BSc Educational Psychology: Exploring Risk and Resilience in Human Development

by | May 28, 2024 | Academic insight, Education, Undergraduate | 0 comments

Ola Demkowicz, Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Education, and Fatima Ahsan, recent graduate from the BSc Educational Psychology programme, reflect on our BSc Educational Psychology unit “Risk and Resilience Processes in Human Development”. They share their reflections on learning on the unit and what our graduates can take away.

Why do we have a unit on risk and resilience processes in human development? 

Ola: First, I’ll take a moment to explain what we mean when talking about risk and resilience processes in human development. In very simple terms, risk processes describe the ways that some parts of children and young people’s lives can increase the chances of worsened outcomes in their development in some way, shape, or form. Resilience processes, on the other hand, refer to the ways that children and young people can show positive adaptation in spite of experiencing significant adversity in their life, and what aspects of their lives can support this.

This unit was created through discussion about the expertise that we offer in the Manchester Institute of Education and particularly the Educational Psychology team. Our department excels in researching and challenging inequality, and our Education and Psychology team include recognised experts in risk and resilience processes in development, as well as in how this links to mental health during childhood and youth. Our track record as researchers showcases a wealth of work examining the inequalities that can impede children and young people’s development, the areas of people’s lives that can help reduce the effects of these inequalities, and the ways that schools and other systems can support children and young people.

So, developing this unit was a great opportunity for us to extend and complement the standard curriculum that we teach in Psychology programmes with a unique taught unit tapping into our group’s expertise. This is exciting for us because so many people in our team research in this area and so it is great to explore something we are so passionate and knowledgeable about with our students (of course, we’re passionate about everything we teach – but for me this is especially true in this unit!). It’s also great for students to be able to develop a set of knowledge and understanding that they wouldn’t gain anywhere else, getting a research-rich experience including insights into work that isn’t even published yet.

The nature of our assignments vary across units – and as you may be aware, we have no exams! For this unit, students write a case study review following a girl named “Riley” through three stages of her childhood and adolescence. Students choose a specific timepoint to focus on and explore how risk and resilience theory and evidence can be used to make sense of what is happening in Riley’s life, and how different systems could support her and her family.

This unit is also a key part of students’ journey through the BSc Educational Psychology programme, because we worked together to curate a set of units that build on each other as students work through during the programme. This spiralling set of units is designed to give our students a unique insight of how theory and research can be applied in educational contexts to promote healthy development and good health for all children and young people, meaning they benefit from the research expertise of our team:

  • Year 1: Development and Childhood
  • Year 2: Risk and Resilience Processes in Human Development
  • Year 3: Prevention Science and Education

Student insights on studying risk and resilience processes in human development

Fatima: I have always had a strong passion for children and young people’s mental health and when I saw the risk and resilience processes in human development unit, I was very eager to begin studying it. To be completely truthful, as much as I was excited to start the unit, I still believed it would be quite complex and challenging to understand the theories and content. In hindsight, although I do think some parts of the unit were slightly challenging, I really enjoyed the way the unit was structured and think it made everything much simpler to understand. I found the use of hybrid learning to be extremely effective in this unit due to the sheer amount of content. That is, lectures to watch and make notes online beforehand, coupled with in class discussions and opportunities to ask questions, made this unit very enjoyable for me.  We would also focus on case studies in lectures which allowed students to apply content to real-life scenarios as well as allowing us to have intricate discussions which helped in understanding the various theories. Dividing the material so that the first half concentrated on risk and the second half on resilience was another element that worked effectively and was extremely helpful to me in sorting through the content.

One aspect of the unit that that I found particularly interesting was when we were introduced to risk factors adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the significant impact they can have on a person’s life. I found this eye-opening as many children are likely to experience risk factors or ACEs in their childhood which may have a negative impact in their later life. this also increased my eagerness to learn more about resilience processes and what actions can be taken to prevent these negative effects. Learning about protective factors was also of interest to me as these factors can help children adapt as they face hardships in their life. As an education practitioner, having this understanding and knowledge allows me to view the school as a system that can support children who may be facing adversity in their life and providing aid to those who may be struggling.

