Sections 4-5

SECTION 4. COURSE/CLASSROOM PROCEDURES

4.1 Setting Expectations
Students, particularly first-year students new to university, may be uncertain about appropriate behaviour in your class and will appreciate you making your expectations clear. CTSI has a very helpful Tip Sheet on “First Class Strategies.”  

If you have preferences or requirements on such matters, you should take the time to describe and explain them. Most are not worth the trouble of making full-blown rules or policies about, as most students will comfortably abide by your preferences if they know what they are. If you intend to enforce any of these with course marks, then you must be explicit at the outset.

4.2 Attendance & Participation Policies
The Faculty does not have a general policy requiring that students attend classes. Instructors may have an attendance requirement for their own particular courses.

If you think there is a specific pedagogical need for an attendance requirement in your course, you must be mindful of what such a rule requires: i) you must be prepared to take reliable attendance at each class;  ii) you must be prepared for all the bureaucratic business that goes with exceptions, illnesses, documentation, etc.; iii) you should consider that the only real way to enforce such a policy is to designate some portion of the course mark to reflect this requirement; and iv) you should always take into account the possibility that some student may have a disability affecting attendance. Best practice suggests you design the workings of any such policy precisely to achieve your pedagogical objectives. In doing so, you may wish to reflect on the difference between  “active participation” and “mere bodily presence.”

A portion of the mark for participation can signal to your students that you expect them to be actively engaged with learning in your classroom. It also allows you the opportunity to recognize in your assessment different learning styles, since some students demonstrate their insight and knowledge better orally than on written tests. If you do have a participation mark, you have a responsibility for designing it such that the size and classroom circumstances of your course offer students the opportunity to earn the marks you apportion for participation. You should also clarify for students what kinds of activity will make for a good participation mark, and also consider offering alternative ways of participating for those who may have a problem speaking out in front of others.

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4.3 Use of Electronic Devices in Class (Laptops, iPods, iPads, phones, etc. )
For some instructors, student use of laptops and other electronic devices can feel like a barrier to establishing an interactive and engaged classroom environment.  Indeed, a number of studies acknowledge that handwritten notes can better support retention of information, and that sitting next to a laptop user is distracting for the other students.  Consequently, some instructors wish to limit the use of these devices in their classrooms.  However, such prohibitions create new challenges:

  • Many students have adapted their learning and study habits to a digital environment.  They may read and annotate texts, take and organize their notes, and otherwise manage their course materials entirely online or on a computer. Moving to an analog environment can add stress and diminish learning by disrupting study habits and organizational practices.
  • A number of students use laptops to support accessibility, or are acting as a volunteer notetaker for another student.  Instructors must both accommodate student accessibility needs, and ensure that they do so in a way that respects student privacy.  This means that students with an accessibility need, or who are supporting other students' accessibility needs, cannot be allowed an "exemption" to an otherwise blanket policy prohibiting electronic devices.  Such an approach both violates student privacy and does not accommodate undeclared accessibility needs.

Instead of a classroom policy restricting laptop use, you might find it useful to:

  • Discuss your pedagogical goals with students,and share with them the reasons why you are concerned about the potential for computers to interfere with their learning or that of their classmates.
  • In discussion with students, set guidelines for the use of devices in class. (You may find that students have excellent feedback on what peer behaviours are most distracting, and what limits might be most effective.)
  • We know that student computer use can be distracting to other students.  One strategy to address this issue is to designate a section of the classroom for those who wish to use computers.  Ensure this area doesn't disadvantage computer users - for example, in a lecture theatre, you would not want to send all computer users to the back rows, but you could designate a particular block of seats on one side of the classroom for computer users.

4.4 Questions in Class
Different subjects, modes of teaching and classroom environments mean the appropriate time and place for questions vary widely. Yet students pay remarkably close attention to signals as to whether an instructor is approachable and “interested in their learning.”  You should indicate that you are indeed interested in questions, and offer them some guidance by explaining at what time or place you would find them most welcome. Some instructors with large classes have found it well received by students when they schedule one or more Q&A sessions outside class, perhaps in lieu of an office hour or two at some time during the term. Students often appreciate the opportunity even if they may not use the opportunity themselves.

