1. Christian Murphy
  2. https://cs.brynmawr.edu/~cmurphy1/
  3. Senior Lecturer
  4. AccessComputing
  5. https://www.washington.edu/accesscomputing/
  6. Bryn Mawr College
  1. Brianna Blaser
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/briannablaser/
  3. Associate Director, AccessADVANCE and AccessComputing
  4. AccessComputing
  5. https://www.washington.edu/accesscomputing/
  6. University of Washington
Public Discussion

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  • Icon for: Chris Murphy

    Chris Murphy

    Lead Presenter
    Senior Lecturer
    May 9, 2022 | 03:00 p.m.

    Thank you for visiting! This video summarizes some of the highlights of discussions at recent Computer Science Education conferences on supporting undergraduate student mental health.

    In addition to your general feedback, we’d love to know:

    • What challenges have you faced in supporting your students’ mental health?
    • What solutions and best practices have you developed? What obstacles have you had to overcome in implementing them?
    • What existing resources would you like to share? What resources would you like to see created?

    We look forward to hearing from you!

  • Icon for: Brianna Blaser

    Brianna Blaser

    Co-Presenter
    Associate Director, AccessADVANCE and AccessComputing
    May 9, 2022 | 04:59 p.m.

    AccessComputing is one of the NSF-funded Broadening Participation in Computing Alliances.  Our goal is to increase the participation of people with disabilities in computing education and careers.  We are interested in ensuring that people with mental-health related disabilities are included in these conversations.

    Professionals interested in making their organizations more welcoming and inclusive of individuals with disabilities are invited to join an online communities of practice, engage in our network of partners actively working to create change, or apply for a mini-grant to support related activities.

    Computing students with disabilities, including those related to mental health, can join our AccessComputing Team to participate in professional development activities, connect with others in a mentoring community, and become eligible for funding for conferences, tutoring, and REUs.

  • Icon for: Richard Ladner

    Richard Ladner

    Professor Emeritus
    May 10, 2022 | 03:04 p.m.

     Thanks for this video on improving your teaching for students with mental health issues.  Just getting rid of the competive atmosphere in a class is good for everyone.  

  • Icon for: Sheryl Burgstahler

    Sheryl Burgstahler

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 10, 2022 | 04:47 p.m.

    Agreed - A very important topic, especially given outcomes from the pandemic!

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    Aditya Thakur

    Undergraduate Student
    May 10, 2022 | 03:59 p.m.

    Glad to hear about the initiatives taken to consider the problems of growing mental issues among students, as well as the instructors! 

  • Icon for: Scott Bellman

    Scott Bellman

    Manager, DO-IT Center
    May 10, 2022 | 06:09 p.m.

    Chris, Thank you so much for your thoughtful video. People rarely talk about best practices for supporting mental health among postsecondary staff, faculty, and students. Recent research (April 2022) shared by Boston University suggests that the mental health of college students is getting worse, and that undergraduate years "can also be a time when some students have to navigate their own physical and mental health for the first time without parental support." There is a lot that we can do to bring these supports into students' lives, as you point out in your video. Bravo and thanks to you and your team at AccessComputing!

     
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  • Icon for: Nathan Holbert

    Nathan Holbert

    Facilitator
    Associate Professor
    May 11, 2022 | 06:56 a.m.

    I appreciate your attention to mental health in CS Education and the thoughtful suggestions offered by the video. I'd like to hear a bit more about the project. How are you collecting and sharing strategies? Is your team conducting research on any of these strategies to offer some empirical insight into the effectiveness or implications of different strategies?

  • Icon for: Chris Murphy

    Chris Murphy

    Lead Presenter
    Senior Lecturer
    May 11, 2022 | 09:34 a.m.

    Thanks for note, Nathan!

    At this point, I'd say we're mostly at the "awareness and advocacy" stage, and are primarily focused on things like panels and discussion sessions at conferences.

    This summer, we plan on collecting data from students who identify as living with mental health conditions about their experiences in CS courses, e.g. what aspects of the courses raise unique challenges for them, and what their instructors have done to effectively support them. The goal would be to try to publish those findings in a CS Ed venue next year so that we can understand students' perspectives. I'm hoping to have that survey ready before the showcase ends!

    Beyond that, once we have a sense of what students think is working for them, we could try to evaluate some of those strategies a bit more empirically. I think that's a bit down the road for my collaborators and me at this point, but there are others who are doing research into this, e.g. at Univ at Buffalo, and we're hopeful that other instructors and researchers will start looking into this as well!

     
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  • Icon for: Sheryl Burgstahler

    Sheryl Burgstahler

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 11, 2022 | 10:36 a.m.

    I look foward to seeing the survey and hearing about the results. You might want to take a look at the literature regarding students with mental health conditions in other subject areas. Publications through the Association of Higher Education and Disability and its Journal for Postsecondary Educaiton and Disability are good places to start.

     
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    Yenny Park

    Undergraduate Student
    May 11, 2022 | 01:25 p.m.

