Taking the Guesswork Out of Grades: Canvas Features for Grade Transparency

If you’ve been teaching for a while, “transparency” is probably a buzzword you’re accustomed to hearing by now. In several CATL resources, we’ve highlighted the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) framework, which is designed to help instructors clearly communicate the purpose, task, and criteria of a learning activity. In this article, however, we’ll be covering some other ways you can incorporate transparency in your course, as well as the features built into Canvas that will allow you to do so. In each section we will highlight how these features are beneficial to both you and your students. When students and instructors are on the same page regarding grades, it can alleviate a lot of potential problems and unnecessary stress.

Set Up a Grading Scheme

When you create your syllabus, one of the pieces that you need to include is a grading scale, or how you plan on correlating grade percentages with letter grades. Instructors can generally decide which percentage range to set for each letter grade as long as they use UWGB’s A-AB letter scale; however, some departments or programs may have a set grading scale.

Regardless of what scale you use, it is best practice to set up a grading scheme in Canvas that matches what you have in your syllabus. This will tell Canvas what overall letter grade to display in your Canvas gradebook when a student’s overall score falls within a certain percentage range (e.g., AB: < 92% to 89%).

The View/Edit Grading Scheme menu in Canvas; the sample grading scheme is broken down by percentage ranges and uses an A-AB pattern
An example of a potential grading scheme in Canvas

How it helps students: Setting a grading scheme will give students a better idea of what their overall letter grade in the course is at any point during the semester.

How it helps you: Establishing your grading scheme in Canvas will make it easier to see at a glance how your students are doing in your class, which is helpful for submitting Navigate progress reports. Using a Canvas grading scheme is also a necessary step if you plan on using the “sync to SIS” feature for sending final grades to SIS.

Regularly Enter Grades, Including Work Submitted Outside of Canvas

Most courses have some activities or metrics that factor into grading that don’t include an actual student submission in Canvas, such as participation points or in-class activities. To record these grades in Canvas, you will need to set up no-submission Canvas assignments, which are assignments that create a column in the Canvas gradebook where you can simply enter students’ scores. Though many instructors wait until the end of the semester to enter these scores, updating them on a weekly or biweekly basis will help keep you and your students on track. For recurring points like participation, you may wish to lump together points by week or unit (e.g., create an assignment for “Week 1 Participation,” “Week 2 Participation,” etc.).

Three weekly participation point gradebook columns in Canvas with various scores filled in
An example of how you might set up weekly participation grades in Canvas

How it helps students: Factoring these grades into your course as you go will help students get a more well-rounded picture of where they stand in your class. It also makes the importance of regular participation and attendance more evident to students.

How it helps you: Regularly entering or updating scores for things like participation will prevent the headache of entering them all at the end of the semester. It can also give you a sense if there are students that may need an intervention from a professional advisor due to poor attendance (in these cases, you can issue an hoc Navigate attendance alert for students of concern).

Enter Zeroes for Missing Work

One of the most deceptive parts about grades in Canvas is that, by default, missing work does not negatively impact a student’s overall grade in a Canvas course. When calculating the total grade of a student, Canvas ignores any assignment for which no grade has been entered, regardless of due date. The result of this is that students with missing work may see a grade in Canvas that is artificially inflated. To combat this, you can manually enter zeroes for missing work on a regular basis, but Canvas also has two features that can automate part of the process.

Set a Canvas Late Policy

You can set a late work policy in Canvas so that all missing submissions will be automatically set to “zero” after a due date has passed. If enabled during an active course, it will also retroactively apply “zeroes” to all missing work from past assignments. Note that the late policy only affects assignments in which students need to submit something in Canvas (Canvas quizzes, graded discussions, and assignments with the “online” submission type).

