SECTION 1. COURSE SYLLABUS
This section is intended to offer you guidance as you create a syllabus for your course. It contains 3 sorts of items that are relevant to syllabi:
- those specifically required by University or Faculty policy,
- those that your students will consider necessary or helpful, and
- many you may find useful in shaping your students’ expectations and behaviour.
What follows is a sample set of syllabus headings, sorted into broad clusters for your convenience, with the required headings marked as such with (*R*). Following each is a brief discussion and sometimes bits of suggested or required text, with links to spots later in the Handbook where the topic receives a fuller discussion. In the online version we have included a few sample syllabi for illustration. The topics to be included – other than the required ones – and their order are of course yours to decide, as the Faculty recognizes that individual syllabi vary widely by instructor and course. You might also find helpful a CTSI resource on the designing the syllabus.
The course syllabus has two dimensions: (i) it is essentially your “contract” with your students for the requirements in your course; (ii) it is the best place to put useful course-related information as the syllabus must be distributed in class and/or posted on your course website.
You are required to include in your syllabus anything that contributes to the student’s mark, e.g. the marking scheme, and any policy or rule that affects the mark, such as late penalties. A great deal is left to your academic judgement. A few Faculty policies define limits to what you can require of students, as will be explained below, but students generally know they must abide by what you put in your syllabus, and so you are advised to make full use of the syllabus as part of course management. Note that strict policies specify the rules for making changes to certain syllabus elements after the course begins (see Section 5.2).
A copy of your marking scheme must be deposited with the UG Administrator of your academic unit by the first day of classes. Your marking scheme must include all major assessments, their percentage weight in the course mark, their method (test, essay, etc.) and their timing in the course. You must make your syllabus readily available to students, either by posting it on your course website, or by distributing a copy to students in the first or second class in the course. You should also draw attention to its major elements as you introduce your course.
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SECTION 2. DESIGNING YOUR SYLLABUS
High-level Course Overview
2.1 Calendar Course Information
It may seem too obvious to mention but you should include the Calendar and Timetable basics on your syllabus, including your name. You would be surprised how many students cannot remember the course number or instructor’s name to write on their final exam script.
2.2 Course Objectives
Best practice recommends that you articulate the pedagogical objectives you have for your course, e.g. what learning outcomes you expect from your students by the end. Your objectives may seem quite clear to you or be seen as patently obvious by those in your discipline, but students are often very unclear about these things. Explicitly stated learning objectives may serve as a reference point throughout the course, allowing students to track their progress toward your destination.
2.3 Tutorial Objectives
Tutorials are worthy of separate mention in this regard. If tutorials are a part of your course, best practice recommends you be specific about their pedagogical purpose within the course. Both students and TAs have mentioned this as often lacking in their experience. Tutorials are discussed in more detail below in Section 5.3 but you should consider articulating:
- the overall purpose of tutorials in the course,
- your expectations about student attendance, preparation, participation, etc.,
- the intended role of the TA in the course.
Basic Logistical Information
2.4 Course Contact Information (*R*)
Your contact information should be given in conjunction with an explanation in class about your expectations regarding communicating with you. If you do not want to receive phone calls about late assignments etc., you should not include your number. If you expect communication to be done through TAs or only through email, make that clear.
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2.5 Office Hours (*R*)
All instructors are required to hold office hours throughout the term. The number and distribution of these hours are not specified in policy; however, they should be arranged to facilitate interaction with students. Best practices point to a minimum of 2-3 hours per week. You should keep in mind that many students have work or family obligations off-campus and so may be most available in hours adjacent to the class hours.
2.6 Blackboard Information
Students are generally used to using Blackboard in courses, and so you should make your course page available if you are using one and explain what they should expect to find there and what use you expect them to make of it.
2.7 Relevant Dates
You will find the Faculty’s sessional dates in the Calendar and you would be well advised to include on your syllabus those that impinge on your course.