    Thank you for this insightful video! As a student in the computing field myself, taking CS courses are very stressful and intense. I agree that courses designed to focus on learning, rather than on grades would benefit the students' mental health immensely.

     
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    Jared Barnes

    Undergraduate Student
    May 11, 2022 | 07:17 p.m.

    Glad to see that there is an effort to help student's mental health, especially in such a competitive field as computer science. I loved the point in the video that we need to make sure students understand academics is just a part of life and not the other way around!

     
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  • Icon for: Joshua Danish

    Joshua Danish

    Facilitator
    Professor and Program Chair
    May 12, 2022 | 09:26 a.m.

    This is truly wonderful work, thanks for sharing! One thing I couldn't help but wonder was whether you have any issues getting your colleagues on board? Making your courses better is amazing, but do students then take other courses that are "old school" and then struggle with the balance? I also wonder whether you've asked the students if they "notice" all of the things you do? For example I had a similar statement about mental health options in my syllabi but found some students viewed it as performative until I said in class "gosh, I had a rough day the other day, and here is how I coped" and really made it clear I lived the ideas myself. That wouldn't work for all, of course, but it did for some ... 

  • Icon for: Chris Murphy

    Chris Murphy

    Lead Presenter
    Senior Lecturer
    May 12, 2022 | 02:33 p.m.

    Thanks for raising these great points, Joshua!

    I try to be very transparent with my students and explain my thought process behind decisions regarding the class, and one thing I tell them is that when instructors are developing course policies, they are weighing the tradeoffs between how much the students will learn, their mental health, life skills we want them to acquire, how much struggle we want them to overcome, etc. and that there’s no “right” balance of these that works for all students all the time.

    So when I hear a student say that an instructor “doesn’t care about our mental health,” I point out that it’s (almost certainly) not that they don’t care, it’s that they’re putting different emphasis on the various aspects of learning compared to what others do, and I think students get that.

    The trick then – and I guess what we’re advocating for – is to find a way to put more emphasis on supporting student mental health with no (or acceptably limited) tradeoffs when it comes to other aspects of learning.

    I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game, though, like if you have policies that are more supportive of student mental health, they will necessarily learn less. Anecdotally, I’ve certainly had students who learned more because of such policies (generally because they likely would have dropped the class otherwise), and something we’d like to do down the road is measure and understand the effect of different policies on different aspects of learning, specifically in CS.

    As for the students’ remark about something seeming “performative,” I think you hit the nail on the head by saying that their perspectives are likely to change once you make it personal and are practicing what you preach. I realize that that sort of disclosure is not easy or even advisable for all instructors, though.

    But, going back to the above point, I think the main way to address the “performativity” accusation is to send a consistent message about the extent to which you are intentional about supporting students’ mental health when it comes to your course policies.

    If someone has a wellness statement on their syllabus but doesn’t allow for late submissions under any circumstances no matter what, or forces students living with anxiety into triggering social situations and tells them to “just power through,” then yeah, I’d agree that the statement on the syllabus is perhaps performative, or at least inconsistent.

    Of course, in that case, the solution isn’t to take the wellness statement off the syllabus, but rather to reconsider those policies. =)

  • Small default profile

    Kathy Thin

    Undergraduate Student
    May 12, 2022 | 05:49 p.m.

    I'm thankful for all the insights this video provided. As someone who studies and works in the tech field, I understand the challenges and hardships that come along with it, and have definitely felt the stress myself while taking a number of CS classes. I'm glad this video brought more awareness on the topic of mental health.  

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    Dustine Bowker

    May 12, 2022 | 07:37 p.m.

    I completed an introduction to computer science class in undergrad my freshman year (spring quarter); that was probably one of the most (if not, the most) stressful quarters I had. I really liked the idea of including a list of mental health resources in the syllabus; I worked with a counselor during that time and that made a difference for me.

     

    Thanks for this video on such an important topic!

  • Icon for: Josh Sheldon

    Josh Sheldon

    Facilitator
    Project Lead
    May 13, 2022 | 07:02 a.m.

    Wow! I'm so glad you're working on this, and I have so many thoughts about this subject. I'll try not to spend too long on a soapbox. 

    To contextualize my comments, I live with a chronic mental illness that first manifested significantly when I was an undergraduate (in physics & math, not CS) and I work at MIT, known for both CS AND for having high rates of mental health issues amongst its student body (and I would suspect among faculty and staff). At MIT I have worked in CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab) and employed many undergraduate CS researchers (though I have not been an instructor in CS).

    I really admire the work you're doing with your classes and your students, and it sounds like you're reaching out to departmental colleagues. I also appreciate that you note trying to be aware of deadlines/exams in other courses students may take. I wonder, though, if individual actors in any one department is really sufficient to address student mental health. Asking individual students, or individual instructors, to safeguard mental health in a system that places a lot of pressure on people seems necessary, but not sufficient.

