Honoring Mental Health Month by Supporting Students in Need

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) quickly spread across the United States, millions of college students received an urgent, startling request: pack up and leave campus indefinitely.

Even as they recognized the public health imperative, many were left worried about paying for transportation home, completing online courses without reliable internet access, and staying focused on classes in such an anxious, tumultuous time.

As the pandemic prompts new reckoning about how schools can deliver quality, virtual education, we must also understand that unequal access to students’ basic needs – food, housing, transportation, financial assistance and counseling – can have severe consequences on academic performance, especially for students from traditionally marginalized communities.

Mental and emotional health, in particular, have a strong relationship with academic outcomes: the American Council on Education’s Healthy Minds Survey found that across all types of college and university campuses, students struggling with mental health were twice as likely to leave without graduating.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 51 percent of students are experiencing mental health distress. Nine in 10 college and university presidents list the mental health of their students as their top concern, but fewer than two in 10 have invested in more mental or physical health resources. Of the large majority who have yet to invest, less than half say they expect to do so down the road.

Even in normal times, two- and four-year institutions have struggled to appropriately fund counseling centers, despite growing concern from chief student affairs officers. In an analysis of 39 large universities, The Associated Press found the number of students receiving mental health treatment grew by 35 percent between 2014 and 2019, but the number of licensed counselors had yet to catch up. On some campuses, there was only one counselor for every 4,000 students.

Experts predict the pandemic will have long-term consequences for higher education budgets. When colleges have to make hard decisions, services like mental health and well-being programming are typically the first thing on the chopping block.

Given that in-person classes may not fully resume by the fall semester, institutions should embrace virtual mental health tools and resources as one accessible and affordable option to keep supporting students from a distance. These supports have shown to be effective at improving students’ mental and emotional health, with some schools introducing their own virtual resources and text hotlines for students in crisis.

All campus staff – not just college counselors – should communicate regularly and compassionately about the mental health resources available. Students should also be encouraged to share these with friends, given that 67 percent of college students will first tell a friend if they are feeling suicidal.

To help alleviate some of the academic stress, Active Minds – a nonprofit organization focused on student mental health – also recommends institutions provide alternative, personalized grading options during the pandemic, such as allowing students to select a pass / fail grade in lieu of letter grades.

Outside organizations can also fill gaps where university funding and capacity fall short. Even before launching the Basic Needs Initiative to support institutions researching how best to holistically support students and develop scalable programs, the ECMC Foundation awarded a grant to Active Minds. That funding provided dedicated support to 15 Minority Serving- and Hispanic Serving Institutions, which have continued to provide individual counseling and crisis consultation via phone or video chat and expanded website resource listings since the outbreak.

And with financial insecurity a significant factor for students’ mental health, ECMC’s College Access Centers are helping families make proactive and informed decisions about planning and paying for college, working with them to build tailored plans that will minimize financial anxieties down the road.

State and federal lawmakers have already taken steps in ensuring students have access to essential resources during the pandemic. Under the CARES Act, the Department of Education distributed $6 billion to colleges and universities to help students affected by the outbreak with expenses related to health care, housing, food and child care. However, the assistance formula excluded  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, international students and students enrolled solely in online courses prior to the pandemic.

As they put additional funding behind their response, lawmakers must ensure that all educational institutions have the resources needed to not just maintain but expand their basic needs offerings, especially counseling for their most vulnerable students.

From health care to supply chains to higher education, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed cracks in our social framework that leave millions of Americans vulnerable. Two months after campuses started going virtual, one such crack that has become even more apparent is the patchwork of mental and emotional health and other basic needs resources available to college students struggling to focus on their education.

In the weeks and months ahead, schools, lawmakers and nonprofits have a shared responsibility to make access to education and basic needs support more equitable – not just during the pandemic, but for the generations to come.

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Telehealth grant opportunities for higher-ed institutions

Grant funding can be an excellent way for higher education institutions to lift pilot projects off the ground or enhance existing programs or services. College and university health and mental health care departments may especially benefit from obtaining additional grant funding to support innovations in health care delivery, particularly in light of the recent Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) public health emergency which has made telehealth services much more ubiquitous.