Assignments & Assessment
2.8 Marking Scheme (*R*)
You must provide your course marking scheme to your department by completing the Course Marking Scheme Form and submitting it to the UG Administrator in your unit at the start of your course. On this form, you must itemize:
- each assignment or test that is to be marked
- its weight in the final course grade,
- its due date or the timing of each assessment,
- as well as whether the course will have a final exam in the Final Examination Period.
You must communicate this to students in your course at the start of the course, preferably no later than the end of the first week of classes and absolutely no later than the last date to add courses. Once the last date to add courses passes, strict policies govern when and how you may change this marking scheme (see Section 5.2).
2.9 Modes & Number of Assessments
University policy states, and good pedagogy suggests, that student performance “be assessed on more than one occasion. No one essay, test, examination, etc. should have a value of more than 80% of the grade.” This refers to what you indicate as the “normal” marking scheme for all students in the course; it does not restrict accommodations you may make for individual students who have circumstances that in your judgement justify an exception. (More about that in Sections 7 & 8.) Note that independent study or project courses are included under this rule: some piece of work other than the main project must be marked and returned by the deadline (see below Section 2.11).
2.10 Assignment Due Dates (*R*)
Term work deadlines should be within term and not normally extended into the Final Examination Period. A clear separation of term work from exam preparation allows students to best manage their time and their work. You are permitted to grant informal extensions into the Final Examination Period (see Section 8.3), but you should set your initial or published deadlines within the term.
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2.11 Assignment Weights & Return Dates – Faculty Rules (*R*)
University policy dictates that instructors must return “at least one piece of marked term work before the last date to drop the course,” normally about 3/4 of the way through the course. F courses, in early November; Y courses, in February before Reading Week; S courses, in early March.
- Faculty policy makes this requirement more specific:
- Instructors shall return by the deadline one or more marked assignments worth a combined total of at least 10% of the total course mark for H courses and 20% for Y courses.
- The deadline for returning such marked work shall be the last regularly-scheduled class meeting prior to the Drop Date, with one exception: for courses that run the entire Fall/Winter Session (Y1Y or H1Y courses), the deadline shall be the last regularly-scheduled class meeting of the first week of classes in January.
This is a very strict requirement with no exceptions. If some extraordinary circumstance prevents you from meeting this deadline for your whole class or a significant part of it, you should notify your UG Administrator immediately. In such cases, the students are normally allowed to drop the course after they have received back the marked work, even if it is beyond the deadline. This is not the case, however, for an extension beyond the deadline you grant to a individual student based on the student’s request or exceptional circumstances. In such cases you are not obliged to meet the deadline.
2.12 Term Test Dates – Faculty Rules (*R*)
Term tests must be scheduled within the term, between the first and last day of classes. No term test (i.e. constituting an element of the term mark and administered by the instructor or TAs) may be scheduled in the Final Examination Period, nor in the November Break, Reading Week or the Study Period after the end of classes and before the beginning of the Examination Period.
The one exception to this rule is for Y courses in the Fall/Winter session: such courses may schedule a term test in the December Examination Period. UG Administrators should contact the Faculty Registrar’s Exams Office to have such a test included in the December Exam Schedule.
No term test or combination of term tests having a value greater than 25% of the final mark may be held in the final two weeks of classes at the end of any session - Fall, Winter, or Summer. This includes "take-home tests" and assignments where the topics or questions are both assigned and due within the last two weeks of classes. Note this regulation is a strict rule and is not negotiable with your class
It is certainly permissible –even normal– to collect an assignment worth more than 25% in the last 2 weeks of term, provided it was assigned before the final 2 weeks. This allows the student to manage his or her time in that intense period. However, a test, take-home test or essay that is due in that 2-week period where the question or topic is assigned or revealed to students within the last 2 weeks is unfair to the student and to other instructors, since it necessarily commandeers an unacceptable amount of the student’s time in that critical period with no possibility for the student to manage in advance the competing elements of his or her workload.
