Mobile App Helps International Students Manage their Nerves

How one Faculty Member Uses Insight Timer in the Classroom

Pia Adler is a UVA lecturer and faculty member at the Center for American English Language & Culture (CAELC), which offers English as a Second Language course to UVA students, research associates, and other affiliates as part of an initiative to help these constituents succeed in U.S. higher education. This summer Adler attended the Contemplative Institute for Teaching and Learning, a week-long program sponsored by UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC) and Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).

The Institute is for faculty interested in incorporating contemplative practices and approaches in their courses to build their students’ capacities for awareness, connection, and care. One tool to help identify course-appropriate practices is Insight Timer—an award-winning smartphone app and web portal featuring a meditation timer and the world’s largest free repository of recorded meditations and other guided contemplative practices. CSC has partnered with Insight Timer to provide UVA faculty, staff, and students free access to premium content as well as customized guidance on using the app.

Here Adler explains how she used Insight Timer to introduce short, guided meditations and relaxation exercises to 27 international students in her course “English for Academic Purposes (EAP): Listening Comprehension and Pronunciation,” which she taught online as part of CAELC’s summer 2021 EAP intensive.

Students in the EAP summer program can hone their English language skills through exercises in academic writing, academic reading and vocabulary development, listening comprehension and note-taking, classroom discussion strategies, and presentation skills. Preparing to enter a new undergraduate or graduate program is stressful for anyone, but for international students, concerns about their English language proficiency and/or familiarity with U.S. culture can be extra nerve-racking. Complex logistical issues also add stress. For example, Adler says most of her students were still in their home countries during the summer course, and some had only two weeks to receive their visa before having to arrive at Grounds.

Adler found that by introducing short relaxation and contemplative practices to her students with Insight Timer, she could give them an accessible tool to help them manage their anxieties and better focus on building skills needed to excel in their chosen fields.

“We used Insight Timer towards the second half of the class—mainly the 3–5 minute relaxation or body scan practices,” says Adler, who used invitational language to introduce the exercise.

She told the students: “We are going to try something to defuse stress. If you’d like to join, please do, and if not, that’s fine. Just do what’s right for you.”

Adler says she was surprised when everyone seemed to be participating: “Their feedback was that they felt happier and more relaxed immediately after the practice. Some used the word ‘comfortable,’” she says.

The Insight Timer practices seemed to resonate with her incoming Masters of Law (LLM) students in particular, she says. That isn’t surprising given how much emphasis U.S. law schools place on the Socratic method of questioning or cold calling on students. In fact, Adler had the class watch videos of a UVA Law School class to see this method in action, prompting her students to worry whether their English would be good enough to understand and respond quickly in these moments.

“Fear is so counterproductive,” says Adler. “Freezing up and/or doubting oneself are not supportive when we are trying to do our best and access what we do know.” She explained to the students how breathing, quietness, and meditative practices can counteract these kinds of fears thereby helping them accomplish the extremely difficult task of learning their discipline at an advanced level in a second language.

Adler says, “I suggested that students could use Insight Timer to practice so that they have tools and capacities for when they are in these situations.” She went on to explain to the students that
even in a noisy classroom or on the way from a previous class, they could take a couple of minutes to check in with themselves and reset their nervous systems.

To learn the Insight Timer app and find recommended content, go to CSC’s Insight Timer resource page.

This is one of four articles in the series Spotlight on CSC’s Faculty Engagement Work, Summer/Fall 2021.

[Pictured: Pia Adler]

Meditation. Free.