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Designing positive curriculum

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

Positive universities can develop curriculum that might help enhance students' wellbeing.


The subjects that make up a university degree (curriculum) has potential to greatly influence each students’ mental health and wellbeing. For example, subjects can help students equip psychological resources, develop supportive relationships and build awareness of challenges that they might experience (Baik et al., 2017). One way of enhancing and sustaining art student’s wellbeing might be delivering content in a more “positive” manner. Positive education accommodates the delivery of traditional skills and resources that can help individuals flourish (Oades et al., 2011).


What can this look like? Some examples include encouraging students to contribute to the design of curriculum; incorporating activities that help students identify (and use) their values and character strengths; and teaching students about resilience. Subjects might also be designed to help students build an awareness of how to respond positively to others, show gratitude and perform kind acts—activities that research shows can increase wellbeing and decrease mental health problems (e.g., Lambert et al., 2018).


Other curricular have been developed for the unique, positive experience of students from specific disciplines. A good example comes from the field of law. In 2014, Rachael Field published a report that detailed ways to teach “positive lawyering”. One example provided in this report was the reflective practice assessment. During this assessment students were required to hear a lawyer speak about their career, then write a reflection that helps them explore their own positive professional identity.


There are many opportunities for research to identify, develop and evaluate positive curriculum that can enhance the wellbeing of visual art students. This might have very positive outcomes for each student’s experience during their education. For example, students with enhanced wellbeing may experience increased creative problem-solving, creativity and life satisfaction (Lambert et al., Seligman et al., 2009). Not only could this influence visual art student’s academic achievements, but also their transition from education into the workforce.


For further reading, see:

Baik, C., Larcombe, W., Brooker, A., Wyn, J., Allen, L., Field, R., . . . James, R. (2017). Enhansing Student Wellbeing. Retrieved from http://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/research/experience/enhancing-student-wellbeing


Field, R. (2014). Final report of: Stimulating strategic change in legal education to address high levels of psychological distress in law students.


Lambert, L., Passmore, H. A., & Joshanloo, M. (2018). A Positive Psychology Intervention Program in a Culturally-Diverse University: Boosting Happiness and Reducing Fear. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi:10.1007/s10902-018-9993-z.


Oades, L. G., Robinson, P., Green, S., & Spence, G. B. (2011). Towards a positive university. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(6), 432-439. doi:10.1080/17439760.2011.634828


White, M. A. (2016). Why won't it Stick? Positive Psychology and Positive Education. Psychology of Well-Being, 6(1), 1-16. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13612-016-0039-1

James Cook University

Townsville, Queensland

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