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2.13 Final Examinations (*R*)
The Grading Practices Policy states that normally “in all courses that meet regularly as a class there shall be a final examination held under divisional auspices.” The policy allows for divisional implementation, and the Faculty implements it as follows:
- All 100-series courses (except 199Y courses) must have a Faculty-run final examination, and that examination must carry a weight of at least 1/3 and not more than 2/3 of the final mark.
- Courses at the 200 level normally have final examinations.
- Courses at the 300/400 level often have final examinations, but many units have decided that this is not necessary or appropriate for some of these courses.
Requests for 100-series exemptions are made through the academic unit to the Dean’s Office via the Faculty Registrar; requests for exemptions in 200-level courses are made in the academic unit; normally decisions about 300/400-series courses are left to the instructor. Consult your UG Coordinator on local practices and expectations for exams in courses beyond the 100 level.
The weighting of final exams in 200+series courses is a pedagogical matter for the instructor to decide; however, instructors are asked to consider whether a Faculty final exam with a very small weight is worth the cost of administering it.
For scheduling reasons, all Faculty final exams must be either 2 or 3 hours in duration.
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2.14 Assignment Submission Policy
If you have specific directives for your class about how they should submit assignments (e.g. electronically, in person, at the departmental office), you should spell those out clearly in your syllabus. Many departments have a protocol for students submitting assignments at the departmental office, and you should take those into account.
If you intend to use turnitin.com as your method for receiving written assignments, you must inform students of this at the beginning of your course. You must also inform them that use of turnitin.com is voluntary, and provide alternate means of submitting assignments should a student not wish to use turnitin.com. If you use this tool, you must include the following text in your syllabus along with your instructions: (*R*)
Turnitin.com “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”.
For more on turnitin.com, see Section 5.8.
2.16 Late Penalty Policy
If you intend to accept and apply penalties to late assignments, you must spell out the rules in your syllabus, such as: whether or not you require prior notification of impending lateness; the penalty that will be applied per unit of time; maximum possible penalty; ultimate deadline when work will no longer be accepted; documentation required, if relevant; etc. Late penalty policies vary widely among instructors, given the diversity of subjects and modes of assessment. Your UG Coordinator can offer advice if you have questions. In general, you are advised not to be overly generous or vague at the outset, as it is more difficult to tighten up later than to grow more generous. (Also see Section 8.1 regarding legitimate absence or lateness and Section 7.3 on documentation.)
2.17 Missed Test Policy
Rules and guidelines surrounding this issue are treated more extensively below under Section 7. Again, you have great latitude in designing a policy that will work in the context of your course (within the limits specified below), but any policy works best if it is stated clearly from the outset and applied fairly and consistently.
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2.18 Re-Marking Policy
The Faculty makes available to you helpful limits on requests for re-marking (see Section 5.14). With these in mind, you may wish to lay down your re-marking procedures and set the expectations for your students in order to head off frivolous or blanket requests that you or your TAs re-mark assignments that have presumably already received your best attention.
2.19 Accommodations for Disability
A full section below is given over to accommodations for students with disabilities (Section 13). In your syllabus, you can signal that you recognize the need for such accommodations and point out the University’s requirement that students register with Accessibility Services in order to receive such accommodations. You may wish to include this text, provided by Accessibility Services:
Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or Accessibility Services at (416) 978 8060; accessibility.utoronto.ca
If approached, you should definitely refer the student to Accessibility Services and indicate that you will work with the Service on any needed accommodation.
Course Management & Expectations2.20 Online Communication Policy
If you are using Blackboard or a course website as your primary “official” vehicle to communicate with your students, you should specify that students are responsible for checking it regularly. For students, the University has a policy requiring that they have a UofT email address and check it regularly, as it is the only address to which official University business will be sent.
