By Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design
[Note: Judith McDaniel originally posted this as a comment to Carrie Heeter's "Review of ‘At-Risk’: A Simulation Training Program for College Staff." We've decided to publish it as an article to stimulate further discussion on this and similar simulation programs. -js]
Carrie – thanks for the interesting summary and analysis of At Risk. I had several responses myself after trying out the same “free” sample interaction that you did. Let me see if I can summarize some of my discomfort with this product.
First, I don’t think I have had a class at the university level with only 20 students in it since the 1980s. So for me, one necessary assumption is that most instructors are going to be dealing with far larger classes than the one represented here – at least double, probably triple or more. That makes this entire process problematic for me since it assumes that I will be talking to these students about their work outside of class – and in very large classes that seldom happens.
I am concerned too that my role as an instructor, not a therapist or counselor, not be confused – by me or by my students.
Further, the self-reporting of changed attitudes is interesting. I did not have the same experience that you did with feeling more comfortable. But that aside, self-reporting, no matter how well-meaning, is not evidence that the program works. Changed behavior in terms of frequency of reporting would be more relevant, but of course that takes years and $ investment.
I also found the “flags” for what we should notice in our students to border on the ludicrous. Does a student come to class looking tired and with messy hair? Yes, that describes about half of a freshman class in early November. Is a student anxious or withdrawn or sullen or non-participative? Yes, inevitably when there are 100 or more students in a class, that describes some of them. I have never found that to correlate to a need for referral . . . that I would have known.
And, finally, that is my last discomfort. I did have a student who disappeared last semester two-thirds of the way through class. She had been doing really well. Emails did not get a response. Finally, the last week of the class, she reappeared. She had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt and was back. I am still working with her to finish her Incomplete. But could I have referred her sooner? I honestly can’t imagine how. Would having taken this training have let me identify her? Not from what I have seen of it.