The Canvas gradebook settings with the "late policy" tab selected; a box is checked and the default grade for missing submissions is set to "0"
The Canvas gradebook settings menu where you can set a late policy

Set Default Score as “Zero”

For individual assignments, including “no submission” and “on paper” assignments, you can set the score of all students without a graded submission to “zero” with just two clicks by setting zero as the assignment’s default grade. This is especially important to do at the end of the semester, but you can do it throughout the semester whenever you have finished grading submissions for an assignment that is past due.

How it helps students: Students will be able to see how their missing work impacts their overall grade, preventing any “gotchas” at the end of the semester where a student finds out their actual grade is much worse than that what Canvas would have them believe.

How it helps you: Before exporting final grades to SIS at the end of the semester, it is crucial that all missing work is set to “zero” to ensure that grades are accurate. Both the “late work policy” feature and the “default grade” feature remove some of the labor of entering those zeroes manually. Using these features will also ensure more accurate midterm grades, should you choose to post them.

Other Considerations

While the suggestions above apply to nearly every instructor and course, regardless of pedagogical style or modality, the following features may or may not apply to your own courses.

If you have final grades broken down by weighted percentages in your syllabus, you can set up your gradebook to follow the same weighting scheme with a few extra steps of setup. Start by creating assignment groups and then setting those groups to be weighted based on percentage. By using weighted assignments groups, you can be confident that the way things are weighted in your syllabus matches what’s in your gradebook.

Using rubrics to assess student work is a great strategy for grading transparency because it allows students to see exactly what criteria you are assessing them with and what they are expected to do to receive a satisfactory grade. While you can add a rubric as a Word doc to an assignment or discussion description, you can also create your rubrics right in Canvas and use them for grading. You can fill out Canvas rubrics in SpeedGrader to optimize your grading workflow, plus if the rubric has points, Canvas will calculate the point total automatically.

Many online assessment tools like Canvas quizzes, PlayPosit bulbs, and textbook quizzing integrations have the option of including both auto-graded questions, like multiple-choice, and manually graded questions, like essay questions. The problem arises when a student completes an auto-graded quiz and then sees a score that is artificially lowered only because the instructor has not yet graded some questions. Besides regularly keeping up with grading these types of manually reviewed questions, it might also be helpful to include a note in the assessment description so students are aware that their quiz score will not be accurate until you have had a chance to review and update their scores. If the quiz is tied to a Canvas gradebook column, you can also choose to set the assignment's grades to be manually posted so that students do not see grades until you have had a chance to review them.

Questions?

You can get 24/7 support from Canvas by live chat, phone, or email by clicking the “Help” button in the Canvas global navigation menu bar on the left side of any page in Canvas. They are the experts on all of these features in Canvas and can help walk you through the steps if you have questions.

As always, CATL is also here to help as well. If you want to discuss the features above or any other strategies for making your grading more transparent, fill out our consultation request form to schedule a meeting with a member of the CATL team.

What’s in a Name? Tips for Learning & Using Students’ Names in Class

Research tells us that learning and using students’ names in class has benefits for belonging and engagement, both of which are associated with positive educational outcomes. Instructors also know, however, that it can be quite a challenge to learn dozens and, in some cases, even hundreds, of student names in a semester. There is no one easy solution, but here are some different strategies you might consider, along with a healthy dose of reviewing and rehearsing. 