In response to its rising popularity, grants supporting telehealth programs have increasingly become a priority topic due to the ability for telehealth to address major gaps in our healthcare system including care access, quality, and patient/provider satisfaction.

Related content: Why online learning is here to stay

The COVID-19 crisis has filtered even more funds to support telehealth and has led to deadline extensions from existing funding announcements. For example, to address health care needs during COVID-19, the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) Telehealth Network and Telehealth Resource Centers Grant Programs authorized $29 million per year through 2025 and have relaxed the criteria for who qualifies as an eligible applicant. (1)

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Why online learning is here to stay

Online learning as a modality of teaching and learning has been thrust upon education and can no longer be considered an emerging reality. It is here.

The COVID-19 virus disruption has completely changed the way education operates. Until now, in many organizations across the country and globe, online courses and programs have been managed as a separate entity. The current reality has shifted education and distance learning into an integral part of the education system.

We have come to realize that education is education, regardless of the modality. However, the calm after the initial chaos should bring a concern about understanding the functionality and benefits of each modality for each discipline and how it impacts student outcomes.

Related content: What every student needs to know about eLearning

Following the initial shock of this rapid transformation, it becomes important for educational leaders to turn to the variables that impact student success in online learning. The voices of instructional designers whose expertise in online learning and course design will be better understood.

The online modality can present in different formats, synchronous and asynchronous, as well as a combination of the two. As instructors make the transition to online, it is an opportunity for them to reassess their syllabi and teaching plans to better meet student needs, and emphasize a more student-centered approach.

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5 things that are critical to student mental health during COVID-19

COVID-19 has closed physical school operations and prompted policy makers, educators, students, and parents to mull what the fall may look like on campuses across the nation. But it has also raised serious questions about mental health and student well-being.

Eighty percent of students responding to a recent survey say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health.

The survey of 2,086 college students, from nonprofit Active Minds, reveals that 1 in 5 of surveyed students say their mental health has significantly worsened under COVID-19.

Related content: COVID-19 is disrupting traditional online students, too

The most common ways COVID-19 has impacted students’ lives and mental health are via stress or anxiety (91 percent), disappointment or sadness (81 percent), loneliness or isolation (80 percent), relocation (56 percent), and financial setbacks (48 percent).

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3 ways universities can implement IoT technology and connected devices

Like every other organization these days, higher education facilities can use IoT technology to streamline operations and enhance the user experience — with the users, in this case, being both educators and students.

Technologies like connected devices, collaboration and video platforms, and remote monitoring tools can help educators teach more effectively, boost student engagement, and ensure IT can keep everything up and running.

Related content: How to secure IoT on campus

These three applications are just a few ways universities can combine IoT, hardware and software to promote learning and ensure seamless classroom experiences.

1. Active learning formats

There’s a new buzzword in education every year, and the hottest trend of the moment is to move from the “sage-on-the-stage” style of teaching and towards active learning methodologies. There are several different models, SCALE-UP and TEAL (technology-enabled active learning) to name a few.

Instead of separating classroom discussion and lab work, active learning blends lectures and hands-on active and group learning in a single lesson: Instructors teaching large sections can deliver lectures and coordinate practical work and group discussion, while students gain hands-on experience by using technology to visualize concepts and carry out group work or experiments.

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Learn how this institution supported students and faculty during a pandemic

IT leaders at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design started a cloud-based transformation before the global coronavirus health pandemic shuttered physical campus operations and moved instruction online.

With that transformation, the institution was prepared when forced to move quickly and support students, faculty, and staff in its abrupt shift to all-online operations.

Related content: What every student should know about online learning

Here, Matthew Weitzel, RMCAD’s IT project lead, discusses the institution’s IT priorities and goals.

Q: What was the goal of Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design’s (RMCAD) IT transformation before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and how did it evolve over the past few months?

Since 1963, our Denver-based college’s mission has been to make RMCAD a “community of creatives” that instills in all students a passion for creativity, innovation, and a desire for lifelong learning—both in the fine arts and applied arts. Similar to many other higher education institutions, we recognized the value of moving our systems to the cloud prior to the pandemic, however “social distancing” was not part of anyone’s lexicon at the time.