For this unit’s assignment, students were presented with case studies of a various time points of a particular child’s life. We were instructed to choose one timepoint and write a review discussing the various risk and resilience processes that may be affecting the child’s life. I really enjoyed the freedom given to students to choose what timepoint of the child’s life they wanted to focus on. This meant I was able to concentrate on early adolescence, which was something I was interested in, and that made it really enjoyable. I also found it very helpful that this assignment was a case study as it gave us a chance to apply key theories and learning to a particular context and demonstrate how different circumstances can affect a child’s life by closely examining the case study through the lens of various risk and resilience theories and processes.

Researching the major project through a risk and resilience lens 

Fatima: When I started to think about different topics that I could potentially base my dissertation around, I remember feeling overwhelmed and worried as there were so many topics, I felt passionate about, and I knew narrowing that down to one was going to prove very difficult. The event at which I first spoke to Ola about the dissertation, I remember saying “I have no idea what to focus on” and the first question she asked me was “what unit did you enjoy the most?”. Immediately, risk and resilience processes came to mind and from there, we collectively created a map which started off with theories I was interested in such as Ann Masten’s theory of adaptive systems and adverse childhood experiences. I also wanted to focus on something contemporary. Ola and I thought of the cost-of-living crisis because it was affecting disadvantaged children and families around the UK and from this, we decided to frame it around Masten’s theory of adaptive systems. This theory makes sense of resilience as occurring in the context of a range of complex and dynamic systems that interact to affect development. By using adaptive systems theory, I was able to view the school through a theoretical lens and explore the various ways that this particular system provides support to disadvantaged children and families.

I had a very positive experience writing my dissertation. I felt satisfied that I had chosen a topic I felt passionate about (with the help of Ola) and something I was eager to learn more about. Ola and I created deadlines for each of the sections and this really helped me organise my time and what areas to prioritise. We also had discussions around who the participants should be in the study, and I focused on interviewing senior leadership team within schools. This was the best decision for my study as it really me to see at a higher level how the school functions as a system for providing children and families with aid when going through hardship.

Towards the end of writing my dissertation Ola also suggested the idea of publishing my research and turning it into an article. This idea was of interest to me as I chose a topic that was happening in present day and evidence is still being developed, so I felt the importance of sharing my findings and am currently working on this with Ola.

Final reflections 

Fatima: Overall, I really enjoyed the Risk and Resilience Processes in Human Development unit and found it to be very eye-opening. I was educated about so much theory and content that majorly affects individuals’ lives, and it really changed my view around how I deal with certain situations as an education practitioner. This unit also played a major role in helping me choose a topic for my dissertation and contributed to my enjoyment completing my study as I was able to build extremely valuable findings.

Ola: I love teaching this unit, not only because this is the research that I do but also because it’s incredibly rewarding seeing students approach our case study assignment and explore how they can use the theory and evidence we cover to explain and respond to the life of a child. Students carry out this task with care, attention, and sensitivity, and it is encouraging to me that as a programme we are supporting our students in making sense of how they carry their learning out into the real world. So, I thought it was important that in sharing about this unit, we include reflections from a recent graduate, and I thought of Fatima right away. Her passion for this unit came through so strongly when we began talking about her major project, and it was so rewarding for me seeing her build her own study based around the theory we had explored together. She produced an excellent piece of work making sense of how schools made sense of their role in the cost-of-living crisis as an incredibly current issue majorly affecting many children, families, and schools around the country, and she gained a level of insight that will put her in good stead as a practitioner.


Visit BSc Educational Psychology (2025 entry) | The University of Manchester for more information.

For general admissions enquiries telephone: +44 (0)161 529 4700 or email