ERIC Identifier: ED284526
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Whitman, Neal A. - And Others
for the Study of Higher Education.| ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher
Education Washington DC.
Reducing Stress among Students. ERIC Digest.
The purpose of this report is to help college faculty increase
students' learning by reducing stress among students. Because this report
addresses the role of teachers and students, it is helpful first to explore the
relationship between teaching and learning. The relationship between teacher and
learner essentially poses problems of human relations. Teachers bring more than
knowledge to the relationship; they are motivators, experts, judges. Teachers
and learners share responsibility for learning, and some question whether "teaching" has occurred if no "learning" occurred.
Studies of teaching that produces the most learning suggest that "effective"
teachers use an analytical and synthetic approach to the subject matter,
organize the material well to make it clear, and establish rapport with their
students. Most studies identify enthusiasm as important in promoting students'
learning. The key seems to be to make college courses challenging but not
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT LEARNING?
Many stress models emphasize a "mismatch" between the individual and his or
her environment. Both too little and too much stress inhibit learning. Stress is
difficult to define because individuals react to it very differently, and a
situation that is stressful for one person may not be for another. Further,
stressed individuals vary widely in the effectiveness of their coping.
Some college students, when stressed by academic demands, use ineffective
mechanisms for coping. They may use "defensive avoidance"; for example, avoiding
studying and putting off writing assignments. Teachers can help such students
develop more effective mechanisms for coping through "stress
inoculation"--managing their courses so that students have information about
what to expect, giving feedback on their progress, and providing a degree of
control over course activities.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF FEEDBACK AND CONTROL?
Feedback is information about current performance that can be used to improve
future performance. When given properly, feedback can encourage positive stress
that motivates students to action and can discourage the negative stress that
Teachers can take specific steps to give effective feedback: (1) helping
students know where they stand, (2) setting up "learning loops," (3) providing
written comments on students' work, (4) testing often enough, and (5) arranging
personal meetings to discuss students' work.
Having a personal sense of control is an important factor in reducing stress.
When students do not know what to expect in their courses, they feel out of
control. Teachers can help students have a greater sense of control by using
requests rather than commands, giving students choices in course requirements,
explaining assignments so students know their purpose, involving students in the
design of examinations, and soliciting and using feedback from students to
improve courses and teaching.
College teachers who can effectively use feedback and control in their
classroom create a climate ripe for learning. Students are relaxed but motivated
to learn when they have an instructor who provides direction and feedback and
who is willing to accept it in return.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF INTERACTION BETWEEN FACULTY AND STUDENTS?
Studies of college teaching support the view that the frequency and quality
of teachers' contact with students, inside and outside the classroom, affect
students' involvement in their own learning. Positive teacher-student relations
have been linked to students' satisfaction with college, their educational
aspirations, and their academic achievement. And when students perceive their
teachers as partners in the educational process, they are more likely to take on
new and difficult tasks.
To improve their relationships with students and enhance students' learning,
teachers can provide structure at the onset of a course, encourage class
participation, get to know students by name, mobilize student tutors and study
groups, use appropriate humor and persona stories, be "professionally intimate,"
be accessible outside of class, develop advising skills, and be open to the role
In general, students feel less stress and cope more effectively with stress
if they feel they belong to the academic community. Faculty can play a key role
in introducing and welcoming students to that community.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF STRESS AWARENESS?
While teachers are not therapists, they can be helpful to stressed students.
By demonstrating friendly attributes, teachers can become aware when students
are stressed and help them cope more effectively. Specifically, they might help
students with stress reactions, maximize the outcome of meetings with students,
recognize severe stress that warrants referral to professional mental health
counselors, and disclose their own thoughts and feelings about the course work.
The dropout rate between freshman year and expected graduation year may be as
high as 50 percent. For many students, dropping out of school represents a
personal loss and failure; for many students in school, ineffective coping
contributes to clinical depression. Suicide is a tragic consequence that
possibly could be avoided by greater self-awareness. While faculty are not
responsible for the well-being of those they teach, college teachers can make an
WHAT CAN STUDENTS DO?
Professors should keep in mind that the goal is not to eliminate all stress
but to help students develop a variety of skills to cope with the negative
aspects of stress.
To assist students, faculty can recommend a number of strategies: (1)
improving study habits, (2) managing time wisely, (3) learning positive
self-talk, (4) learning how to relax, and (5) joining a student support group.
If students try strategies for coping and still experience the negative
aspects of stress, then faculty should encourage students to seek professional
counseling or therapy. This suggestion will more likely be received and acted
upon if a good relationship between teacher and student already exists and if
teachers are aware of what stress is.
The guiding principle of stress reduction is "stress inoculation," suggesting
a preventive approach so that the negative aspects of stress can be avoided.
Stress inoculation involves giving people realistic warnings, recommendations,
and reassurances. Hence, this report has focused on the value of feedback,
faculty-student relationships, and stress awareness.
Stress inoculation is associated with giving people information. Yet little
research in the field of higher education describes how best to inform students
about the challenges of higher learning. Research in the fields of combat and
health care demonstrates mixed results regarding the value of information. Thus,
a need exists to identify the factors that influence the helpfulness of
information in reducing stress.
More research is needed to identify the constructive side of professional
intimacy, self-disclosure, and mentoring. Further research could determine why
and how teacher-student relationships deteriorate and help faculty construct
more successful relationships.
Further research is needed to describe the learning that occurs when one
teaches another. Research at lower levels suggests that "to teach is to learn
twice." Better understanding of this phenomenon at the level of higher education
could lead to new teaching strategies. And more research is clearly needed to
understand stress among faculty.
(This digest is a summary of ED 274 264.)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Aspy, David; and Flora Roebuck. KIDS DON'T LEARN FROM PEOPLE THEY DON'T LIKE.
Amherst, MA: Human Resources Development Press, 1977.
Barnett, David C.; and Jon C. Dalton. "Why College Students Cheat." JOURNAL
OF COLLEGE STUDENTS PERSONNEL 22 (1981): 545-551.
Ellner, Carolyn L.; and Carol P. Barnes. STUDIES OF COLLEGE TEACHING:
EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS, THEORETICAL INTERPRETATIONS, AND NEW PERSPECTIVES.
Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath, 1983.
Ericksen, Stanford C. THE ESSENCE OF GOOD TEACHING. San Francisco:
Gaff, Jerry G. "Making a Difference: The Impacts of Faculty." JOURNAL OF
HIGHER EDUCATION 44 (1973): 605-622.
Gmelch, Walter H.; Nicholas P. Lovrich; and Phyllis K. Wilke. "Sources of
Stress in Academe: A National Perspective." RESEARCH IN HIGHER EDUCATION 20
Mechanic, David. STUDENTS UNDER STRESS: A STUDY IN THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF
ADAPTATION. 2d rev. ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.
Meichenbaum, Donald. STRESS INOCULATION TRAINING. New York: Pergamon Press,
Pascarella, Earnest T.; Patrick T. Terezini; and James Hibel.
"Student-Faculty Interactional Settings and Their Relationship to Predicted
Academic Performance." JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 49 (1978): 450-463.
Terence, Tracey J.; and Patrick Sherry. "College Student Distress as a
Function of Person-Environment Fit." JOURNAL OF COLLEGE STUDENT PERSONNEL 25
Whitman, Neal A.; And Others. INCREASING STUDENTS' LEARNING: A FACULTY GUIDE
TO REDUCING STRESS AMONG STUDENTS. ASHE-ERIC HIGHER EDUCATION RESEARCH REPORT
NO. 4, l986. ED 274 264.