I would like to think that, over the years, I have significantly improved as an online communicator within an academic context. Having to deal with such a diverse set of students kind of forced me into it. However, there is something that I will openly admit that I am not at all qualified to deal with.
I didn’t really care about it at the beginning. But through time, I noticed more and more that there is almost always some student in a given class who seem a bit odd, given what online behavior I observe from them. Usually, I leave it at that, especially if they do well.
I don’t know if it’s because of my constant prodding in online discussions or if they have become more open about such things, but in the last few years, students have started approaching me about their issues. Usually, it’s about their difficulties in managing their time and emergencies which affect their academic performance. Other times, they just find themselves not knowing what to do or even where to ask for help. Perhaps kids these days are less conscious of this compared to us who grew up before broadband Internet was a thing, but the World Wide Web can sometimes be a lonely place to be in. I learned that first hand. That appreciation has probably helped me connect to students better.
Those things, I can help to a certain degree. However, along with the usual issues, students have also started opening up about the more personal issue of mental and emotional health. UPOU’s admission system obviously does not screen for it. Worse, UPOU has no provisions for assisting affected students. I am certainly not trained to do so.
That is why I feel troubled whenever a student contacts me and talks about their bipolar disorder or their recent breakdown. I don’t really know how to deal with that. Physical disabilities can be overcome, even if a course requires some sort of field work. But when a students says he or she is unable to study due to a mental condition, that reading and retention is not possible, how can you deal with that, especially when you are pressured to work within a short trimestral timetable?
I have been lucky, so far. The students I know of who are dealing with such issues are open about it and readily communicate with me. But I cannot expect that things will be like this forever. At some point, there is likely going to be that one bad case which I will not be equipped to handle. If and when that time comes, what am I going to do?
I do not want to wait for that time to come. That is why I have become a lot more vocal about this among my colleagues. If UPOU will not tighten its screening of incoming students, then it should at least implement measures to help ensure that its teachers are supported in order to cater to such students more effectively.