In Brief

When Arizona State University's freshmen begin to navigate college life this fall, about 35 of them will get extra support from their parents. For the second time, Arizona State's psychology department will be offering an online, for-credit class to parents of its freshmen.

The class, "Student passages: a decision-making course for parents," teaches parents problem-solving and decision-making skills to inform them about the challenges their children face at college and to help them develop skills they can apply in their jobs and in other relationships.

The class meets online once a week in a chat room during the fall semester. In every class, a university official provides information about services on campus. Topics span career services, partying behavior, intergroup relations, student health, resident life, academic counseling and intercollegiate athletics. After meeting as a large group, the class then breaks into smaller chat rooms to discuss the issues raised. Their conclusions are posted to a discussion board for the entire class's comments. The parents also complete reading assignments and hand in homework electronically.

"Sending your child off to college is an important life cycle event," says Barry Leshowitz, PhD, the Arizona State professor who teaches and administers the class. "We often aren't prepared as parents with the problem-solving skills or with the information that's required to deal effectively with the issues our children face when they begin college."

Nancy Mahlstede, a student in last fall's class, agrees. "This class provides a forum for us to ask questions, get more insight into what our kids are experiencing, and hopefully, provides us better tools to guide and support them."

And not only do parents learn about decision-making and college life, they learn a lot about computers as well.

"In the beginning, I cried after losing work while attempting to submit it," says Gale Bruner, who took the course last fall when her daughter began attending Arizona State. But because of the class, she says, "I've learned more in a month than in the past 15 years about how the Internet works."

--D. SMITH