The Faculty does not specify that instructors have any particular email policy for their courses. However, if you do have a policy, you should communicate it clearly. It is also wise to set expectations for students at the outset so they can govern their communication with you or your TAs accordingly. For example, you should indicate when you will and will not respond to email (on weekends, just before class, etc.), how long students should expect to wait for a response (24 hours, 2 days, etc.), what you will and will not discuss by email (subject content reserved for office hours and lecture, non-course business, marking appeals to be sent to TAs, etc.), and any protocols that will help you sort your email (course number in subject line, e.g. CSC323H).
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2.21 Academic Integrity Message
You are advised to put text into your syllabus regarding plagiarism and inappropriate collaboration, giving enough detail to guide students’ behaviour rather than simply alluding to the terms on the assumption students will know what they mean in the context of your course. Students often plead ignorance, which is more easily countered if the rules and expectations are clearly spelled out in your syllabus. (See section 12 for more on this, and Appendix A for sample syllabus language.)
Detailed Course Business
2.22 Course Business, Required Texts, Weekly Readings etc.
Needless to say, the syllabus is the appropriate place to outline in as much detail as you think useful what students should be doing each week to prepare for or follow up from class.
SECTION 3. ENROLMENT IN COURSES
3.1 Enrolment in Your Course
Enrolment in FAS courses is a registrarial matter and not generally within the control of instructors. It is handled electronically via ROSI/ACORN through a system of priorities and Wait Lists. Eligibility, checking of pre-requisites, required permissions, etc. are handled electronically and by staff in academic units. Students are not enrolled in a course unless they are enrolled on ROSI/ACORN, so you should not tell students they are enrolled in your course if they are not enrolled in ROSI/ACORN.
After the enrollment deadline, late enrollment in courses may be granted on a case-by-case basis at the department/instructor's discretion. If space permits, you may request late enrollment on behalf of a student through the UG Administrator in your department.
You must not mark assignments or tests for students who are not officially enrolled in your course. Your best response to inquiries or questions is to direct the student to ROSI, to your UG Administrator, or to their College Registrar.
Note: A student may have enrolled on ROSI in your course after your copy of your class list was printed; your Blackboard class list does not have a live connection to ROSI and so a lag may occur before your list is updated. Note also that adding students to your Blackboard class list does not enrol them or guarantee enrolment. Have the student enrol through ROSI and have ROSI update your Blackboard class list.
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3.2 Pre-requisite/Co-requisite/Exclusion Waivers
Departments have differing practices regarding enforcing pre- or co-requisites. Unless your unit has explicitly given you permission to deal with these for your course, you should not do anything that would appear to be a waiver. If relevant, you can make a recommendation to your UG Administrator about an individual student, but leave the waiver to the department. This also applies to participation in a course when the student has an outstanding deferred exam in the pre-requisite course. Refer the student to your UG Administrator.
Exclusions are a different matter, and are completely outside an instructor’s jurisdiction. (One course is an “exclusion” for another if the two overlap in content such that the second would be “repeated work,” and hence the excluded course is ineligible for degree credit.) Exclusions are identified by an academic unit but enforced by the Faculty Registrar, and so they are out of an instructor’s jurisdiction. Erroneous information to a student on this issue could result in a completed course later being denied degree credit, even well after it was completed. Refer the student to your UG Administrator.
3.3 Changing Courses
Students have a brief interval at the beginning of the course when they may still add a course that is underway, provided there is space available. The Faculty’s processes are set up to allow you to begin teaching in earnest right from the beginning of the course, and you should expect students who join the course in that brief interval to catch up on what they have missed.
Should a student petition and be granted late entry into your course for legitimate reasons, it is the student’s responsibility to discuss arrangements for catching up on missed material or assignments. You will likely have been consulted about the advisability of such a late add by your UG Administrator.
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3.4 Dropping Courses
This section is for your general information, to explain some student behaviour you may observe. Students may cancel their enrolment in a course “without academic penalty” in a number of ways, depending on the timing. This is normal practice in the Faculty and should cause you no special concern.