  • Use the classic standby table tent method. Provide card stock or thick paper and bold markers. Pass materials out and ask students to make a nameplate that they use for class each day. You can even collect them and pass them back to students each day for the first couple of weeks if having to return them helps you learn names. 
  • Call the roll and consider doing it on more than the first day. You can even explain to students that you are doing so because you genuinely want to work on learning and correctly pronouncing their names. Ask them to correct mistakes you make. Write phonetic pronunciations next to names on your roster. They may appreciate your efforts at getting to know them even if it takes a few minutes of class time.
  • Ask students to complete a course survey for you and submit it in Canvas as an assignment. Have them provide their preferred name, correct pronouns, and a typed-out phonetic pronunciation of their name as some of the items. Include other questions that help you learn a bit about them, so you can associate that with their name. You can invite them to include a photo if they feel comfortable doing so. 
  • Take pictures in class. Have students write their names in large letters on a full sheet of paper. Ask them to hold it up, and then take photos of groups of students in the classroom. Practice reviewing the images before class each day. You should offer students the choice to opt-out of this exercise because they may have legitimate cultural, safety, or other reasons for not wanting to participate. 
  • Remember that your class rosters in SIS include photos, and you can print rosters to take to class with you that include thumbnails of those images. You can also use the rosters to practice learning names. Do keep in mind, though, that the photos are typically first-year student ID pictures and may not be accurate representations of your students today 
  • Assign students to visit your office for just a couple of minutes to introduce themselves to you. It may help you learn names, assist them in finding your office and make them more likely to seek you out when they have questions.  
  • Spend time before class speaking individually with students. Try calling them by name or ask them to provide or remind you of their name as a part of the conversation.  
  • Be aware that UW-Green Bay does have a preferred name policy, and students can request to have their preferred name on class rosters, in Canvas, and in email. If you have a student in class who requests you use an entirely different name than is currently on your roster, let them know that there is a mechanism to ask for a name change in many of our systems.   
  • Teaching online? Ask students to share an image and description of their real or fictional dream vacation destination, favorite food, or a favorite book to a discussion board to introduce themselves. Although you may not have to memorize names in asynchronous online classes in the same way you do when teaching face to face, getting to know your students from the start of the semester and encouraging interaction among them is important.
  • Pair students and ask them to interview each other and introduce each other to the rest of the class in a virtual or interactive video class. It can help you and the students learn names and increase comfort with the breakout rooms and cameras before you engage in content-focused conversations.  

 

The First Day of Class: Promoting Belonging from Day One

Sense of belonging is a key predictor of college students’ persistence and well-being (Gopalan & Brady, 2020). Instructors can promote that belonging through the creation of community in the classroom. This previous piece from the Cowbell (our CATL blog) outlines multiple strategies for fostering community, belonging, and trust in classes of all modalities and sizes.

It’s never too soon to think about the creation of community in your courses. Why not the first day of class? Well-known educator and author James Lang (2021) shared his thoughts on How to Teach a Good First Day of Class in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Read this engaging piece and learn more about the key themes he emphasizes for day one – curiosity, community, learning, and expectations – as well as concrete suggestions for achieving them. Looking for even more ideas? The teaching and learning center at Carnegie Mellon offers some great day one advice on everything from what to wear, when to arrive, and how to introduce yourself, through what information to collect from students, how to get them excited about the course content, and ways to establish a “culture of feedback.” Finally, getting your students interacting with one another (and talking!) on day one is important to setting the tone for the semester. If you are looking for some interesting icebreaker ideas to try, look no further than this piece from Ohio State.

Enhance Course Videos with PlayPosit in Mere Minutes

If you’ve been tuned in to the CATL blog or Teach Tuesday newsletter at all over the past year, you’ve likely gained at least a passing understanding of what PlayPosit is. CATL staff have been eager to share our excitement about what this interactive video platform can do to boost learner engagement in courses at UW-Green Bay! PlayPosit is a very powerful and flexible tool, and that can make it seem intimidating to many instructors. While you can spend hours in the PlayPosit designer crafting your masterpiece video experience, in truth, some of the most impactful uses of PlayPosit can be implemented by instructors in 10 minutes or less! In this post, you will find a few examples of how you can leverage PlayPosit in simple ways that will give you immediate feedback from students, reinforce key concepts, and provide opportunities for your students to interact with you and collaborate with each other, all by using your pre-existing course videos.

