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Category: Professional practice
Teaching and Learning Forum 2007 [ Refereed papers ]
Educating for life: Student and lecturer perceptions of the implementation of a Social, Emotional and Physical Health (SEPH) framework across an undergraduate teaching program

Joan Strikwerda-Brown
South West Campus
Edith Cowan University

In an ever-changing, demanding and complex world, social, health and wellbeing issues together with the impact of technologies, highlight the need for a holistic approach to teaching and learning - educating the 'whole person'. A Social, Emotional and Physical Health (SEPH) Framework was designed to supplement the pre-service curriculum in a Bachelor of Education Program at a regional university in Western Australia. Planned SEPH activities were implemented to varying degrees in all eight first year units of the Bachelor of Education degree in 2005. This paper analyses staff and student responses to a study of perceptions of the purpose, scope and benefits of the SEPH framework. The discussion focuses on the range of SEPH activities experienced by staff and students, a clarification of SEPH's purpose and scope, the perceived benefits and the development of a SEPH resource kit.

Background - the SEPH framework

In an ever-changing, demanding and complex world, social, health and wellbeing issues together with the impact of new technologies, highlight the need for a holistic approach to teaching and learning - educating the 'whole person'. The social, mental/emotional and physical health of young people is recognised as a key issue in education at every level. As a major focus, universities need to create supportive environments that are conducive to learning.

University campuses can be important settings for health promotion (Leslie et al., 1998; Goetzel et al., 1996). Universities that offer a range of services, support, facilities and programs have the potential to contribute to the overall health of the 39 percent (ABS, 1997) of young Australians who are involved in tertiary education. Moreover, health behaviour habits set during the young adult years are likely to have an important influence on patterns in later life (Fish & Nies, 1996), making tertiary students an important target for health promotion interventions (Stock & Kramer, 2001).

The importance of personal health is reported frequently, with alarming obesity rates and mental health issues dominating media and public awareness raising programs.

Previous research has highlighted the importance of social and mental/emotional learning in tertiary education and identified core aspects such as "creating positive relationships, identifying and managing emotions, communication and cooperation, negotiation, the development of personal goals, and problem solving" (Hazel & Vincent, 2005, p4). Introducing concepts such as these in tertiary education may better prepare students for the complexity of their future societal roles.

Closely linked is the issue of physical health of tertiary students. An overview of the research of physical activity levels of university students indicated that their physical patterns transitioned from active to more passive as they entered university life (Stone, Strikwerda-Brown & Gregg, 2002). Physical inactivity is recognised as one of the most important risk factors for ill health. Of similar concern is the overweight and obesity "epidemic" across all sections of the population (Norton & Dollman, 2003).

A Social, Emotional and Physical Health (SEPH) Framework was designed to supplement the pre-service curriculum in a Bachelor of Education Program at a regional university in Western Australia. Planned SEPH activities were implemented to varying degrees in all eight first year units of the Bachelor of Education degree in 2005.

The major aims of implementing the SEPH framework were twofold: to enhance the social, mental/emotional and physical health and wellbeing of students at university and secondly to give students SEPH knowledge, understandings and strategies to use with their own students in their future teaching. This paper evaluates a trial implementation of the SEPH framework with a cohort of first year Education students, analysing university staff and student perceptions of its purpose, scope and benefits. Students in the study (n = 54) ranged in age from eighteen to forty years of age. All had English as their first language. Approximately 50% had entered university as direct entry students from schools, with the remainder being mature aged students.


Teaching staff in the Education program worked together to determine the scope, purpose and benefits of the SEPH framework in the university's new Education degree, prior to semester one of the study and implementation of the framework. Many of the staff had been involved in the development of the degree and were familiar with the framework. Ideas for activities and suitable resources were regularly discussed in staff meetings throughout the initial year of implementation.

SEPH activities were implemented during university classes, at times chosen by the lecturer. Examples included socialisation and getting to know you activities, cooperation games and tasks, bouncy balls, role plays, share circle, volleyball, massage, relaxation, brain gym and grouping activities.