4.5 Taping/Recording/Photographing Lectures etc.
Lectures and course materials prepared by the instructor are considered by the University to be an instructor’s intellectual property covered by the Canadian Copyright Act. Students wishing to record lecture or other course material in any way are required to ask the instructor’s explicit permission, and may not do so unless permission is granted. This includes tape recording, filming, photographing PowerPoint slides, Blackboard materials, etc. Such permission is only for that individual student’s own study purposes and does not include permission to “publish” them in any way. It is absolutely forbidden for a student to publish an instructor’s notes to a website or sell them in other form without formal permission. If you have strong opinions about this happening in your class, you should state the Faculty’s policy at the beginning of the course, and reiterate it when needed to individual students. If you find your copyrighted material on a website, you should contact the site administrator, notify them of the copyright violation, and ask that the material be removed immediately.
In the matter of taping lectures etc., you  should keep in mind that a number of students with disabilities have been granted the taping of lectures as an appropriate accommodation for their disability (see  Section 13). For this reason, it is best to speak privately with any student you think may be contravening the policy so you do not put a student with a disability – or yourself – in an awkward position in front of the whole class. Note, however, that it is still the case with accommodations that tapes are only for that student’s exclusive study use and may not be shared without permission. (See also CTSI’s Tip Sheet on this topic. )

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4.6 Talking in Class
Students often come from high schools where “classroom chatter” is tolerated or even taken as a sign of active learning. In a lecture setting, even a modest amount of chatter can disturb everyone else in the room. Subtle classroom management techniques are usually enough to correct this: stop speaking momentarily, look directly at those chattering, wait for them to stop, then proceed. In large classes, it may be necessary to remind students and verbally caution the class. It is never a good idea to “dress down” or humiliate a student, even an offending one, in front of classmates or to allow other students to do so.

4.7 Dealing with Disruptive Students
Classroom management being one of an instructor’s responsibilities, occasionally you may encounter a student whose behaviour is a real problem – anything from monopolizing the discussion to being repeatedly or intensely disruptive. It is best not to confront such a student in front of other students. Low-grade repeated behaviour may be addressed in a private conversation after class to point out that you are not finding the behaviour helpful. This is usually enough. Try to present it as being about the other students' learning rather than your own comfort level. Students sometimes don't know how their behaviour looks to others.

If subtler techniques are ineffective, or if the behaviour is intensely disrupting, you can adjourn the class momentarily, ask to speak to the student aside from the class, and make it clear that the problematic behaviour disturbs the business of the class. Direct the student clearly and definitely to stop the behaviour. If the behaviour persists or escalates, you can end the class session and consult your UG Coordinator.

If at any time you believe your safety, the safety of the other students and/or the disruptive student is in jeopardy, end the class immediately and contact Campus Police. Notify your UG Coordinator as soon as possible. If the behaviour occurs outside the classroom setting, you should definitely alert your UG Coordinator to it. In such circumstances, it is best not to meet the student without another person present. This provides a safer environment for the instructor, makes available another potential witness for anything that happens, and demonstrates that the problem has reached another level. Important to remember, there may be an underlying health issue contributing to the student’s behaviour; by alerting others in the university to the disruptive behaviour, you ultimately may be helping a student in difficulty.

The University has resources and policies to support you in dealing with disruptive students (see Section 14 ) or students with serious on-going problems that make them a problem in your class. The Student Crisis Response team or Campus Police will intervene as necessary to assist you or protect the learning environment in your course. No one expects you to tolerate disruptive or abusive behaviour, but note that you yourself do not have the authority to “evict” duly-enrolled students from your course. If you run into a problem of this sort, it is always best to seek help from you UG Coordinator or other University officials. See Section 16 for contact information.