- Cancel: Students may cancel a course on ROSI and have it disappear from their academic history up to the “Drop Date,” a deadline that is roughly 3/4 of the way through the course. The Drop Dates are listed in the Calendar.
- LWD (Late Withdrawal): Students may withdraw from a course after the normal drop date under certain circumstances. The Faculty has a policy that allows students to LWD up to 3.0 credits in their degree, provided they do so by the last day of term. Their enrolment in the course ends, but a notation of LWD goes on their academic record showing they were enrolled at one point. In order to drop a course this way, students must consult their College Registrar and explain their situation. LWD is meant to allow students to re-group, learn from their mistakes, and proceed immediately to salvage what is left of a term. You may find that some students disappear from your final marks sheet or your Blackboard class list when you are trying to enter their final mark. This may be the explanation.
- WDR (Petitioned Withdrawal): After the LWD deadline, or after the Drop Date if they have used up their 3.0 LWDs, students must petition to have a course dropped from their record. If they have legitimate reasons and the petition is granted, a WDR will appear on their record. You may be consulted about their term work as the Faculty responds to the petition, and so it is best to keep your marks records clear and up-to-date so the information will be easily available to your UG Administrator.
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Students have advising staff available to them with whom they can discuss these decisions. Each student belongs to a college, and the College Registrarial staff provide them with holistic advising that looks at their entire situation. If students have questions or are undecided about whether or not they should drop your course, feel free to advise them about their situation in your specific course. But a student’s College Registrar is his or her “first stop for reliable advice,” especially if their circumstances affect more than just your course.
3.5 Repeating Courses
Although there are some specific exceptions, the general rule in the Faculty is that students may not repeat courses in which they have already achieved a passing mark. If a student approaches you about this, refer them to their College Registrar.
3.6 Auditing Courses
The University and the Faculty have delegated rules and restrictions about auditing courses to the academic units. Some departments have strict policies about this; others leave it to the instructor’s discretion. If a student asks to audit, i.e. sit through the course without enrolling for credit and a final mark, you should not agree to this before clarifying your department’s policy on this. Some units forbid it entirely; others charge a fee if the student wants some documentation of a completed audit.
To be clear, there will be no notation on a transcript to recognize auditing. If the auditor wants documentation of a completed audit, then the student must speak to the UG Administrator in the academic unit sponsoring the course: the department may issue a letter and collect a fee equivalent to tuition for the privilege of a documented audit. In general, if you agree to allow an auditor, you should make clear what the expectations and limits are: Are they permitted to sit in and listen only? Allowed or expected to participate in discussion? to submit assignments and write tests that will be marked? Some instructors do not mind an additional listener in a lecture course if there is space, but few allow more participation than that.
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By my second year at UofT, I had figured out that there is a problematic phenomenon in our educational system known as "weed-out courses". Weed-out courses are challenging courses, but there is something about them that makes them not just hard, but unfair-something that makes a plethora of otherwise gifted students doubt themselves as they take them. Weed-out courses are not just challenging to individual students, but rather are built around and/or into an anti-student structure. In other words, the unfairness of weed-out courses is inherent to their design.
A recurring definition of a weed-out course, and the one I was most familiar with from my own experience, is a course that uses tests that expect students to know far more than they are taught in class. In the survey, students identified additional qualities of weed-out courses that can exacerbate the problem of unfair tests. Firstly, many weed-out courses are huge first and second year classes, and thus are not particularly conducive for learning. Secondly, a number of weed-out courses require a disproportionate amount of work to do well (compared to courses at the same or even higher level at UofT). Thirdly, some weed-out courses use all or nothing marking schemes (i.e. marking schemes where questions are given full marks or zero). If all these qualities are found in a single weed-out course, a student may find themselves studying for days on end, yet they may still rack up zeroes or very low marks on evaluations.