Education staff (n = 11) agreed to implement SEPH activities in their university teaching units throughout the year. The focus of this study was implementation in first year Education classes. These classes comprised students in the first year of a new Education Degree for future primary and middle school teachers.

Four classes of first year Education students were asked to complete an in-class SEPH questionnaire during the final week of their second semester. When completed, the researcher or the lecturer conducted a brief discussion with the whole class, using a series of prompting questions in a semi-structured format. Anecdotal notes were recorded from these discussions, in 'positive', 'negative' and 'other' categories and later were further categorised within themes.

Questions in the survey included which of the students' classes had SEPH activities, how often they were done, activities they remembered doing, what was the purpose of SEPH activities, what they liked and disliked about SEPH activities and if and why they would use them in their future teaching. A space for additional comments was included.

Staff questionnaires included similar questions, linked to their implementation of SEPH activities. They were distributed to eleven staff during the week after the final week of formal university classes. The researcher held informal interviews, using semi-structured questions with ten of the staff following the completion of their questionnaires, in order to glean extra data and substantiate written comments. A total of 54 first year Education students completed the questionnaires and were involved in the group discussions. Eleven staff completed the questionnaires. Ten staff were subsequently interviewed by the researcher. Many students and staff gave more than one response for the open-ended questions in the questionnaire.

Questionnaire, interview and group discussion data were compared to develop common themes. All staff interviews were conducted by the researcher. Group discussions with the first year classes were conducted by the researcher in two cases and the class's lecturer in the other two.


Ten staff responded that they had implemented SEPH activities in their teaching units during the year. The eleventh staff member (who was employed on a casual basis) responded "not really; very rarely". Nine staff used SEPH activities regularly, ranging from almost every class (three staff) to once or twice a fortnight (five). Staff with a background in the Arts and Physical and Health Education and those with recent school experience more regularly included SEPH activities in their classes. Units in which staff shared the teaching of classes offered more SEPH activities.

Staff noted 45 different examples of SEPH activities that they had employed with their classes. Some were general types of activities (such as games, role plays, use of music), while others mentioned more specific activities (such as "Luscious Lois", "Mill & Grab" and volleyball).

Eighty eight percent of students noted that they partook in SEPH activities once or twice a fortnight or more regularly, whilst 32% responded that they did them in almost every class. Thirty different activities were mentioned by students. Students most commonly recalled the physical activities: "bouncy balls", volleyball, general ball games, brain gym and beanbag activities.

The three most common responses from staff about their perceived purpose of SEPH were: 1) development of positive relationships (teacher-student and student-student); 2) improved student engagement and learning; and 3) modelling of SEPH activities and strategies for students' future use in their teaching.

Two of these matched the most common responses from students (Table One). Students also perceived that the activities were giving them ideas for their own future teaching. Breaking up the session and keeping the students interested and focused were also frequently mentioned.

Table 1: Students' perceived purpose of SEPH in their university classes (n = 54)

Perceived purpose of SEPH at universityFrequency
Ideas and education about SEPH for future teaching42
To break up the session /class21
Keep us focused/engaged/interested12
Assist our learning4
Socialisation /get to know others4
Think about self and others2
Personal experience of SEPH activities2
Get the blood flowing2
Other 14
Total responses109

Fun was the most frequent response for what staff and students liked about SEPH. Development of relationships, breaking up the session and giving students ideas for teaching were also prominent in staff responses.

Students favoured the break from classwork, the physical activity, the refocussing and interaction with other students. In total, 135 responses, grouped into categories (see Table Two) were given by the students for liking SEPH. It is interesting to note that physical activity was a popular response, yet according to the staff, not many of the activities were physical ones.

Table 2: What students liked about SEPH in their university classes (n = 54)

A break from classwork30
Physical activity/ movement15
Refresh/ refocus you/ keep you awake/ alert15
Getting to know/ interact with other students12
Ideas for teaching3
Everyone involved2
Quick and easy2
Hands on2
Total responses135

Ten of the eleven staff members surveyed responded that there was "nothing" that they disliked about SEPH. The other respondent gave two aspects that were disliked: the problem with repeating of some activities by other lecturers and that they believed some students found exposing their feelings boring or difficult.