Our initial goal with the cloud-based transformation centered around the idea of serving a greater diversity of students, offering more program flexibility, allocating more resources around student success, and having a platform that could easily grow with them. Now it’s a critical factor in our ability to deliver education and training as an essential service. Now offering both on-ground, online, and hybrid programs as a result of our proactive IT transformation, our team was ready to pivot to fully online operations when the pandemic hit.

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4 reasons your campus app is key for crisis communications

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, forcing higher education to make radical changes in a short amount of time. Yet, somehow, campus leaders must keep operations moving forward and keep students and employees engaged, informed, and—most of all—safe.

Amid so much uncertainty, and with plans continually evolving as new information becomes available, students and staff naturally have many questions and concerns. Communicating clearly and regularly with all stakeholder groups is essential, as is making sure they receive your messages instantly.

Related content: How campuses can plan for online orientation

While colleges and universities should use multiple communications channels to reach all constituencies effectively, there is no better tool than your mobile campus app for distributing vital information to students and others. A 2016 survey from Bowling Green State University found that email can be hit or miss when it comes to communicating with students, whereas traditional college-age students spend more than four hours a day on their smartphones, on average.

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How to certify teachers when schools are closed

During the COVID-19 impact, many aspects of student life have come to a grinding halt. To help address an acute shortage of accredited teachers, even under these extraordinary circumstances, Alliant University’s California School of Education (CSOE) has been forming partnerships to appropriately provide alternative approaches for teacher candidates to meet clinical practice, field experience, and performance assessment requirements. In collaboration with these partners, our instructors and leaders have been working to develop tools and best practices to not just meet but exceed requirements.

Related content: How campuses can plan for online orientation

Even before the crisis, Alliant’s teaching credential programs were composed of online coursework paired with hands-on practice. Teacher candidates took courses online, received support online, and utilized video-based observations and feedback. Our students, although teaching in traditional classroom settings, would capture their lessons on video and then use ADVANCEfeedback® to receive feedback from peers and mentor teachers.

With school buildings closed, we are particularly concerned about ensuring that all teacher candidates complete coursework and field-based learning experiences, then demonstrate the adopted performance expectations in order to stay on their pathways for becoming credentialed teachers.

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Online STEM Summer Camps for High School and College Students

Numerade—an online education platform founded with a mission to provide equitable access to high-quality STEM instruction—today announced the launch of free, virtual STEM summer camps open to students at the middle, high school, and college levels. Course offerings include SAT Test Prep, Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics, all taught by top-ranked STEM PhDs, college professors, and high school teachers. Students can enroll now for this free program and begin taking their courses as soon as June 1 with ongoing enrollment available thereafter.

Students can participate in Numerade’s free summer STEM camps to get a head start on the courses they’ll be taking in the fall or as an enrichment opportunity in which they can take courses not offered at their school. Students may also use these courses to catch up on any material missed due to school closures caused by Covid-19. Each course follows the common core curriculum and covers an entire semester’s worth of material.

“We’re excited to launch Numerade’s STEM summer camps at a time when it’s more important than ever for students to have access to world-class content to maintain and enhance their learning despite ongoing school closures,” said Nhon Ma, CEO and Co-Founder of Numerade. “By taking our engaging STEM courses this summer, students will not only acquire foundational knowledge but also be positioned to excel next school year. The summer camps are completely free and available asynchronously on any device, making them a great option for any student interested in getting ahead in their learning.”

Each week during the summer, students will receive a new batch of lessons covering interesting and relevant topics, presented in short, digestible video clips. Numerade’s video-based instruction makes learning accessible and engaging. Course offerings include the following:

Test Prep

  • SAT Prep—This course will cover in-depth what students need to know for the math, reading, writing, and essay portions of the SAT, including test-taking techniques and practice problems.

Precalculus and Calculus

  • Precalculus—This course weaves together algebra, geometry, and mathematical functions used in pre-calculus and beyond and will cover basic properties of functions, conic sections, matrices and determinants, introductory trigonometry, and probability.
  • Calculus 1 / AB—Students will learn how to solve calculus problems on topics including limits, continuity, derivative rules, optimization, and related rates.
  • Calculus 2 / BC—Students will learn to compute the area of curves and cover topics including integrals, Riemann sums, techniques of integration, improper integration, differential equations, and Taylor series.
  • Calculus 3—Numerade’s highest level calculus summer camp will go in-depth into vector and vector functions in 2D and 3D, multivariable differential calculus, and double integrals in both the Cartesian and Polar coordinate planes.

