Opinions

Letter to the Editor
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Dear Editor 

This letter is written in response to Mr. Mahmoudi ‘Letter to the Editor’ last week, 

Thank you for sharing your concerns, observations, and experiences with us. We really appreciate that you reached out to share your experience. We would like to address them in two ways: first, the importance we place on student mental health and second, the measures we are putting in place regarding on-line teaching and evaluations to ensure that our students are well supported.  

Student Mental Health 

The University of Ottawa places tremendous value on the student experience, yet it also recognizes that it has improvements to make in supporting student mental health and support for students in crisis. 

In May, the President’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health presented 12 recommendations, with its final report due imminently. Some of the recommendations have already been acted on, like the appointment of a Special Advisor in Mental Health and Wellness for the University of Ottawa who will be responsible for ensuring that the University carries out the Committee’s interim and final recommendations effectively and in a timely manner. As well, the Committee has been hosting a series of open online forums for students to respond to the recommendations.  

Our professors care deeply about our students – and supporting the wellness of students is a priority. As per one of the recommendations of the committee, we will expand mental health training opportunities for professors and develop tool kits and guides to support recognizing students in distress and directing them to the appropriate support on and off-campus.  

You are right – these are challenging times.  

On-line teaching and frequency of evaluations 

In the switch to on-line teaching and learning, the university has encouraged our professors to adopt more frequent, but lower stake assessments. Studies had shown that regular evaluations better support student engagement, learning, and persistence, all while increasing the chances of student success. It is also a period of adaption for students and professors. Learning online can require more discipline and individual responsibility – particularly since many courses include elements with more flexible scheduling, rather than attending class on campus. We also know that for students taking four or five courses, these regular low-stakes assessments can add up to numerous small assignments every week and that this can feel overwhelming. 

We want you to know that we have communicated with the professors at the faculty of social  

sciences and the faculty of arts about the stress and anxiety that students have reported experiencing this term in relation to the amount of evaluations. We are going to adapt our recommendations for professors for the winter term by suggesting fewer evaluations per course and greater choice for students in the number of assessments they have to complete (for example, allowing a student to choose 5 out of 8 small assignments). We are also building a series of best practices to support professors in adapting to student stress.  

And so, we thank you for sharing your concerns with us, as these lines of communications are important in helping the Faculties and University improve the student experience. This is particularly important as we navigate distance education together. 

Mireille McLaughlin (left) and Jenepher Lennox Terrion (right). Images: University of Ottawa

This letter was co-written by Mireille McLaughlin and Jenepher Lennox Terrion. Mireille McLaughlin is associate vice dean undergrad, Student Experience in the faculty of social sciences. Dr. McLaughlin studies the role of language in the production and transformation of inequalities in education, work and policy.  Jenepher Lennox Terrion is vice dean, Student Affairs in the faculty of arts, and full professor in the department of communication. Dr. Lennox Terrion has spent her career working to improve the student experience through her research, teaching, and administrative service.