    You mention that students may learn more in some cases because they don't end up dropping the course. It's well known that people in general perform better when under less stress, and has been shown in studies of other domains that learning outcomes increase when student stress is reduced. This might suggest that all students, regardless of obvious mental health challenges, could benefit from policies that help reduce student stress. (think Universal Design)

    I so appreciate that you're making the effort to fully bake these considerations into your courses. I have seen too many examples of a brief, campus-wide focus on mental health following a crisis event in the community, only to revert to the standard, stress-inducing behaviors.

    OK - thanks for bearing with me getting that out.

    The big question then, for all of us: How can we effect systemic change that will reduce mental health stressors while simultaneously doing the immediate work of caring for individuals in a system that still has too many of those stressors?

  • Icon for: Brianna Blaser

    Brianna Blaser

    Co-Presenter
    Associate Director, AccessADVANCE and AccessComputing
    May 13, 2022 | 12:57 p.m.

    Josh, you've absolutely right that we need systemic change with regard to these issues.  Over the last couple of years, report after report has pointed to increasing levels of mental health concerns among students.  Institutions need to encourage similar efforts and look at what they are doing to support the mental health of their students.

    I work with AccessComputing, one of the NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Alliances.  Our work is focused on increasing the participation of people with disabilities in computing.  A portion of this work is focused on direct interventions for students with disabilities, but a significant part is also focused on institutional change through resources, community building, and consultations about accessibility. Over the last few years, we've increasingly talked about students with mental health related disabilities to make sure institutions are addressing this as steps that they take toward institutional change. 

  • Icon for: Josh Sheldon

    Josh Sheldon

    Facilitator
    Project Lead
    May 13, 2022 | 01:16 p.m.

    Thanks Brianna. Just as you say, my understanding is that mental health concerns K-16+ have been trending up for quite a while now, starting at least in middle school, if not before, and that the pandemic and its disruption have only accelerated that trend.

    At the k-8 levels, and to some extent in HS, I was heartened by a growing emphasis on Social Emotional Learning, which I understand to have preventive effects for some mental health concerns. Sadly, there's now been a backlash against SEL (which I really do not understand), and with that comes hesitancy to emphasize it in schools for fear of social consequences (ironic?).

    Though I'm housed at a university, my work has focused on K12 primarily, so I don't know the literature and policy world around mental health issues beyond limited experience here at MIT and a few other institutions where friends/contacts are connected and have discussed these issues. That said, my observation is that as challenging as implementing measures in K12 may be, universities are significantly harder, as in many institutions there are decentralized organizational structures. It's harder to coordinate disparate departments and faculty who have relative autonomy.

    I'm quite interested in the BPC Alliances. I'm leading an NSF CSforAll RPP project centering on BPC at the high school level here in MA. I hadn't really thought about this previously, but there's certainly an equity concern related to the intersection between mental health stressors and minoritized folks in CS - the extra burdens of participating in unwelcoming environments that are already stressful for more advantaged students is an area ripe for support, both immediate and systemic.

    Would it be OK if I contact you offline to discuss further?

  • Icon for: Brianna Blaser

    Brianna Blaser

    Co-Presenter
    Associate Director, AccessADVANCE and AccessComputing
    May 13, 2022 | 02:35 p.m.

    I haven't thought much (yet!) about mental health when we're talking about K12 education.  I'm also involved an RPP project, AccessCSforAll. In that work, we're looking at the participation of students with disabilities in K12 CS education.  Anyhow, I'd love to talk more.

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    Angeline Cartwright

    May 13, 2022 | 03:39 p.m.

    This video brings up some very important methods for support. As a student, I find that having resources in a class syllabus makes finding and getting help a lot less intimidating. Bringing up private issues face to face with a new professor can be daunting so having information available to look through on your own time lowers the stress of the situation. 

  • Icon for: Rochelle Bowyer

    Rochelle Bowyer

    Office Assistant, Undergraduate Student
    May 13, 2022 | 07:58 p.m.

    I enjoyed how this video looked at the small picture. I think looking internally at issues is just as important as looking at the institutional problems, which take time to fix. But look internal you often can discover ways to create change in your spaces and start in a small place. Which is what I like about this video 

  • Icon for: Kristin Flaming

    Kristin Flaming

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 16, 2022 | 02:15 p.m.

    Thank you for these helpful tips. I teaching Introductory Statistics using Passion-Driven Statistics. I do send a check in email a few times a semester but I only respond with information for mental health services when a student replies they are struggling in some way. I will now include that in the original email.

    Where have you found is the best place to find a list of all religious holidays that potentially could impact your students?

    I teach online. Do you have specific suggestions for asynchronous environments?

  • Icon for: Brianna Blaser

    Brianna Blaser

    Co-Presenter
    Associate Director, AccessADVANCE and AccessComputing
    May 17, 2022 | 12:50 p.m.

    Thanks for watching the video.  Your course sounds really interesting.

    I've found that if I search for "2022 religious holidays," I'll find several pages maintained by colleges and universities that have lists of holidays.  These can be a good place to find potential conflicts.

    In an asynchronous environment, you could share resources via email or any discussion forums that you're using.  You might consider asking students to share resources or ideas that they've found useful to support their mental health.

     
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