Get Instant Feedback from Your Students

Screenshot of a PlayPosit bulb with an interaction which asks students for immediate feedback on the video

One of the most simple and effective uses of PlayPosit is adding a prompt at the end of a video where students can submit any questions or feedback on the content. Adding one “free response” interaction at the end of each course video can help you continuously monitor the “pulse” of the course and get immediate feedback from students on their understanding of the content. You can ask students to identify the muddiest point of the video for them and the resources and actions they need to better understand it. This type of metacognitive question can help students better identify the concepts which will require the most study to master. If you teach a large lecture class where the labor of parsing student responses would not be sustainable, you can instead add one or more “Poll” interactions to gain a quantitative insight of your students’ perception of their understanding of the content in each video. This poll data can help direct your planning of class time and additional resources for review.

Reinforce Key Concepts with Quiz Breaks

Another simple use of PlayPosit is to insert a “quiz” question at an important checkpoint of a video to help reinforce a key concept that has just been covered. Adding quiz breaks to your video can help students solidify their comprehension of the material and keep their active attention throughout the video (Szpunar et al., 2013). PlayPosit offers several interaction types suitable for this purpose: Multiple Choice, Check All, Free Response, and Fill in the Blank. Consider adding a question at the end, at a logical break near the midpoint of the video, or anytime the video shifts gears from one topic to another. You can give students multiple (or unlimited) attempts to answer correctly and (optionally) add a small point value to the assigned PlayPosit video to give your students extra incentive to engage with the content on-schedule.

Collaboratively Annotate a Video

Screenshot of the “Template Gallery” in the PlayPosit designer

PlayPosit’s “discussion” interaction type can be used to facilitate an exercise that asks students watch a video and post to a class-wide discussion board that is built-in to the video player. In addition to videos in your personal Kaltura My Media library, instructors can incorporate public YouTube and Vimeo videos into their PlayPosit activities, so consider this use case if you use any YouTube or Vimeo videos as required viewing in your course. Through PlayPosit’s Template Gallery, you can quickly add a single customizable discussion interaction that students can post to throughout the entire duration of the video.

Students can use the discussion interaction to collaboratively annotate the video to add their interpretations, cite criticism or link to pertinent online resources, and pose their own questions for class discussion. Each comment posted in the discussion is timestamped with the position of the video at which the student paused and submitted the comment. Students and instructors can select the timestamp on a post to immediately jump the video player to that moment of the video and make threaded replies to build off each other’s contributions. PlayPosit discussions are a great way to get a class to go on a deep exploration of a short video or clip that warrants repeated viewings.

Maximum Impact, Minimal Time

Each of the use cases described in this post involves using PlayPosit to add only one or two interactive elements to a course video. If you already use videos in your course, you can create any of these in under 10 minutes! Watch the video below to see the process from start-to-finish in under 3 minutes:

These PlayPosit enhancements to your course videos can give you big returns on just a little bit of time invested. Teaching with asynchronous videos doesn’t have to feel like lecturing into the void when you build formative exercises directly into the videos and give students ways to provide you with immediate feedback each time they watch a video. You’ll get a clear picture of which students are engaging with your video content, and, since you’ve turned the video watching experience into an active one, your students will be more likely to engage and stay engaged with course videos.

We hope these examples will spark you to take the first step to using PlayPosit in your courses. CATL is happy to provide consultations both to instructors who are looking to get started with PlayPosit as well as instructors who have already taken their first steps and are now inspired to build beyond the fundamentals and create interactive video masterpieces. Fill out our consultation request form to schedule a time to meet with a CATL team member or reach out to us at catl@uwgb.edu with your questions and ideas!

College Student Mental Health: What Instructors Should Know

Article by Kris Vespia

As a counseling psychologist who is an active teacher and a scholar in the area of college student mental health, I pay particular attention when I hear my teaching colleagues express concern about seeing more students in emotional distress. I am also keenly aware that these student issues do not only present in university counseling centers. They also reach into classrooms and instructor offices. Instructors, though, typically have no formal training in how to respond. How are we as educators to best react when a student self-discloses a trauma during class and begins to cry while other students stare awkwardly at their desks? Or when an advisee softly admits in an individual meeting that they have been thinking about suicide? Or when a student emails to ask for an extension because they are struggling to adjust to their new medication for Bipolar Disorder?

