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Simulation helps teachers recognize signs of depression

An online simulation program aims to teach Ohio State faculty members how to help students dealing with depression.

Put yourself in imaginary professor “Dr. Hampton’s” shoes. When speaking to “Alberto,” a student who has been struggling in school and seems troubled, it is up to you to choose what to say from a list of statements. The goal is to convince him to go to the counseling center.

But be careful — choosing the wrong statement, like asking him about his family history or saying he has an attitude problem, could cause Alberto to leave your office.

Kognito Interactive, a company that creates role-play simulations to develop interpersonal skills, created the online simulation called “At-Risk.”

“At Ohio State, we’re not just about teaching students and testing them on content, we want to recognize students in distress and get them help,” said Stephanie Rohdieck, instructional development specialist in the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Rohdieck conducts face-to-face suicide prevention training for faculty and staff, but many faculty members don’t take the time to attend, even if they’re concerned about their students, she said.

However, the online simulation takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, and faculty members can complete the program in their offices or on home computers, Rohdieck said.

The two goals of the program are to identify signs and risk factors of students in distress — like decreased academic performance or changes in appearance — and ultimately refer them to Counseling and Consultation Services.

“We consider all teachers to be ‘gatekeepers,’ meaning they are a point of contact for someone else in their life, whether they want to be or not,” Rohdieck said. “As a campus, we want as many gatekeepers as possible.”

Forty universities, including 35 faculty members from OSU, piloted At-Risk in 2009.

After receiving “phenomenal feedback,” OSU invested $5,000 for 500 At-Risk licenses, Rohdieck said. The University Center for the Advancement of Teaching provided half the amount, and the Office of Student Life provided the rest.

“This is a trial run. Let’s see if we can get 500 faculty to even do it, because our goal is to use all (the licenses) up and say we need to buy a lot more,” Rohdieck said.

Since Nov. 8 , 63 faculty have logged on.

Rohdieck said the program is geared toward faculty, as most teaching assistants and staff already attend face-to-face training programs.

The University Center for the Advancement of Teaching plans to send out reminders in December after grades have been submitted and teachers have more time.

Rohdieck said recent suicides surrounding the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community that grabbed media attention weren’t the sole reason for starting the program but they did create a sense of urgency to get the program off the ground.

Wendy Winger, the manager of OSU’s Campus Suicide Prevention Program, said 80 percent of students who commit suicide each year don’t take advantage of mental health services available to them on campus.

“We are hoping that this Internet-based method will reach these students,” Winger said.

Both Winger and Rohdieck said they are proud that OSU has implemented the At-Risk program.

“We are a community and we need to be aware of what to look for in students and others we work with,” Rohdieck said. “Our mission is to help teachers teach better.”

For more information about the At-Risk program and to register, visit aruf.kognito.com. 

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