Within the total of 62 responses that were received from the students related to what they disliked about SEPH, 50% noted that either: 1) there was nothing they disliked about SEPH; 2) there were not enough SEPH activities; or 3) no response was made to the question (Table Three). The remainder of responses (32) mentioned specific aspects of SEPH that they did not like. The most common ones were that they disrupted the class work and that some of the activities were embarrassing to be involved in, such as giving compliments and having to present in front of the class.

Table 3: What students disliked about SEPH in their university classes (n = 54)

Disruptive to classwork/ interrupts train of thought9
Getting nervous or embarrassed about activities6
Sometimes lack of learning content/ waste of time4
Some activities not liked/ not fun/ not in the mood4
Don't like being put into groups
Activities given to you to do in own time
Some time consuming
Some didn't work
Rather take my kids out for PE
Some - didn't understand what to do
Sometimes physically unable to do it
Some a bit personal
Hard to give compliments when don't know the person
No answer [blank]/Not enough/Nothing
(responses that would be classed as positive views of SEPH)

Written comments, discussions and interviews elicited many more favourable comments about the use of SEPH in university classes as well as some suggestions for future implementation, such as clarifying the definition and purpose of SEPH and developing a resource kit. Examples of student comments are:

In our 4-7 pm class after 8 hours of uni already that day - it does work. In our late night classes, SEPH activities really worked!! You could really notice the difference after doing them.

As future teachers I think it is really important to learn about SEPH as it is something we can use in the classroom.

Certain activities - eg meditation, exercise and social games are effective in engaging kids.

Lecturers should specify "This is a SEPH activity" and why, its connections with teaching or do them at specific times so you know it's a SEPH activity (a bit of a routine).

Staff comments were generally very positive, describing the benefits they had perceived from implementing the SEPH framework. Staff also indicated a need for keeping SEPH on the agenda of meetings and discussions to assist with their continued implementation and development of resources. Suggestions included categorising SEPH activities for different year groups and developing a resource kit. Comments included:
I do these sorts of things [SEPH activities] as often as I can. Sometimes I need reminding to do more though. Eg one of my 2nd year classes was running 'poorly'. Student disengagement, disconnection. So I planned intensive games and fun as much as possible. Things changed overnight. It [also] helps me look forward to classes.

[SEPH] caters for all aspects of my students - spiritual, emotional, physical [as well as] helping students to relax and have fun.

Wish I could have a repertoire of activities as a resource - continually have to research to find relevant activities.

I think it would be good to have a yearly focus so that we don't overdo some of them. We could categorise and then share.

Discussion - the future of SEPH

Results of this study indicate an overwhelmingly positive view by both staff and students of the initial implementation of the SEPH framework in university classes and of its contribution to student health and wellbeing and links to academic study. A number of issues have arisen from the data for future consideration. These issues are discussed below with recommendations included for future implementation.

All staff who took part in the study indicated that they were keen to continue with SEPH as part of their university classes. More frequent implementation of SEPH activities occurred in classes that were shared by different staff, as one of the staff generally took responsibility for planning the weekly SEPH activity. Some staff had already used similar activities in previous school and university teaching and had developed a 'bank' of activities and relevant resources. The staff wanted SEPH to be kept on meeting agendas in the future, to offer opportunities for them to regularly discuss and share issues, ideas and current literature.

It is intended to develop SEPH over the four years of the Education Degree within a yearly thematic and developmental approach, with students gradually taking on more responsibility for presentation of the framework and for development of their own resources for future use. New staff, including casuals will be inducted and supported on the purpose of the framework, ideas and structure for implementation. Staff wanted more guidelines and ideas, particularly those who had not had recent teaching experience in schools. resources.

First year units will continue with the framework. New programs currently being trialed include Mentally healthy WA's "Act, Belong , Commit" (Donovan et al, 2006) and the BUZ program (Heron, 2005). Students will be encouraged to progressively take ownership of SEPH, taking a more active role in presenting SEPH activities to their classes, as they progress through their degree. Students will also be encouraged to contribute to the SEPH resource bank.