I have had many more conversations about these topics since the pandemic began. I hear from faculty who say they are seriously concerned about student mental health and feel both an obligation to act and tremendous uncertainty about what to do. Layered on top of that uncertainty undoubtedly is the additional strain instructors have also been under, leaving them less able to expend the emotional labor involved in such situations. I am hoping this blog will serve three purposes: a) to provide some context for the mental health issues instructors are seeing, b) to give some preliminary tips for working with students in distress or with mental illness diagnoses, and c) to offer a repository of the mental health resources available to UW-Green Bay students so you can make referrals and consult, as needed.

First, let’s talk context. You should know that you are likely seeing an increase in student distress, but that is not a new phenomenon. College student mental health needs were critical long before the COVID-19 pandemic. A few statistics may help. Almost 20% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness, and the most common time of initial onset for many of those conditions is traditional college age (National Institute of Mental Health/NIMH, 2021). In fact, the highest prevalence rates of mental illness overall and of serious mental illness specifically are between the ages of 18 and 25 (NIMH, 2021), and that distress appears to have increased over the last decade or more. For example, CDC data show that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people, and suicide rates among those aged 10-24 increased over 57% from 2007 through 2018 (Curtin, 2020). Looking at college students specifically, results from two large, national datasets show moderate to severe anxiety and suicidal ideation almost doubled between 2012 and 2017-18 (Duffy, Twenge, & Joiner, 2019). Perhaps not surprisingly then, even though national statistics suggest the majority of people with mental illness (including college students) do not seek treatment, across 150 universities throughout the U.S., counseling center use still went up an average of 30-40% during a 5-year period in which overall student enrollment increased by only 5% (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2018).

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made a challenging situation worse. The American Psychological Association (2021) has worked to document emotional and behavioral responses with their Stress in America survey, and they found adults between 18 and 23 (“Gen Z” adults) were the most likely age group to report decreased mental health as a result of the pandemic. On another national survey of 32,754 college students conducted in Fall 2020, substantial numbers reported some degree of depression (39%) and/or anxiety (34%) on answers to a mental health screening questionnaire (Eisenberg, Lipson, Heinze, & Zhou, 2021). And, you are not alone in your perceptions: surveyed faculty from 12 institutions across 10 states also said (87% of them) that students’ mental health had either “worsened” or “significantly worsened” in the pandemic (Lipson, 2021).

I also want to stress that statistics do not tell the whole story. What likely matters more to instructors is that mental illnesses have substantial deleterious consequences for individual human beings – human beings they know and care about. Those effects might include significant pain and distress, negative impacts on relationships, and reduced ability or even inability to function effectively in school or at work. These conditions are not something a person can “snap out of” or a sign of personal weakness or failure. Too many sufferers, however, believe those myths (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2017). Mental illnesses are instead legitimate, sometimes very serious medical conditions; most are quite treatable, but those treatments can take significant time to bring relief. Consider this example. We use the word “depression” casually in everyday conversation as though it is simply a passing mood state. True diagnosed depressive disorders, though, are ranked by the World Health Organization (2017) as the leading cause of disability globally. Blue Cross Blue Shield (2018) has published data that also suggest people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) have health care costs that average more than twice that of other consumers (i.e., more than $10,000 annually compared to over $4000) due to the costs of treating depression itself and its associated co-morbidities. More importantly, people with MDD and other mental illness diagnoses are more likely to die by suicide, which is the ultimate reason to take these conditions seriously.

In the midst of this sobering picture, there is good news. You can do quite a bit to help as a faculty member with some pretty simple actions. You are also never alone in these situations, and you and our students have wonderful campus and community resources at your disposal. You can view and print a full list here, and specific tips for instructors are included below.