Chemistry and Physics

  • Chemistry 101—Students will engage in experiments that demonstrate real-life applications of chemistry and delve into measurements, atomic theory, bonding, stoichiometry, states of matter, solutions, acids and bases, and titrations.
  • Chemistry 102—This course builds on Chemistry 101 by helping students uncover and explore principles governing atomic structure, bonding, states of matter, stoichiometry, and chemical equilibrium.
  • Physics 101 Mechanics—In this course, students will discover what’s behind phenomena including one-dimensional motion or kinematics and study Newton’s laws of motion, energy, forces, momentum, circular motion, rotational motion, and rolling and slipping objects.
  • Physics 102 Electricity and Magnetism—This virtual laboratory course will introduce students to thermodynamics (temperature, heat, heat engines, entropy), electricity and magnetism.
  • Physics 103—Students explore all kinds of waves including mechanical, sound, light, and quantum mechanics and delve deep into concepts at the leading edge of the field.

Consistent with Numerade’s focus on democratizing access to STEM content from world-class educators, each summer camp is free of charge, accessible on-demand at the learner’s convenience, and on any device. Students at the middle, high school, or college level interested in enhancing their understanding of key STEM subjects are invited to register. Registration is now open for all courses at https://www.numerade.com/summer-camp/

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New Data-Collection Technology for College-Level Chemistry

Vernier Software & Technology recently released new data-collection technology to engage college-level chemistry students in hands-on experimentation and data analysis. The new, cost-effective solutions—including Go Direct® Mini GC™, Go Direct® Polarimeter, the Go Direct® Cyclic Voltammetry System, the free Vernier Instrumental Analysis™ app, and free experiments—provide undergraduate students the opportunity to explore a wide range of chemistry concepts.

“The new instruments, app, and experiments make up a robust collection of affordable resources that help college students learn and visualize important chemistry concepts,” said John Wheeler, CEO of Vernier Software & Technology. “Once in-person labs resume, instructors can easily incorporate these resources into their chemistry curriculum and have students analyze chemical data in new ways.”

Go Direct Mini GC, Go Direct Polarimeter, and the Go Direct Cyclic Voltammetry System connect to a wide variety of devices through USB or Bluetooth® wireless technology, making these instruments easy to adapt into teaching labs. The free Vernier Instrumental Analysis app intuitively guides students through the data-collection process and includes instrument-specific analysis features for all of the new chemistry sensors. It is supported by Chrome™, iOS, iPadOS®, Android™, Windows®, and macOS®.

The Go Direct Cyclic Voltammetry System provides students with hands-on experience with electrochemical reactions as they learn how to easily control and apply potential to a chemical system and measure the response as electrical current. This affordable piece of instrumentation features disposable electrodes, saving students the hassle associated with polishing traditional electrodes. The system was developed in partnership with electrochemical research instrumentation specialists Pine Research, and the Electrochemistry Experiments with the Go Direct Cyclic Voltammetry System e-book, which features five investigations, is available for free with the purchase of the system.

Go Direct Mini GC is a portable, easy-to-use gas chromatograph that detects polar and nonpolar compounds. With this data-collection device and the Vernier Instrumental Analysis app, students can separate, analyze, and identify substances contained in a volatile liquid or gaseous sample. The e-book, Chromatography Experiments with the Go Direct Mini GC™, is available for free with purchase.

Go Direct Polarimeter provides students with a visual representation of chirality by measuring the optical rotation of optical isomers such as sugars, amino acids, and proteins. The unique vertical layout and a lack of need for custom glassware make this polarimeter very student friendly. In addition, the analyzer is automatically rotated by an internal motor giving students more time to understand experiments such as the reaction kinetics of hydrochloric acid and sucrose. The instrument includes free downloadable experiments that can be easily incorporated into the chemistry curriculum.

To learn more about these new chemistry solutions, visit www.vernier.com/college-chemistry.

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