Another problem students faced in weed-out courses was the feeling that they were taught theories but were expected to do application style questions on the tests. In essay-based subjects, such as the humanities and social sciences, marking schemes in weed-out courses may prove less extreme. However, students still noted the struggle of not just having to write correct information, but having to predict the arbitrary whims of how their evaluator would want to see that information.
A number of students expressed concern about their courses aiming to fit preconceived mark distributions (bell curve/normal distribution), arguing that this made their courses inherently unfair. Students should be aware that the faculty of Arts and Science does not require that courses adhere to fit a given mark distribution, so students should feel confident in challenging their instructors and departments on this issue. This point, I would argue, gets to the heart of the problem of weed-out courses. The fact that many UofT students feel they are being weeded out suggests that the existence of weed-out courses is no accident. Perhaps as a response to government underfunding, UofT departments have seemingly committed to a teaching model where students are processed and used to fill mark quotas at the cost of being educated.
The following list contains courses that students described in a survey as weed-outs. I have included every well explained and relevant answer to the survey, so it should not be assumed that I or my colleagues necessarily feel that all of these courses are weed-outs.
Finally, it should be noted that some of the courses listed below as weed-outs are also listed in this guide as recommended courses. I can say from experience that some courses do indeed display qualities of weed-out and are also enjoyable courses (BIO120 and PSY100, in my opinion, could be, and are presented as both). In other cases, courses may be pure weed-outs. Regardless of whether everyone agrees with every course’s inclusion on this list, I hope it will help students struggling in these courses know that they are not alone, help instructors think about their teaching approaches and show administrators that students are not happy with the state of their education.
A Guide to Unfair Course at UofT
The following is an alphabetical list of courses that students have listed as “weed-outs” as of March 2nd 2014
“I felt that these courses try to manipulate student's average and don't have the consistency in testing the student's knowledge. Also, most of them, if not all, failed to provide sufficient practice or material that prepares us adequately to do well on tests/exams.”
-A student’s description of BIO120, CHM138, CHM139, PHY131, PHY132, PSL300, BCH210, and HMB265.
ANT100 - One student gave the following account of this course: “This was the lowest mark I have ever gotten in a university course (66). I have spoken to others who have taken the course and many of them also feel it was unnecessarily difficult, certainly a 'weed-out' course. The exams, for example, (all multiple choice) often included vaguely/confusingly worded questions and sometimes referenced material that was only discussed momentarily in lecture. On the essay, which was divided, we were marked on a proposal, draft, and final essay. It was very difficult for me…[My TA’s] feedback didn't help me understand what I could do better, and when I went to see him to discuss it he seemed dismissive and annoyed that I didn't understand what I was doing wrong. As a first year, I was very confused and intimidated by this. Going into the course not knowing much about what anthropology was and just wanting to learn about something new, progressively over the year I lost more and more motivation to go to class and study for exams, and ended the year not understanding much more than I did when I came in, and wanted nothing more to do with anthropology again (finally I gave it another chance in the summer between second and third years and ended up majoring in archaeology, which I have done quite well in).”
BCH210 - Three students reported BCH210 as a weed-out course. They claimed that they felt results in this course were manipulated. The first midterm produced a high class average, and the second one was written to counterbalance this. A student described this experience as “extremely disheartening for students” and said BCH210 was not the only course in which they felt their capacity to get good grades was intentionally manipulated.
BIO120 - Six respondents presented BIO120 as a weed-out course. One student described the large class size as demoralizing leading them to switch to psychology from biology after first year. Another individual claimed BIO120 (along with CHM138 and ECO100) tests ask “ambiguous questions to kill the class average.” Yet another respondent felt they didn’t get out of BIO120 what they expected arguing: “BIO120 was supposed to be the science course for unscience-y life sci students… except it wasn't. Not only was the material tedious, involving calculus…but the exams were not an accurate representation of what we were learning AT ALL.” Finally, one student suggested that BIO120 (along with MAT135 and CHM139) focuses on teaching theory, but then expects students to be able to apply that theory in test situations.