Tips and Resources for Instructors

Click each tip to expand the accordion and read more.

Many students with mental health concerns have symptoms that impact their coursework. In fact, in the national survey of 30,000+ college students mentioned earlier, 83% of them indicated their academic performance had been adversely affected by their mental health in the previous month (Eisenberg et al., 2021). There are countless ways this can happen; let me highlight just a few possibilities. Major Depressive Disorder has a long list of symptoms, but beyond the potentially debilitating emotional impact, a few other common indicators include difficulty concentrating, insomnia or hypersomnia, substantial fatigue, and recurring thoughts of death. Imagine trying to read a textbook page when you are: exhausted from lack of sleep, feeling as though it takes every ounce of energy you have simply to put one foot in front of the other, reading the same words over and over without processing them, and focusing extensively on repeated thoughts of worthlessness or death. As another example, individuals with PTSD may deal with intrusive flashbacks or be so hypervigilant to small noises in the classroom as potential threats that they don’t process instructors’ words. Bipolar I Disorder can come with depressive lows, but we know it also involves manic episodes characterized by grandiosity, racing thoughts, and highly impulsive behavior. This student might start and finish a 15-page paper in one all-nighter and find in the morning that the words they thought were genius at 4 am are only pages of true gibberish. Finally, consider the student with an eating disorder who spends hours each day thinking obsessively about food, exercising compulsively, or hiding their binge and purge behaviors from others – or imagine the person suffering from schizophrenia who occasionally hallucinates and is completely preoccupied with voices in their own head during class time. You should know that of the UWGB students who have official disability accommodations, the greater numbers are for psychiatric, not physical, conditions. And the students with accommodations are likely only a very small fraction of those struggling with mental health concerns. That having been said, a student may be suffering substantially, and you will have no clue. We most frequently cannot “see” mental illness or know when it is happening, and stigma prevents many from self-disclosing. You have likely worked with, been friends with, or loved someone with a mental illness and never known it. People can be very skilled at hiding both physical and emotional pain.

We can help all students, including those who have a mental illness or who are experiencing acute emotional distress, by demonstrating that we: a) understand students’ multiple roles and responsibilities, b) welcome student communication, and c) have a willingness to be flexible. These three things will likely result in students feeling supported and seeking assistance when necessary. Empathy and flexibility can look like and be many things for different people, and it doesn’t have to mean being “warm and fuzzy” or granting every student’s request. If it helps, the greatest problem I tend to encounter is convincing students to accept extensions or an Incomplete because “it isn’t fair to others,” they “didn’t know they could ask,” or they “should be able to handle things on their own.” You may also be surprised by who the students in emotional pain are because they may be doing quite well in your class, but as the oft-quoted meme goes: “Just because someone carries it all so well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.” If we offer some flexibilities to all students, we don’t need to worry about challenges associated with identifying those most in need. Here are some small but specific examples.

  • Sleep hygiene is very important to mental wellness, and yet we inadvertently encourage late nights or “all-nighters” with default deadline times of 11:59 pm in Canvas or by using early morning times instead. Why not use 5 or even 7 pm?
  • I know instructors who give students one “mental health day” each semester that they can take for any reason and then make up the work another day.
  • Similar to the mental health day, instructors can provide students a “free pass” good for one penalty-free late assignment.
  • Reconsider asking for a “doctor’s note” to justify extensions or absences. Students without insurance may not be able to see a doctor, and not all insurance covers mental health care.
  • Course content can be extremely distressing to students for unpredictable reasons. I do not use so-called “trigger warnings.” Instead, I inform students that I can’t predict what might elicit distress, but all students are free to leave the classroom or stop watching a video in online courses if that happens. They can check in with me later about whether or how to make up the work.
  • Be willing to consult with the Dean of Students, Student Accessibility Services, or Counseling services in the Wellness Center about academic flexibilities for specific students, as needed. Flexibility and compassion are important, but there are times when the most compassionate thing we can do is to encourage a student to take time away to work on their health before returning to school.

