24/7 online UMN counseling draws return users

Effective U aims to help students manage stress.

by Cleo Krejci

University of Minnesota students pulling all-nighters can find immediate stress relief and time management counseling at the click of a button. 

Effective U, an online counseling program in its first academic year at the University, provides a new set of counseling services aimed at promoting tools for student well-being. 

The six modules were designed to help identify and provide solutions to stress, time, monetary and academic concerns common to students at the University. 

The University’s Student Counseling Services, SMART Learning Commons and the Office of Undergraduate Education completed the project in spring 2017, although it was not fully promoted for student use until this fall. 

From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, the program had 2,166 sessions and just over 10,000 page views. Of those participants, 34.8 percent of users returned for more counseling, according to Lynell Williams, special projects lead and counselor for Student Academic Success within Student Counseling Services. 

Williams envisioned that the program could help students find resources when the counseling offices are closed. 

“If a student is… studying at 10 at night, or midnight or 2 a.m., heaven forbid… and they need to reach out for something… this is always up,” Williams said. “We see this as an extension of our services and complementary to what we do in the office.” 

Effective U came into fruition after developers analyzed data collected by SCS on specific student concerns.

Out of 72 Effective U student users, 52 percent said final exam preparation was most important out of eight possible modules, followed by time management at 50 percent. 

“Managing your stress” and “managing your time” are the most frequently visited modules as of October 2017, Williams said.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me that these are top issues for students,” Williams said. “What was a pleasant surprise to me [was] that the student responses indicated a high level of self-awareness about how these issues interact with academic performance and overall well-being.”

Effective U developers consulted data from the Leavers’ 2014-15 study, a University study analyzing why students leave the school, which showed that 32 percent of first-time freshmen who left the University after one year did so for academic reasons, 11 percent because of mental health concerns.

“We do know that stress pervades the lives of students in many different forms,” Williams said. “It’s kind of a common denominator.” 

Lindsay H. Matts-Benson, instructional designer for University Libraries, said she thinks students sometimes face stigmas about asking for help with counseling services. 

“You don’t have to go into an office to get advice on this,” Matts-Benson said. 

Williams said Effective U’s online-specific platform was created in part as a response to the way the current generation prefers to obtain information through technology. Each module finishes with a customized plan aimed at helping students improve their skills, such as a weekly schedule or financial budget.

The program now includes a “boost your study habits” module, released on Nov. 3. Developers say they will complete a new module, “final exam prep,” by the end of this semester.

Andrew Palahniuk, academic technologist at Walter Library who helped design the program, said Effective U helps introduce general ideas to help students move forward with how to pursue in-person counseling. 

“Acknowledging that you need help is a vulnerable state,” Palahniuk said. “That’s not a sign of weakness, that’s a sign of strength, to go talk with someone.”