The purpose and scope of SEPH can be further clarified for students. For example, development of positive relationships and "connectedness" was mentioned by staff but rarely by students as a positive aspect of SEPH. This would need to be further promoted by staff as one of the main goals of the framework.

Some SEPH activities can be uncomfortable or cause embarrassment for students, such as role plays and massages. This could be addressed by giving the students choice to participate as well as opportunities to express opinions and also contribute their own SEPH activities.

SEPH activities need to be planned to fit in with the flow of the session. Having activities at a set time, such as just before the break was suggested as one way of addressing this issue. Some activities can be planned to link to the main theme of the session (such as a maths singing activity, walk and talk an issue, etc).


All staff and students indicated that they would implement SEPH in their university classes and future teaching respectively. It is hoped that involvement in programs such as SEPH can encourage undergraduates to begin to explore the implications of their own health issues and general well being as well as those in their future classrooms. It is crucial that SEPH activities and topics are presented such that their importance, both short and long term and in current and future practice, is understood.

Based on the findings of the trial implementation of SEPH, areas for future study include the potential for adoption of the SEPH strategy in other tertiary programs and by other practitioners. In addition, it would be worth investigating achievement of learning outcomes by students beyond those relating to learning about SEPH itself.


Donovan, R., James. R., Jalleh, G. & Sidebottom, C. (2006). Implementing mental health promotion: The Act-Belong-Commit Mentally healthy WA campaign in Western Australia. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 8(1), 33-42.

Fish, C. & Nies, M. (1996). Health promotion needs of students in a college environment. Public Health Nursing, 13(2), 104-111.

Goetzel, R. Z., Kahr, T. Y., Aldana, S. G. & Kenny, G. M. (1996). An evaluation of Duke University's 'Live for Health' health promotion program and its impact on employee health. American Journal of Health Promotion, 10(5), 340-342.

Hazel, G. & Vincent, K. (2005). Adolescents' social and emotional wellbeing: Finding a place in teacher education. Education Connect, (3), 3-9.

Heron, S. (2005). Confidence and connectedness: Building resilience in children. Evidence base for Nurture Works - BUZ (Build up zone) programs. Unpublished paper.

Leslie, E., Mounsey, S. & Owen, N. (1998). University campuses as settings for health promotion: Physical activity. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 8(2), 136-139.

Norton, K. & Dollman, J. (2003). Promoting physical activity in out-of school-hours care settings. Paper published by Government of South Australia, Department of Human Services.

Stock, C. & Kramer, A. (2001). Health of students during their course of studies. Gesundheitswesen, 63(suppl. 1), S56-S59.

Stone, G., Strikwerda-Brown, J. & Gregg, C. (2002). Physical activity levels, sporting, recreational and cultural preferences of students and staff at a regional university campus. ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal, 49(3-4).

Author: Joan Strikwerda-Brown is a Physical and Health Education lecturer at Edith Cowan University's South West Campus in Bunbury. Joan coordinates and teaches a range of Health and Physical Education units for future teachers of primary and middle schools. Her current major research interest involves promoting the physical, social and emotional health of tertiary students. In 2006, Joan won a Vice Chancellor's Award for Excellence in University Teaching.

Joan Strikwerda-Brown, Faculty of Regional Professional Studies, Edith Cowan University, South West Campus, Robertson Drive, Bunbury WA 6230, Australia. Email: j.strikwerda@ecu.edu.au

Please cite as: Strikwerda-Brown, J. (2007). Educating for life: Student and lecturer perceptions of the implementation of a Social, Emotional and Physical Health (SEPH) framework across an undergraduate teaching program. In Student Engagement. Proceedings of the 16th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 30-31 January 2007. Perth: The University of Western Australia. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2007/refereed/strikwerda-brown.html

Copyright 2007 Joan Strikwerda-Brown. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.

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Created 26 Dec 2006. Last revision: 8 Jan 2007.