As a new or transfer student to the Colorado State University (CSU), Fort Collins, Colo., as part of orientation the student must complete an online learing module on Alcohol edu/Sexual Assault. It is actually a good online module.
My son recently did this, but was very surprise when a series of questions popped up asking “What is your politcal party?” “Do you believe in global warming? ” etc. A series of 3 pages of questions appear to be intended to profile students on global warming and political beliefs. Answering these questions made him very uncomfortable, and he was not able to go back and print them out. The questions were intrusive and were not appropriate for an Alcohol edu/Sexual Assault module.
I sent an email to the appropriate people asking for the exact wording of the questions, and an explanation of why they are being asked. CSU was very responsive and acted within 24 hours of my request to investigate the situation. CSU provided the following response late Friday afternoon, August 5:
“As part of a larger, ongoing effort to educate the student community about the warning signs and dangers of alcohol use and abuse, Colorado State University began requiring incoming freshmen and transfer students to complete an online course, AlcoholEdu, prior to registration for the Fall 2011 semester. The university contracted with Outside the Classroom to provide the online educational service. As part of the process, CSU staff carefully reviewed the questions understood to be part of the course. Until today, university staff were unaware that additional random, unrelated questions were included in the survey. Colorado State did not consent to or approve the inclusion of these unrelated questions in the online course.
Upon learning of the situation, CSU staff contacted Outside the Classroom and requested the additional questions be removed from the survey. In response, Outside the Classroom immediately removed the non-related, non-approved questions. To be clear – those questions have been removed from the course at this time.
Colorado State does not and will not use any information from the questions to profile or otherwise identify any students, and will not receive any results from the additional non-related questions. We have been further guaranteed by Outside the Classroom that there is no way to identify any students to any of the answers they provide: the surveys are not only confidential, they are also anonymous.
Additional points provided to CSU today by Outside the Classroom regarding this situation follow:
1. There is no way to identify any students to any of the answers they provide to survey questions. It is not just confidential but anonymous as well. This is disclosed to students immediately before the program and several times throughout – as noted in the exact messages in the course pasted below.
2. In addition, students are also clearly told that they are not required to answer any questions they don’t want to answer. If they don’t answer, they can still proceed through the survey and course.
3. Our rationale for these randomized supplemental questions is for critical research and development. Just like the SAT – and many other surveys, tests and education programs – will randomize test questions in their tests to “vet” new questions, we have run this process for the past 3 years to identify any potential new connections between alcohol abuse and other student behaviors. We have learned invaluable insights from this process that have improved the intervention.
4. As of 6 days ago a national, 3-year, 30-school federal government study was just published showing that AlcoholEdu reduces binge drinking and alcohol-related harms. It is literally now the most effective intervention ever developed for college students. A big part of our ability to reach this outcome was through benefits of our R&D process.
We apologize for any concern this has caused. We do believe AlcoholEdu is an effective intervention strategy that can help improve, and even save, lives. However, please be assured that the university is working with Outside the Classroom to ensure that non-approved questions are not randomly added to the survey in the future.”