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Save Our Students: Tips for Vigilant Lecturers

Mental health issues have become a focus of healthcare, not only on campuses but everywhere else in the world, as well. Since the 2020 global lockdowns, there has been an increased and intensified focus on the mental wellbeing of individuals.

Counseling and therapy services have become readily available online, as well as over the phone, and there has been an international push for more awareness and sensitivity towards people living with mental health disorders.

These awareness campaigns are normally targeted at people living with depression, suicidal tendencies, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues. This is understandable, as the lockdowns and all of the accompanying societal changes will have affected this group of people most intensely.

Students have also been identified as a vulnerable group, having been made to adopt the unfamiliar and sometimes limiting online learning approach, under pressure to pass whilst describing a very steep learning curve.

No pun intended. Student mental health and inclusion initiatives have been implemented by every learning institution, in recognition of this fact. They support students through the curriculum and offer useful advice on how to engage with the procedural, operational, and institutional changes they face.

Lecturers may not see all of their students every day in person, but there are some ways to keep tabs on them and open up another avenue of communication for students to explore, should they feel overwhelmed or unable to adjust.

Rollcall

This may seem antiquated, but a basic roll call at the beginning of classes will give a good idea of who is absent. After two or three sessions, a pattern will begin to emerge, and you can cross-reference the absentees with their academic records, to get an idea of how they were performing before the system changed.

There will always be students who are unable or unwilling to attend lectures, for a variety of reasons. Some recognize that their learning style is not compatible with attending lectures, and prefer to learn in a way that is more effective for them.

Others have jobs, children, and other demands on their time which dictate that they cannot attend all lectures. Yet others simply do not have the self-discipline to get to class every day. This will be the same whether students are learning in contact classes or online.

The difference in the drop-off in students from contact learning to online learning could be due to the inability to adapt to the new mode of delivery, and that is where lecturers need to pay attention.

WhatsApp / Telegram Groups

Although these groups cannot and should not be used for official content delivery or communication with students, these types of groups can offer a way for students to reach out and ask for help, where they may feel uncomfortable to do so under other, more normal circumstances.

Social media messaging platforms have become an accepted way for the current generation of students to communicate and express themselves. Students feel comfortable talking on WhatsApp or Telegram, and so when needing to chat to a lecturer, they will be more likely to use this channel than email or phone.

Lecturers sometimes do not feel comfortable giving out their private numbers, which is understandable, especially if their students number in the hundreds or even thousands.

It might, therefore, be worthwhile for the concerned lecturer to invest in a second cellphone, for use specifically in dealing with students.

The lecturer can then choose “office hours” during which to engage with students. This can maintain personal boundaries and still offer students a way to reach out, using a familiar method.

Marking

There will be a big clue as to the mental health of a student in the results of an assessment. This kind of tip-off can be particularly useful in institutions with large numbers, as well.

When considering the results of an assessment, those on the lower end of the spectrum, as well as those non-submissions, can be flagged, and students can be asked to come in or contact someone for counseling.

Students who regard themselves as “normal” (who have no diagnosed mental health issues) are less likely to ask for help when they find they are unable to cope. They will ignore the problem, which may be internal or external, until it affects their work, and sometimes beyond that, flunking out as a result.

Lecturers are not expected to counsel students. That is not their job description, and they are, for the most part, not qualified to do so.

However, lecturers are certainly acting within the scope of their duties to keep tabs on their students and point out to those students when there are signs that they may need some assistance to deal with a problem. It is better to catch any issue, be it a mental health issue, or another kind of problem before it impacts a student’s academic career.