The University of Richmond's Recreation and Wellness department is revising the wellness graduation requirement after students said they wanted more realistic and interactive courses.
The past month has been dedicated to collecting student input. Recreation and Wellness faculty visited PLUS2 courses to interview students and also sent out surveys to about 1,200 students, said Tom Roberts, director of Recreation and Wellness. They also organized student focus groups and a steering council, or an advisory board composed of select students.
These students thought a number of the wellness requirement's aspects needed improvement. Students said the URAware alcohol awareness course needed to be more realistic and focused on actual college life, according to a summary of these student's feedback compiled by recreation and wellness employees.
Students suggested that instructors teach specific safety tips.
"It's not reality based enough," said freshman Becca Cooper, an office assistant in the Recreation and Wellness department who helped run the focus groups. "People would like to see it more like, 'If your roommate has alcohol poisoning, here's what you do.'"
Students also said many other students think URAware repeats too much information they learned in high school. The course should provide new, university-based information, they said.
An online component to URAware that would be taken before students arrive on campus freshman year is being considered, Roberts said. Although 62 percent of survey respondents said they would prefer an online course to the current classroom format, other students were concerned that it might not be taken seriously.
This could be avoided by incorporating both an online course to be taken during the summer and a follow-up discussion session once on campus, students said. They also indicated interest in having young alumni teach these sessions.
Students and faculty agreed URAware needed to be taken during freshman year.
"It's been designed to help students and introduce them to some of the issues they're going to be confronting with alcohol," Roberts said. "Sometimes students don't take it until their second or third year and we kind of miss the boat."
Although revisions to URAware are being considered, students still think the course is effective. According to a summary of URAware program evaluations for 2008, about 80 percent of students who took the course thought it had been beneficial and that they were going to make positive and healthy changes to their drinking behavior.
Similarly, according to a summary of PLUS2 program evaluations, more than 80 percent of students who took the survey thought their particular course had been beneficial, and about 80 percent said they intended to make changes in their health behaviors as a result of having taken the course.
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Although 86 percent of survey respondents said they were interested by the current PLUS2 course offerings, other students wanted the courses to be more interactive. They suggested the sessions' six weeks be divided into three lecture periods and three lab periods. For example, a nutrition class might cook or a class on stress management might practice yoga on certain days. Students also expressed interest in more physical options, such as dance classes, Pilates classes or instructional classes for sports such as swimming or tennis.
According to the summary of student feedback, classes with helpful, real-world applications were considered the most important and popular. These courses included Survivor!, in which students learn wilderness survival skills and U.S. military techniques, and Financial Fitness, a class that teaches students about investing, retirement and taxes.
Roberts said he was pleased with students' positive feedback on PLUS2 courses.
"It can be an inconvenience," he said, "but it's surprising how many positive e-mails instructors get that say, 'Hey, I really wasn't looking forward to this but I found out I had a sleeping disorder by taking this class,' or, you know, 'My friend has had some eating issues and I really learned how to deal with them by taking this class.'
"One of those positive e-mails is worth the negative comments."
Tracy Cassalia, the Recreation and Wellness department's health educator, said students were fortunate to be getting the available information and that it wouldn't be so easy later in life.
"Our dietitian teaches our nutrition class," she said. "If you sit with a dietitian when you graduate to talk about these things it's going to cost $35 to $50 an hour.
"Or even to get some of that financial information, you're going to be paying a couple hundred dollars for information that you're getting for free."
Roberts said he hoped to establish more concrete ideas this summer and get more student input during open discussion sessions during the fall. He said he then hoped to create a formal proposal that would be submitted to Academic Council and ideally instituted by fall 2010.
He stressed the importance of student input.
"That's what it's all about," he said. "We're trying to help the students."
Contact staff writer Guv Callahan at email@example.com
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