Teaching at York

Course Outlines
[_su_accordion] Important reference websites:

Relevant Senate policies:

When is one required?
Every course needs a course outline (a.k.a. course syllabus) which establishes the course framework and more. Once finalized, it becomes a contractual agreement between the student and the university (with the Course Director as the university's agent).

  • The course outline is considered "final" on the self-enrollment deadline (some two weeks into term, this coming term on Jan 17, 2018) and therefore a final course outline needs to be made public before then (either on paper or online). Any change thereafter either requires written approval from all students or, absent this, must be beneficial for all students or not detrimental for any, so as to not elicit complaints. Paying early attention to the course outline can avoid problems later.
  • The "finality" means that if the course outline has no stated policy on some aspect or other, like a contract that doesn't cover an unexpected situation, it becomes difficult to find an agreeable resolution that places no one at a disadvantage. Any student placed at a disadvantage would win any petition for redress. It therefore behooves us to cover at least the predictable situations.
  • It also means that there should be no deviations from the details in the course outline that places any student at a disadvantage. Such changes would be successfully challenged.
  • Finally, it also means that exceptions should not be made for individual students if they do not also advantage the other students. Similarly, opportunities made available to one student should be made to all students. Some students may attempt to circumvent rules and game the system for their own advantage, without regard to actual fairness. It is therefore important that course policies be applied rigourously, but deviations therefrom should always be available on a discretionary basis for individual cases where there is demonstrable offense to natural justice and fairness.
  • What is the minimum required in a course outline?
  • A recent Senate requirement is to post a "tentative" course outline two weeks ahead of the start of term (i.e. very soon), although the details of what is needed in such tentative course outlines is nebulous and there seems to not be any policing of the requirement. Senate's rationale seems to be that such things help students "shop around" for courses. In thinking about what students care about, I would assume that a list of topics and a grading scheme (i.e. evaluation methods and the worth of each) would be minimal requirements for a "tentative" course outline, keeping in mind that all is subject to tweaking over some weeks.
  • The finalized course outline must include the very last section (entitled "IMPORTANT COURSE INFORMATION FOR STUDENTS") in the Course Outline template.
  • The course outline should list Learning Outcomes (what students passing this course will emerge with). Sometimes, these are formulated as Learning Objectives, but spelling out the outcomes from a student's point of view can help one design the course material. Unlike Learning Objectives, Learning Outcomes need to be purposefully assessed as part of the grading scheme and so can inform how evaluations (midterms, assignments, etc.) are structured, such that a mere pass in the course will mean that each Learning Outcome will have been achieved to some minimal degree.
  • Course Outlines are published on the departmental website but can evolve from year to year. The link to the current set of Course Outlines appears at the top of this section.
  • Course Learning Outcomes and assessment methods are useful in mapping out how our course materials serve to meet our Program Learning Outcomes, which represents what we want our graduates to have as they emerge into the world. This will include both transferable and marketable skills and less transferable but more specific skills.
    Such curriculum mapping needs to occur every 8 years as part of the Cyclical Program Reviews.
  • It is recommended that submission deadlines and midterm dates be spelled out in a course outline, at least as "tentative" dates. Midterms should specify what portion of the material will be tested.
  • When setting finalized submission deadlines, keep in mind that students often map out their work schedules in consideration of such deadlines as well as all of their other obligations. In the end, students would more readily accept an extension or a delay of a deadline than a deadline set for an earlier date.
  • Midterm dates should be planned out carefully in light of the pace of delivery of the course material. There are some issues that can arise when a midterm date is changed:
    • As with assignments, students often plan out their study and work schedule in light of academic and other obligations, including managing coincident deadlines or midterms on the same day. Moving a midterm to an earlier date or changing what the midterm will cover, especially on short notice, can make it very difficult to manage one's time. Moving a midterm to a later date can be more acceptable, except if the material covered by the midterm also changes.
    • Students with disabilities need 3 weeks' notice to book their testing session with the Alternate Exam Centre.
    • Students experiencing a conflict with a religious obligation need 14 days' notice to file a request for accommodation.
    • If your classroom is not big enough to accommodate seating all your students with empty seats between all of them, then it would be wise to book a second room at the same time to accommodate some of your students (you can likely recruit an additional invigilator for this), but such room bookings become more difficult over time, so that such requests for additional rooms should be placed as early as possible, and changes to the dates later on may make it less possible to find a second room.
    • As noted above, midterms can be scheduled on weekends so as to be able to access more rooms or larger rooms. Friday evening or Saturday scheduling is often considered as an alternative, except that it will exclude certain religiously observant students.
  • Some restrictions on grade items
    As can be gleaned from the Senate policies (see above links),

