Online learning can present some difficulties and barriers to identifying potential risk factors. It creates a greater need to reach out to students directly. Being that we are unable to see students in person, it may limit the amount of observations we notice. We must be more direct with our students in this season in order to inquire about the status of their well-being.

Tips For Working With Online Students You May Be Concerned About
  • Look for multiple indicators. Missing one assignment or not attending one class does not suggest that a student is in danger. It could be used as an observation, but alone, it is not necessarily indicative to a student in crisis.
  • Attempt to reach out to the student directly through email or Canvas messages; and attempt to reach out more than once. As we know, some students are not great at communication. It may take them more than 24 hours to respond to an email or message. We suggest emailing the student and waiting 24-48 hours. Reach out to them again and wait for 24 hours before referring. Include your office number so they can call you if needed.
  • When emailing the student express concern and care, and let them know that it is important for them to respond back to you. If not, you will need to refer them to Madison Cares because you are concerned about their well-being. Give them a deadline to connect with you. (ex. "Please email back with how you are doing by Thursday, October 8th by 5:00pm.")
  • Ask yourself if what you are observing is normal college student behavior or is it out of the ordinary.
  • Let students know that they can self-report to Madison Cares if they feel they are in social, emotional, academic, mental, or medical distress and need additional support.
Online Indicators
  • Students who have stopped engaging in remote course-work and who are not responding to your several attempts at outreach;
  • Students who are struggling to cope with the recent news of police violence and political upheaval;
  • Students who are sharing significant issues related to their family or home-life that are impacting their ability to engage in classes;
  • Students who are sharing significant personal challenges where it might be useful or beneficial to have someone check in.
  • Classmates inform you of their concerns about a student and/or that a student has not actively participated in small group work.
  • Some signs of someone struggling could be the student appearing exhausted, the student being all over the place in class conversation, the student sharing they are experiencing brain fog, or any sudden change in behavior/attitude.
Visible Observations During Virtual Meetings
  • If you are able to see a student’s background environment through virtual means, and see anything concerning within their living environment.
  • Student is visibly distracted.
  • Student physically looks like they are not doing well (e.g. disheveled appearance, etc.)
Written Communication
  • Emails are accusatory, manipulative, inappropriate, or threatening.
  • Discussion post contents are bizarre, fantastical, paranoid, disruptive, confused, or show disorientation.
  • Student uses concerning language in chat boxes.
Academic Performance Problems

Adapted from: Identifying and Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Online Students in Higher Education Distance Education Report, 18.21 (2014): 5,8. © Magna Publications.

  • Late assignments from beginning of the course.
  • Failing quality of work since the beginning of the course.
  • Not turning in assignments at all.
  • Not re-doing work when given an opportunity.
  • Ongoing display of anxiety about assignments.

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