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SECTION 5. TERM WORK

5.1 General Background
Other than the specific rules arising from Faculty or University policies, term work is an academic matter under the instructor’s purview. You are allowed wide flexibility as a matter of academic professionalism in the way you manage term work – as opposed to final exams etc., which are administered by the Faculty and surrounded by many Faculty-level rules. The general principle about term work is that if you are going to enforce a rule or policy, you must tell the students about it at the outset so they know the “terms of engagement” for your course.

5.2 Changing the Course Marking Scheme
University policy dictates that, after you have made your marking scheme available to the students in your course, you may only change the announced marking scheme in a course by the following procedures:

    • You must hold a vote in a regularly-scheduled class and obtain the consent of at least simple majority of those attending the class.
    • The vote must be announced no later than the class previous to the one in which the vote will take place.
    • After consent has been achieved, you must deposit the revised marking scheme with the department sponsoring the course.

You may wish to use your course website or Blackboard to announce any such vote.

 

5.3 Tutorials
Students sometimes find tutorials less than satisfying even though surveys show they want small-group experiences. Given the number of TA hours available to you in your course, it may not be possible to have your TAs attend lecture to better prepare them to relate your lecture material to their tutorial. A number of  best practices can help make your tutorials as effective as possible under the circumstances:

  • Communicate explicitly to the students – and your TAs – the goals for the tutorials within the context of the course, e.g. supplementary to lectures, review, discussion, new material, skills training.
  • Articulate the connection between tutorials and the lecture material.
  • Consider communicating an objective for each tutorial session in relation to what is going on in the course/lecture.
  • Before an assignment or test, focus the tutorials on what will be due shortly.
  • Clarify and communicate the role of the TA, e.g. necessary first contact for re-marking, initial contact for missed tests, assignment extensions, etc.

You may wish to review the “Report on the UG Tutorial Experience” for other suggestions on best practices.

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5.4 Designing Assignments & Tests
Good pedagogy normally includes providing students with regular assessment and meaningful feedback about their grasp of the material and their standing in the course. While instructors are the best judges of what kind of assignment or test is most appropriate for their pedagogical objectives and subject matter, two observations may be useful:

  • The complaint most often heard from students is that the assignments or tests in a course were not clearly related to the course material as it was presented in lecture. It could be that they just do not see the connection, or that the assignment was meant to assess only a particular part of the material, but students tend to extrapolate from even limited assignments to the course as a whole. It may help to explain your assignment’s objective so they may interpret their results appropriately.
  • A well-designed assignment is often the best pre-emptive defense against plagiarism or other forms of misbehaviour.

See in Section 12 for more on academic integrity, including the Academic Integrity website. Other UofT resources on assessment and designing assignments can be found on the CTSI website and on the Writing website.

5.5 Teamwork & Peer Assessment
With all assignments, you should be explicit about the extent to which students can discuss their work with, and help one another on projects or assignments. However, this is especially the case when you plan to have students work in teams. You should spell out clearly your expectations about teamwork and the proper limits of collaboration, as lack of clarity frequently leads to problems in an experience that can otherwise be very rewarding for students. CTSI has a number of helpful documents online to guide you in constructing such assignments.

While you may use some forms of “peer assessment” or “peer feedback” in your courses, you must not use “peer marking” as part of your marking scheme, that is, where one student directly assigns another student a mark that contributes to the student’s course grade. There are two reasons for this.

First, marking is the responsibility of instructors and TAs under the supervision of instructors; peer marking opens a student to the possibility of being victimized by another student’s irresponsible behaviour. Second, grading and marking are tasks governed by labour contracts in the University, and so marking and assigning of grades should be reserved to instructors and TAs, the only two groups designated for this duty under these contracts. Allowing students to assign marks to one another opens the possibility of a grievance under our collective agreements.

That being said, some form of peer assessment or feedback can be useful to students, but two steps should be taken to distinguish it clearly from peer marking: i) it should be clearly titled ‘feedback’ and ii) it should take the form of non-mark feedback from the student (e.g. rating scale, written feedback) that will provide information to the student and possibly to the instructor who may then consider it when forming the assessment that becomes part of the course grade.

The important point to remember is that marking and the assigning of grades are the responsibility of the instructor and TAs.