BIO130 - As mentioned above, BIO130 is one of a number of courses that a respondent suggested is structured to produce a certain mark distribution.
BIO230 - Like BIO130, BIO230 was reported to us as a course that may be structured to achieve a certain mark distribution. A respondent has also suggested that BIO230 tests may ask questions about seemingly minute details from the course (points mentioned only in passing in tiny font on the slides). The student added that BIO230’s multiple-choice test format meant that even though they learned most or all of what they were supposed to understand from lectures, they could not get any credit for what they did know as many multiple choice questions had multiple reasonable answers (from the perspective of an undergraduate with no specific knowledge in molecular biology).
BIO260 - A respondent claimed “the class median [I suspect for a particular evaluation] was 35%.”
CHM138 - Thus far 10 respondents have described CHM138 as a weed-out course, with one suggesting that CHM138/39 alone requires 15-25 hours of work/week . Another student described the course as very recognizably following a weed-out model citing the class’s size and the large discrepancy between the seemingly easy lecture material and unpredictable and overwhelming test questions.
CHM139 - Thus far 10 respondents have described CHM139 as a weed-out course. One student described CHM139’s model as “ideal for demoralizing students who are not completely dedicated.” Another student complained that they took CHM139 in the second term of their third year and found it took up far more of their time (and they got a far lower mark in it) than in any of their upper year courses. Seeing as chemistry is a requirement for a number of life science degrees, it is not reasonable to expect the majority of CHM139 students to be overwhelmingly dedicated to this particular class. Another student who was critical of CHM138, singled out CHM139 as particularly problematic arguing “if you are told that the last 8 years have had a first test average of 50%, you are telling… some of the brightest students in the world that they will not do well.” Another student added, “Regardless of how many hours I put into studying, the questions on the exam would be absolutely ridiculous. The professor told us on the first day that half of us will probably fail the course. [Also]… there were three different professors in one term so they couldn't possibly know the students and my TA was unbelievably incompetent.” CHM139, as a survey course, covers a great range of subjects, many of which students may never see again. Therefore, a respondent found that simply studying over course material once took up an overwhelming amount of time, making true practice impossible.
CSB349 - A respondent cautioned that CSB349 contains a huge volume of incredibly complex material and also found the tutorials to be particularly difficult.
ECO100 - A student suggested that ECO100 had a 67% mandatory bell curve and that students marks on tests were influenced by group performance. The student claimed that their mark was pulled down to reflect the performance of their class section. Another student expressed concern about what they described as “considerable heterogeny” between the course’s sections making it hard for students to evaluate whether they could handle the course.
ECO105 - A student described struggling to find help on the courses written assignment as the TAs did not know how to provide guidance and the professor was condescending and unhelpful. The student further argued that multiple choice questions in the class emphasized what seemed like trivial details as opposed to broader course content.
ECO204 - A student suggested that the class’ instructor(s) failed to address student concerns while the class was ongoing, citing a November midterm that was not handed back until late January.
GGR270 - The student who reported this course said the following: “Although the course itself was taught very well and the midterm and assignments were fairly easy, it became a "weed-out" course when the final exam came. This course is required for the majority of geography, architecture, archeology, and geology majors. The final exam was set up so that a majority of the questions could not be answered by students and had no relation to examples of material done in class or tutorial. From speaking to my peers after the exam, [I found that] most people were unable to answer more than half of the exam questions, resulting in an extreme curve on the exam and a drop in marks.”
HIS295 - A student described their professor in this class as condescending and complained that an unreasonable level of background knowledge was expected, despite the course not having pre-requisites.
HMB265 - One student suggested, as seen above, that this course seems structured to get a pre-determined mark distribution. Another complained about the quality of teaching in the second half of the course.
