVID-19 pandemic increased stress on college students across the U.S. From a rapid and long-lasting transition to remote learning to technical problems and distractions, college life became a daily minefield of anxiety. Taking their own experiences into account, three undergraduate students at UNC Greensboro’s Bryan School of Business and Economics devised a strategy to help their peers.
Under the direction of Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Professor of Innovation Dr. Cheryl Nakata, the trio used their knowledge from the Business Communications & Innovation course to develop BIASTUDY, an educational website designed to provide college students with access to online study tools and mental health services.
“We created the idea for BIASTUDY to help students like us overcome challenges like academic performance concerns, independent learning struggles, stress, and anxiety,” says rising Accounting senior Parisa Motee, BIASTUDY’s team leader.
By conducting virtual student surveys, observing students as they took classes and studied, and accessing Google Scholar and UNCG’s library, the team researched how the pandemic has impacted college students’ access to on- and off-campus resources, their academic performance, and their mental health.
“What we found was that many students were struggling,” Motee says. “Some had technological problems ranging from lack of access to a laptop to unstable internet service. Many had academic concerns like not being able to finish work on time, dealing with too many assignments, or doing a lot of independent study without regular support from their instructors or access to resources. In addition to the stress and anxiety related to grades, many students mentioned lack of motivation and a tendency to get distracted, interruptions from family members, and health- or isolation-related anxiety.”
A HUMAN-CENTERED, COLLABORATIVE APPROACH
Dr. Nakata guided the students in developing BIASTUDY by using a new approach called human flourishing innovation, which applies design thinking and human-centered capacities to wicked problems that are difficult to solve. These processes emphasize learning from, listening to, and working well with teammates, and being sensitive to the people who will ultimately benefit from the innovation to create a superior solution. The innovation aim was to provide user-friendly experiences that would enhance student learning and reduce stress.
To use BIASTUDY, college students would visit the website and manually input their college or university and class information, or simply sync their existing Canvas page to the BIASTUDY website. Once signed up, students would be able to access online study tools for each of their courses, like flashcards, study guides, lecture videos, and practice quizzes. From each class, students would be able to form a study group with other students taking the class, request to chat or arrange a virtual meeting with a live tutor, and share their screens to work out difficult homework problems.
To access mental health resources, students could click on the Services tab on BIASTUDY’s main menu and navigate to various stress-relieving activities like coloring books, puzzles, yoga, listening to meditation podcasts, or connecting with a therapist. The team proposed a 30-day therapy trial followed by a reasonably priced monthly subscription.
As students dealing with remote education themselves, Motee says there were challenges related to class schedules, time zones, and more – but the team was able to persevere.
“Dr. Nakata provided great resources and lessons as we worked through this project,” Motee says. “What really helped my group were her lessons about taking a human flourishing approach and having a growth mindset. Because everyone works differently, it’s about learning to work within a group and communicate effectively to resolve issues instead of just panicking.”
Nakata believes others across campus may be interested in BIASTUDY, from both the student affairs and mental health perspectives.
“Everyone has become much more aware of and sensitive to anxiety, depression, and all the difficulties college students experience, which have hugely accelerated because of COVID. Students are still feeling a bit at sea because the plans, parameters, and structure of their education have dramatically changed,” she says.