5.6 Ethics Review for Student Projects
If you are an undergraduate course instructor with an assignment that involves human participants (surveys, interviews, etc.), policy requires that you get ethics clearance before students begin the assignment. This includes assignments where other students, even in the same course, are the human participants.

You will need to complete an Undergraduate Review Course Template Form and submit it to the appropriate Delegated Ethics Review Committee. This is an expedited process and many academic units have their own such committee. Ask your UG Coordinator for further details and see the Research & Innovation website under “Undergraduate Research.”

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5.7 Collecting Assignments
Students are responsible for ensuring you receive their assignments on time. You should specify acceptable ways to turn in assignments and accept no responsibility in cases where students do not follow these instructions. Your UG Coordinator can advise you of appropriate departmental procedures for collecting assignments submitted outside of class time (many departments have a drop box with sign-in sheet). If you accept or prefer hard copy submission, you may wish to request students also submit an electronic copy, which will provide an electronic date stamp and a searchable version should questions arise. Students should always be advised to retain copies of their assignment and earlier drafts until they receive the assignment back.

5.8 turnitin.com

Turnitin.com is a diagnostic tool that many instructors find helpful, and for which UofT has a license. It notes commonalities in phrasing between a student’s essay and other sources. It does not necessarily identify plagiarism and is to be used in conjunction with an instructor’s judgement.

If you elect to use turnitin.com, you must inform your class at the beginning of the course, include the following text in your syllabus, and say explicitly that use of the tool is voluntary for students:

“Normally, students will be required to submit their course essays to Turnitin.com for a review of textual similarity and detection of possible plagiarism. In doing so, students will allow their essays to be included as source documents in the Turnitin.com reference database, where they will be used solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism. The terms that apply to the University's use of the Turnitin.com service are described on the Turnitin.com web site. ”

Those considering using turnitin.com should go CTSI web pages on turnitin.com and read the policies and recommendations surrounding its use. Students have the right to refuse to use it, in which case you must set other mechanisms by which they turn in assignments. You can design ones that are also meant to deter plagiarism; CTSI provides examples. Also, students should be allowed to submit assignments by email or hardcopy to meet the deadline if they encounter problems when submitting to turnitin.com. Again, see the CTSI site for further information. You may also call Pam Gravestock, Associate Director of CTSI, to discuss any turnitin.com issues (416-946-8585).

5.9 Returning Assignments & Test Papers
Timely feedback is part of good pedagogy. University policy states that “students should have access to commentary on assessed term work and the opportunity to discuss the assessment with the instructor.”  Best practice is to return all term work within at most two weeks of the submission date. When additional time is needed to complete marking, the students should be informed of this. The longer the time taken before the feedback is received, the less useful that feedback will be to the student. 

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Assignments are the property of the students and must be returned to them in an appropriately secure manner. Under no circumstances should you leave term work outside your office or in a stack at the front of the classroom to be picked up by students, as this is an invitation for it to be appropriated by someone else for illicit use or sold to an "essay bank" etc. Privacy considerations also dictate that you and your TAs should not put the student’s mark on the cover sheet of the assignment but inside where it is not visible to casual viewers.

Advise students to retain all returned assignments until the course is complete and they are satisfied the final course mark has been calculated correctly. Unclaimed assignments should be retained for one year before being destroyed.

5.10 Explaining Test & Assignment Marks
Marks on assessments should be explained or contextualized sufficiently to allow a student to interpret this feedback appropriately. (‘Assessment’ here will be used as the term for any student work that is marked – test, essay, lab or project.) In essence, students need to know where they stand in a course.

Marks are often thought to be self-explanatory; they seldom are. The challenge becomes clearer if one considers marks a form of short-hand, whereby the evaluation of a student’s insight into a problem, mastery of content, consideration of alternatives, clarity of thought, grace of expression, and rapidity of response is reduced to a two-digit number or a letter grade and handed back to the student. The significance of a 67% versus a 64% may be clear to an experienced marker, but not necessarily to a student – particularly a first-year student with limited experience of university marking.