  • At least 15% of the final grade (and constructive feedback - not just marks!) must be known to students by the drop deadline (occurring about 2/3 into term, this Winter by Mar 9). (Exceptions apply to CHEM 4000 and 4300 where the entire mark is determined at the end.) Insufficient feedback is valid grounds for a petition to withdraw late. What is important is that each student have the opportunity for such feedback, so students who do not avail themselves of the opportunity (e.g. by missing midterms) have no grounds to complain.
    On the other hand, those students who, for reasons of illness, are prevented from availing themselves of an important grade item can find themselves at some disadvantage at the drop deadline. One way to address this is to build in more than one grade item before the drop deadline. Otherwise, students in such situations have the opportunity to petition to have a course dropped after the drop deadline on the grounds that they had too little opportunity for feedback by the drop deadline.
  • No term assessment (e.g. test or assignment) can be worth more than 20% of the final grade if scheduled (or whose deadline falls) within the last two weeks of term (this Winter, after March 23, 2017). This also means that no final exams worth more than 20% can be scheduled then. Final exams are scheduled separately, after the last day of classes.
  • All term work must be complete by the last day of classes (Apr 5 this Winter). This means that all submission deadlines must occur before Apr 6. Work-arounds include establishing Apr 5 as the deadline but according blanket extensions without publishing such extensions on the course outline. This affects lab work and assignments, for instance.
  • Course Policies that should be included
    It is always wise to establish certain course policies, for instance with regard to deadlines or missed obligations, to include them in the course outline and to stick to them. Developing a new policy in the face of an unexpected situation after the course outline becomes final must uphold fairness and academic integrity.

  • Policies regarding late submissions of assignments or lab reports should specify what exactly the penalty will be.
  • Policies regarding missed midterms (or other graded items held in class) or of missed submission deadlines should clearly spell out what will happen in consequence. This can include make-up midterms (for verifiably documented justifications of an absence), extensions of deadlines or can involve shifting the grade value of the missed grade item forward (e.g. to the final exam).* Whatever the policy, it needs to be spelled out in the course outline and applied without deviation. If you ask for doctor's notes from absentees, they should be Attending Physician Statements, abbreviated APS. Other documentation might include death certificates, accident reports, etc. to be considered with discretion. Do check Attending Physician Statements for authenticity as students have been known to falsify them or to buy them off the internet. Use discretion to decide on whether to accept or not the medical/psychological grounds presented but you are not allowed to delve to any depth into a student's health condition or history in order to assess the validity of a claim. It is recommended, however, that you establish a reasonable deadline (e.g. 2-3 days) by which such documents can be submitted for dispensation.
  • Religious obligations are another set of reasons for missing deadlines or midterms. The law provides for accommodations on that basis and disallows us from challenging or probing their veracity. Affected students are required to formally request accommodation through a duly filled-out form within a certain published deadline ahead of an academic obligation. This is only useful if there is a remedy made available, for instance through a make-up midterm, or if justification is to be provided for the missed obligation. This enhances our need to pay attention to the principal religiously important days and to avoid scheduling grade items on those days. The university posts a list of religiously significant days (Religious Accommodations & Significant Dates) but the most frequently cited are Eid and, for large courses especially, Rosh Hoshanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Purim and Passover.
  • Note that midterms can be scheduled outside of scheduled meeting times, e.g. on weekends when conflicts with other courses are highly unlikely, if that avoids conflicts with religiously significant dates.
  • Disabilities of all kinds can show up and we are not allowed to challenge, question or delve into the details of a student's condition. In order to be eligible for accommodation, students are required to be registered with the Office for Students with Disabilities and to produce a letter from the OSD to each course director at the start of term detailing the accommodations to which they are entitled. Most often, this speaks to accommodations during testing, which is done through the Alternate Exam Centre, and does not affect our practice, but occasionally requires an extension of a submission deadline. Negotiations of such details of such accommodations need to keep academic integrity and fairness in mind, and should always involve the student's counselor from the OSD.
  • All course outlines should probably specify what will happen when academic honesty violations occur, even though that information can be gleaned from other places. It is highly recommended that all instances of academic dishonesty be reported to the UPD for action and not be handled privately (except with the UPD's agreement). Contact with a suspect student on a serious issue is not recommended. The student will almost always minimize the offense and seek minimal consequence. Putting the matter in the UPD's hands means that the Course Director needs not negotiate with the student or be subject to their influence (or even converse with the student about it), that the outcomes will be in accord with Faculty-wide practice (and thus fairer overall), and that future violations will be treated in light of previous violations, if any, whence penalties will scale in severity (handling things privately cannot accomplish this scaling).
  • * Backward value shifts may be detrimental to some students who did poorly in past grade items. It is probably best to use only forward shifts but, if backward shifts are contemplated, it is best to offer whichever shift direction is most advantageous to each student, individually calculated.

    Recommended Practice
    To come.