By Craig Chamberlain
College students rarely die from an alcohol overdose, as happened in Louisiana Aug. 26. But alcohol abuse on campus still adversely affects many lives, and few approaches have proven effective in changing that, says William Riley, dean of students at the UI.
"Alcohol 101," an interactive CD-ROM developed at the UI, could be different, Riley said. "We're excited about this. We think this is something that will have an impact."
Testing that impact begins this semester, as students at the UI and about 40 other campuses will be asked to try the new software. Impact data from these campuses will then be used to further refine the product and determine the best ways to use it.
Making extensive use of interactive and multimedia capabilities, Alcohol 101 does not lecture, says Janet Reis, a UI professor of community health and the researcher behind the CD-ROM's development. Students in focus groups made it clear that they "dread the lecture" on alcohol, she said.
Instead, the software takes the student to a virtual party, where he or she can learn some things about drinking and the college social scene they might otherwise have to learn the hard way. Using information about their height, weight, gender and drinking intentions -- and even about what the student has had to eat on this imaginary evening -- the software caters the experience to the user. In visiting the party's bar to order drinks, for instance, users get an estimate of the level of alcohol in their blood and a description of its effects. Other link show the impact it would have on their driving.
Perhaps the most important interactive feature, however, is the one that allows the user to play out several scenarios at the party, using characters played by actors on video. In each scenario, the user makes choices that determine the direction of the story and its outcome. The outcomes range from positive to tragic, Riley said. One, for instance, involving Allison, can lead to a sexual assault.
The scenarios have an impact on students because the students know the stories are not invented, Riley said. "These are real situations that happened to real students on this campus, and the students who use the CD know that. They know that these things happen here and elsewhere."
Reis' work on Alcohol 101 grows out of work over eight years to develop various interactive software designed to deliver personalized health information to target audiences. In each case, the language and presentation are catered to the target audience.
The project began about five years ago as a collaborative effort, led by Reis, that included campus staff members from student affairs, education technologies and health education units, as well as students. Much of the development, along with technical enhancements, production and distribution, has been supported with funds from the Century Council, a national anti-alcohol abuse organization funded by the nation's large distillers.
Comments to: Inside Illinois Editor Doris Dahl, (217) 333-2895, firstname.lastname@example.org
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