If circumstances do not permit more individualized commentary on assessments, an instructor should provide some general information to the class: 

  • basic statistical information about the whole class’s performance, e.g. mean and/or median mark, and distribution across the ranges if the class is large enough to make it meaningful;
  • a verbal interpretation of the different zones on the scale;
  • a sense of whether the test or assignment was particularly challenging or basic;
  • a sense of which marks ranges indicate a student is in trouble or should seek help, or is doing particularly well.

Students appreciate such feedback on their marks, and explaining your marks clearly and fully will help you get the maximum benefit from the effort that went into the marking.

Note: if you return letter grades rather than numerical percentage marks on assignments, you should anticipate questions from students for more precise information, since they are usually continually calculating and projecting toward their final percentage course mark.

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5.11 Calibrating Raw Scores
A number of steps, some of them contentious, may make up the process of transforming raw scores into marks that are communicated to the student, and marks into the final course grade.

A score is the raw number of points a student earns on an assessment; a mark is the result when that score has been calibrated to take into account the difficulty or ease of the testing instrument or the variation of marking standards among different TAs. Calibration is a perfectly acceptable – indeed, a responsible – practice, since it is totally unreasonable to expect an instructor to design test after test at precisely the same level of difficulty, and TAs vary in their experience and judgement. Calibration is the corrective process to ensure fairness in marking.

Although it is a best practice to do some comparison marking when training TAs, it is probably unrealistic to do extensive trial marking of any given test to achieve a calibrated rubric before marking the whole batch. And so one usually does the calibration after-the-fact by taking into account past experience, the size of the sample and other relevant factors, and then uses this calibration to translate the raw scores into the marks students receive as feedback.

Calibration of test scores should be done fairly and equitably, and bear a justifiable relation to academic performance. Policy explicitly forbids manipulating marks to fit into a “normal curve” or any other prior expectation – in the language of the Policy: “academic assessment must not be predetermined by any system of quotas that specifies the number or percentage of grades allowable at any grade level. ”  (See also Section 10.4 below.)

However, this does not necessarily mean that calibration requires a linear manipulation (i.e. adding or multiplying by the same single number for all students). A test might have been too easy to allow the best students to demonstrate what they know, or too difficult for the competent students to demonstrate a basic grasp of the material. Calibrating to remedy this would be appropriate. (Further discussion of particular methodologies and some detailed examples are provided in Appendix B.)

Instructors are advised to keep in mind that the Grading Practices Policy requires them to explain the method of calibration to students upon request, and so the method chosen should be clear enough to be understandable by a student and academically justifiable, i.e. defensible in light of the nature of the test or assignment.

5.12 Collecting & Maintaining Assignment/Test Marks
Instructors are responsible for having in their possession at all times the most up-to-date version of term marks in their course. TAs may mark assignments and update a marks database, but the course instructor should keep the master copy throughout the course, and collect assignment marks from TAs as soon as they become available, not wait until the end of the course.
If you are using a grade book function on Blackboard, or some other database for your marks, you should make back-up copies regularly and keep them separate from the master copy to prevent disaster. The Blackboard team at the Teaching Technology Support office has instructions and a helpful Tip Sheet on these and other matters.

5.13 Adjusting Term Marks
Occasionally, one finds that the distribution of term marks is trending unexpectedly and unjustifiably high or low. Section 10 on Final Course Marks outlines the Faculty’s policy and practice for reviewing these, but some suggestions on best practice may help avoid problems at the end of the course:

  • To the extent possible, adjustments to marks should be done assignment-by-assignment rather than to the entire term mark at the end. As above, marks are most useful if they allow students to get an accurate reading on their progress in the course as they go along. Allowing low scores to go unadjusted until the end of the course may sap students’ morale, or lead some to drop the course on the mistaken understanding they are doing more poorly than they are. Allowing high scores to go unadjusted and then depressing them at the end of the course, or creating a ferocious exam to depress the marks, may cause students rightly to feel misled.
  • Leaving some portion of the course mark as a “overall assessment mark” (including, for example, participation) allows you to reflect students’ individual effort and engagement in the course. [See Section 4.2 on participation marks.]

