Case Study 1 – Source: Mather, Joy & Wood, Bob. (2002). Case Study 9: Collaborating in the Support of a Final Year Student with Severe Depression and Alcohol Problems. Loughborough University IN Herrington, M. & Simpson, D. (eds). (2002). Making Reasonable Adjustments for Disabled Students in Higher Education: Staff Development Materials: Case Studies and Exercises. University of Nottingham.
R had been suffering from depression from very early on in his degree, after having to cope with some painful and unfortunate family circumstances. He had difficulties in completing the progression requirements each year, and during his industrial placement he experienced a breakdown. He was subsequently coping with acute symptoms of depression, alcohol problems, as well as anxiety and damaged confidence. He had been receiving support from the University Counselling Service for some time and also had regular contact with psychiatric services.
Prior to the arranged meeting, it was apparent throughout R’s studies that his problems were having a clear effect of his academic performance. However, his positive attitude towards his studies gave me little cause to single him out. During the initial meeting with R and Joy it became apparent that this positive attitude was really a dogged determination to complete his degree, and that this determination was a second major source of anxiety.
In developing a useful dialogue wit R, it seemed important to convince him that his situation was manageable and that he was an important member of the "management team". In practical terms, this required the three of us to negotiate and progress a study plan that was sympathetic to his needs but adequately challenging to satisfy his determination. It seemed wrong to view R as a "client" or "patient" and more positive to see him as a student struggling to cope with strong negative influences in his life. Over several meetings, this prompted R and I to discuss various ways in which he might better manage his time and thoughts, and to perhaps recognise and accept those periods when his depression was too strong for productive study.
Although the three of us had only one face-to-face meeting, subsequent telephone and email discussions between Joy and myself were very important in steering my dialogue with R, particularly in developing my non-academic perspective and grounding my expectations of him.
R had an insightful approach to the difficulties he was having. He seemed fairly clear about what he thought might help, perhaps because by the time I met him he had been struggling with depression and its consequences for some time. He was apprehensive about the meeting with Bob, but also definite about the fact that he was the person he needed to see. I assumed from this that he had already trusted him with some information about his situation, but this was not in fact the case. The thought of explaining and describing his feelings and his situation made him very nervous on the day of our three-way meeting, and I know now that in fact the two had barely spoken to each other before this point.
Bob handled a delicate situation quietly, sometimes humorously, and focused on the practical issues in a way which gave a positive and encouraging message; he didn’t make a big deal of the experiences R was going through. Liaison meetings can be difficult, and there may be apprehensiveness from all parties. I think we used this opportunity to share information and to establish the fact that we were all, particularly R himself, part of the process of keeping him on track.
After this meeting I saw R very regularly and came to know him well. We were able to try various strategies to get him through the very difficult final months; he was literally sick and tired of pushing himself day after day when the rewards were not apparent. But mostly I saw him on his own, and only heard his point of view. It was sometimes difficult to tread the line between support which was challenging and confidence building, and "help" which merely reinforced R’s sense of deficit and disability.
The value of the collaboration with Bob was that he kept R’s experience as an achieving student with a future at the forefront. At one stage in the final semester R had to give a presentation. Because of his experience on placement (in which presentations and the accompanying stress had been a stark feature of his breakdown) he was extremely anxious and really doubted his ability to go through this part of the course. Although well aware of the dangers of avoidance, and the need to "face the fear" I was worried about the effects of the stress on someone whose mental health was already fragile. I argued the case for being sympathetic – maybe giving the presentation to a very small number of students instead of all of them. Bob, however, felt that R was someone who could rise to a challenge, given the right encouragement. His instincts were right; the presentation (to the whole group) and the experience because a real confidence booster for R, as well as laying the ghosts of the disastrous placement. Bob and I have since been involved in similar judgment calls, and we have found our differing perspectives a useful framework for looking at a situation from all kinds of angles, and making a more informed risk assessment as a result.
Case Study 2 – Source: Ennis-Reynolds, G. Essay Criteria Workshop for 1st Year Students. School of Planning, Oxford Brookes University. http://www.hlst.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/cases/case5.html
Workshop exercise to understand what the teacher is looking for in terms of essay assessment
Group: 35 -50 Level 1 students taking the compulsory Leisure Environment module
Aim: This workshop exercise is designed to help students understand what the tutor is looking for when assessing essays. Students learn to focus on what the tutor expects from an essay and how to scrutinise their own work prior to handing it in.