Amy Henniges and I worked to create a list of resources for all four campuses, as well as the local crisis lines for each community. They are now located on The Wellness Center website. Review and then bookmark or print this list for future reference. Share the ones for your campus in your syllabus or on the course Canvas site with a note encouraging their use.

Remember that you are not alone when dealing with student mental health concerns. Here is some information, along with some tips, you may find helpful.

Facts to keep in mind…

  • You do not have a confidential relationship with students in the way counselors do. If a student talks to you about suicide, that is something you can and should share with a professional. You also have state mandates to follow related to reporting child abuse and sexual assault.
  • You will not “put the idea in their head” if you ask someone whether they are having thoughts about suicide. A common reaction to that question is the person feeling relieved to share with you.

Strategies for Helping and Consulting

These strategies cover everything from emergencies and urgent situations to proactive strategies to reach all students in your classes.

  • Emergencies: As noted on the resource list provided, in a true mental or physical health emergency, you should call 911.
  • It is possible to call the Wellness Center’s Counseling services and/or Dean of Students Office to ask if someone is available to physically see or virtually meet with a student and explain the situation (if it’s not a 911 emergency, but you still feel the student needs to talk with someone urgently or at least that day). On the Green Bay campus, I’ve even occasionally just walked a student from my classroom to one of those offices. On the Manitowoc and Sheboygan campuses, you can also call the Agnesian number and ask about an appointment that day or for a counselor who can talk by phone.
  • If I’m in a situation where the student is with me (e.g., in my office), and I want to consult about the best resources for them or see if a counselor is available to talk with them, I typically call in front of the student. I want to be transparent and have them know I’m not “talking about them behind their back.” Of course, there can be times when that would not be appropriate.
  • In non-urgent, non-emergency situations, you can complete a “Students of Concern” Report on the Phoenix Cares website. The Behavioral Intervention Team or CARE Team will follow up on the situation. If you are unsure about whether to file a report, call the Wellness Center’s Counseling services or Dean of Students Office, explain the situation, and ask.
  • If something happens after business hours (e.g., a night class) where you feel the student needs to talk to someone, but it’s not a 911 emergency, you can use the community 24/7 crisis line or, in Sheboygan and Manitowoc, you can speak to a counselor at Agnesian 24/7 by calling that number. You can consult with these services for suggestions about what to do, and you can also call and hand the phone to the student.
  • If you are anxious about what to do or afraid you will make a situation worse, even if it seems like it’s a minor issue, find a colleague you trust. Better yet, ask the student about an employee on campus they trust. There’s nothing wrong with telling a student you are concerned about them and want to help, but you want to call someone or bring someone else into your office so that you can all figure out a good plan together.
  • Feel free to raise the issue of counseling or support (e.g., SilverCloud) if a student isn’t asking for your help but mentions stress or personal difficulties in passing. If you encourage and normalize counseling (e.g., “we all need support from time to time”; “people see counselors for everyday problems, not simply for mental illness treatment”), that may make a real difference.
  • Consider professional development in mental health issues. We will have a new opportunity on campus in fall 2021: Kognito trainings. Kognito uses simulated experiential role-plays specific to universities so students, faculty, and staff can encounter and practice in different scenarios. The initial At-Risk Simulation modules are designed to help us: a) recognize and identify signs of distress in self, peers, and students; b) communicate effectively to support someone in distress; c) understand support options; d) effectively refer people to resources; and e) self-reflect and apply strategies for resilience.
Knowing these few tips and resources may help you if you ever encounter an instance when you need to act, whether as an instructor or in the context of your personal life.

About Kris Vespia

Headshot of Kris VespiaKris Vespia is a Professor of Psychology and the Interim Director of CATL for 2021-22. She has published in the areas of mental health services on college campuses, cultural diversity and mental health, and career development. She is also interested in the mental health literacy of college students and the general public.