In sum, regular feedback through marked work designed to reflect mastery of the course material, properly calibrated and adequately explained, is what students appreciate, and they indicate this – or its absence – year after year on their course evaluations.

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5.14 Requests to Re-mark Assignments & Term Tests
All instructors and TAs these days get many requests from students to re-mark assignments or tests. Be advised that assessment is an academic matter and so falls on one side of a clear divide separating different sorts of appeals:  petitions deal with appeals against rules and regulations and so go through the student’s college Registrar to the Faculty; appeals of marks are academic matters and so go first to the instructor and then up to the academic head of the unit, e.g. the UG Coordinator and Chair. Marks appeals are not a subject for petitions. (See 11.1 for a fuller discussion of the difference.)

Below is a full description of the various levels of an academic appeal as they relate to remarking requests. This process applies only to term work; appeals for re-reads of final examinations are handled directly by the Office of the Faculty Registrar.

Instructor Level

  • A student who believes an individual item of work has been incorrectly or unfairly marked may ask the person who marked it for a re-evaluation.
  • Students should make such requests as soon as reasonably possible after receiving the work back, but no later than two weeks after it was returned.
  • If a TA originally marked the work, the remarking request should go first to the TA and any appeal of that should go to the course instructor.
  • Such a request entails a remarking of the work. Hence, if a remarking is granted, the student must accept the resulting mark as the new mark, whether it goes up or down or remains the same. Continuing with the remark or the appeal means the student accepts this condition.
  • Instructors and TAs should ensure all communication with the student is in writing (e.g. follow-up email) and keep a copy for later reference.

Academic Unit  Level

  • If an instructor refuses to remark a piece of work, or if the student is not satisfied with the remarking that has been granted, he or she may appeal to the UG Coordinator  (e.g. Associate Chair) of the course’s sponsoring department or program.
  • An appeal of a mark beyond the instructor may only be made for an item worth at least 20% of the course mark.
  • Such appeals must be made in writing in a timely manner, and no later than two weeks after the work was returned, explaining why the student believes the mark was inappropriate, and summarizing all previous communications in the matter.
  • Again, the student must accept that the mark resulting from the appeal may be higher or lower or the same as the original mark.
  • In the appeal, the student must submit an explanation of the perceived problem, the original test answer sheet or the original copy of the essay and the assigned topic.
  • If the UG Coordinator believes a remarking is justified, then he or she will select an independent reader who will be given a clean, anonymous copy of the work. Without knowing the original assigned mark, and taking into account the context of the course for which it was submitted, the independent reader shall determine a mark for the work.
  • If the recommended mark differs substantially from the original mark, the UG coordinator shall determine a new mark, taking both marks into account.

Decanal Level

  • As with any academic matter, the final level of appeal is to the Dean’s Office. Appeals must already have been considered at the two previous levels, with the decision reviewed by the head of the academic unit, before they will be considered by the Dean’s Office.
  • Appeals must be submitted in writing, and include all previous correspondence, as soon as possible after the student receives the final response from the academic unit, but no later than two weeks after.
  • Appeals to the Dean’s Office about the marking of term work will be reviewed to ensure that appropriate procedures have been followed in earlier appeals, that the student has been treated fairly, and that the standards applied have been consistent with those applied to other students doing the assignment.
  • Any mark resulting from such an appeal will become the new mark, whether it is higher or lower or the same as the previous one.

The Faculty assumes that you or your TAs put your best academic judgement into your initial marking of an assignment or exam. However, the process is a human one and errors or oversights are possible, so you should be willing to correct them if they are shown to be legitimate. The Office of the Faculty Registrar will process a correction of a mistake in grading even if the course is over, as the Faculty is committed to ensuring that the student receives the appropriate mark. However, you should feel no need to respond to “pleas for more marks” or to importuning because a student needs a higher mark for some extraneous reason. You may simply respond that the student may undertake an appeal if he or she thinks there are substantive matters that have been missed in the marking.

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