Incorporate student feedback into courses

In light of Queen’s anti-vaccination scandal, it’s important faculties ensure student feedback and complaints are taken into serious consideration.

Queen’s Health 102 professor Melody Torcolacci became the target of public backlash last week after a tweet criticizing her teaching that vaccines are correlated with increased prevalence of autism went viral.

But this isn’t the first bad review Torcolacci’s teaching has received.

This year, a complaint against Torcolacci was filed on behalf of an entire class, while two years ago, a Kingston medical officer of health, alarmed by material Torcolacci taught, wrote to the head of the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. In 2011, a student reported another course taught by Torcolacci to faculty deans and the Office of the Provost.

All to no avail.

Torcolacci’s reliance on invalid sources, despite continuous student complaints, is inexcusable.

There are merits in discussing common misconceptions, such as prevalent anti-vaccination rhetoric, but only under the clear intention of debunking them. Torcolacci was perpetuating ideas that can cause serious harm.

Fault for the course’s misinformation lies as much with the administration as it does the professor. The School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and other members of Queen’s administration failed students through their worrisome and flippant disregard of student feedback.

It’s disturbing that it took a nationwide scandal for the University to take action. This controversy could and should have been prevented years ago.

This scandal isn’t a victory for student advocacy. Vaccinations are on the public’s mind after measles outbreaks began last month in Canada and California. The Health 102 lecture slide tweet — sent by fourth-year student Michael Green, a user with over 1,100 followers — just happened to be composed at the right time.

The University’s lack of proactive measures and failure to react to complaints makes it plausible that similar issues are going unaddressed in many Queen’s courses.

The current teaching assessment system and complaint system needs an overhaul, so that student feedback on course content is taken into serious consideration.

University Student Assessment of Teaching (USAT) forms are often only seen and reviewed by professors. Through greater departmental oversight of the student feedback provided on USATs, standards of education could be better ensured and upheld.

The University has “cyclical program reviews” every seven years to assess its courses.This evaluation should occur more frequently, but the administration can’t regulate every faculty’s courses. This responsibility lies on the individual faculties themselves.

Torcolacci — whose top academic credential is a Master’s degree in sport sociology — has been allowed to teach invalid material to students for years. It’s critical that the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, along with other faculties, revisit their approval processes to better inspect course content.

At this time the University, along with rectifying the current situation, should implement proactive measures to safeguard education standards — and to prevent future public relations nightmares.

Journal Editorial Board

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