Context / Background: In the first term at university students are unfamiliar with what is required, this causes them concern and apprehension. The workshop is designed to reduce this concern and explain clearly the criteria used for assessment.
Example: Students are given the topic and title for their first essay. A template essay written by the tutor on a different topic, but with a similar title is given to the students. Students then critically analyse the essay in groups of 2/3. Students are asked to:
- Read and discuss the essay
- Choose 3 things to comment on, good or bad (some deliberate mistakes have been made in the essay, eg. Grammar, referencing.
- Give the essay a mark (on a feedback sheet provided which gives the criteria).
- Suggest how the essay could be improved.
- Discuss their findings as a whole group. (Allowing 30 mins for stages 1-3, when you can listen and talk to the groups). Some weeks later, after handing in their own essays, students are given an example of a 1st class essay with the same title that they have undertaken, which they discuss.
Results / Feedback: During the exercise, most students are able to focus and reflect on the assessment criteria. Many students are very critical and tend to focus on more minor mistakes, such as the word limit, worrying that too many would result in a poor grade. Most students award a similar grade to that of the tutor, but some students may suggest a 1st or even a fail. It is a popular exercise which engages most students, and the knowledge gained is used by students in future essays.
Other comments: Student evaluation has given the workshop a "4 out of 5 grade" over the last four years. There seems to be little current use of this type of approach. The prescription may dissuade more able students from adopting their own writing style.
Case Study 3 – Source: http://www2.glos.ac.uk/gdn/icp/case8.htm
Hetty is a level two student studying Exercise Health with Environmental Science. Hetty has a chemical sensitivity disorder that causes mental illness. Chemicals can affect her brain and cause a reaction from depression and anxiety to hyperactivity and psychosis.
Hetty thinks that her mental illness was a factor in deciding both upon the course and upon the particular University. As a mature student, she initially returned to further education studies to do ‘A’ level art and design but had to give up owing to the chemicals in the materials used. Because of her own experiences, Hetty is very interested in mental health issues and wanted to study a course that would assist her to find employment in raising mental health awareness, with a particular emphasis on the external environment. Hetty decided that Exercise and Health would be a good basis for raising awareness of mental illness, specifically as there is a level three module devoted to mental health and exercise.
Hetty chose to study at this particular university as it is the nearest higher education provider covering the appropriate courses in her area. As her mental health depends heavily on the environment she lives in, she felt she would prefer to stay in her accommodation at home, which has been adapted to be chemical-free, to avoid any allergic reactions to unknown chemicals.
Hetty finds that the physical environment of her studies has the greatest impact upon her abilities. Certain air fresheners, particularly in University toilets, can initiate hearing voices and hallucinatory effects. She can feel quite giddy when experiencing deodorant or perfumes, but prefers to remove herself from the situation rather than try to change the environment. "I quietly get up and walk away. It’s so embarrassing."
Hetty has only been on one field trip so far. She was initially apprehensive prior to the trip as she has to carefully plan her food to ensure it is organic and contains no chemicals which might initiate a range of mental illnesses. "I thought I was really going to have problems on the field trip, but it was quite the opposite" owing to the availability of organic food and the relatively pure air in the mountain regions where they were staying. Hetty did initially approach her module tutor for assistance in identifying how she could ensure there was organic food available in the area. She was told that she would have to find that information for herself – "the tutor was really busy so couldn’t help", and eventually found the information from the tourist board. Hetty realises that her condition would be worse in different situations. "There are certain trips I wouldn’t recommend… I need to pick trips properly so advance information is useful."
"I thought if I miss out, I miss out. That’s it." Hetty realises she has to pace herself with her studies to ensure she doesn’t become overly stressed owing to the amount of work. She sometimes finds the deadlines in assignments hard to meet, but always manages to complete them on time. "I don’t think people would believe me if I asked for extensions so I haven’t applied before." Hetty has similar thoughts regarding getting assistance such as copies of OHTs in lectures as she sometimes finds it difficult to keep up with the lecturer and copy down what is on the OHP at the same time. "I thought if I miss out, I miss out. That’s it."
Hetty has additional time in her examinations which she finds useful. She prefers essay style questions rather than multiple choice. "I can put it down in my own words. It’s harder to pick from someone else’s words."
In general Hetty thinks that she is well supported with her mental illness. "I just try to be a normal student as much as possible. I don’t mind other people knowing but some people are shocked by my mental illness but I’m trying to break the stigma down so I don’t mind others knowing."