MAT135 - Nine respondents listed MAT135 as a weed-out course. One said, “imagine you're being taught a fifth grade syllabus and you end up having to answer A-level questions… Another student complained about how only one of the course’s professors writes the exam, putting students taught by a different instructor at a disadvantage. Another added “The class average was a D+ ... The blame was put on the students for not trying hard enough… There was a TA teaching the course, and we had no ability to discuss material with an actual professor.” Yet another complained that the last questions on tests are written so “only math geniuses and people who pay extra for those TLS/etc. seminars really even have a shot at it” adding that all of the lecturers, including those who are considered relatively strong are difficult to understand and spend much of the lecture time going over “trivial examples.” That student added, however, that there is a difference between “off” (taught by grad students-MAT135 second semester, and MAT136 in 1st semester) and “on” (taught by faculty) versions of the course, arguing that off versions are both more fair and more enjoyable.
MAT136 - Five students reported MAT136 as a weed-out course, citing similar concerns to those expressed about MAT135 - One respondent claimed MAT136 had test questions worth 8% designed not to be solved by 80% of test takers. Another complained that the final exam was weighted too heavily (65%).
MAT137 - Three students reported MAT137 as a weed-out course. One student cited the futility of the help they asked for in improving their grades. Another complained that about a third of their test marks come from “all or nothing questions”.
POL100 - A student repeatedly found the mark they got in this course to be inconsistent with the feedback their TA gave them, making them feel they were marked arbitrarily.
POL200 - A student repeatedly found the mark they got in this course to be inconsistent with the feedback their TA gave them, making them feel they were marked arbitrarily.
POL214 - A student found the grading in this course looked for details in student work that students couldn’t possibly know to include without better instructions. The student suggested miscommunication between the TA and professor may have caused/exacerbated this problem.
PSL300 - A student expressed concern about how heavily the exam is weighted in this course, as well as with the density of the course’s material.
PSY100 - A student reported getting a 50% on the midterm for the course despite having an overall GPA of 3.5. They described studying hard but still not having enough time to absorb all of the course material. They expressed concern about how the tests were purely multiple-choice–based and how the professor gave little indication on what to study. This may be what another student was referring to when they described the course as being subjectively marked.
VIS120 - A student described the challenge of this course as follows: “The course is rigorous and unrelenting and is comprised of exams that require its students to memorize about 300 slides of art per test. This means memorizing the piece, its creator, the date it was created, and what movement it belongs to. It is unfair for students that entered the program that mainly want to draw, paint, etc. and may not excel in testing/writing papers; something the course heavily relies on… The way the course is set up just force feeds information to us. We do not really focus on the concepts of the art but just the useless facts. The worst part is that because it is a prerequisite, if you do not get a B or higher, you cannot move onto the next prerequisite course (Visual Strategies), and therefore cannot proceed in Visual Studies as a program at all.” The student argues this is an unfair/weed-out course due to it being a requirement for higher-level courses in visual art, yet challenging students with material that is not related to their artistic abilities.
List of Recommended Courses
Students suggested a number of ways in which they would like to see their courses improve at UofT. Students would like to see better co-ordination between TAs and professors, more hours in which students can reach TAs, better usage of examples in lectures, courses that do not have disproportionate work compared to others (a problem which one respondent claims currently plagues math courses), tests that are in line with what they are taught in class and transparency about what is expected from them (eg. through rubrics) in essay-based courses. Respondents also suggested that their be more coordination in planning co-requisite courses (one suggested that they should be at similar times to accommodate long distance commuters, while another suggested they should make an effort not to clump deadlines together, so as not to overburden students). A number of students expressed concern about what they perceived as policies that encouraged courses getting certain mark distributions. One student explained “I just don't see the need to purposely try and make students fail in order for the average to be low. Shouldn't a higher average mean that the students are all smart and understand the material, instead of a 60 average, where in all likelihood most people failed the test or barely passed, while a small minority score above 80 percent”. Another student called for non-test heavy curriculums explaining “When I feel like I'm going to class for months just so I can pass a single test, life becomes monotonous. Personally, I like classes that have a variety of areas to receive marks in [albeit nothing worth a really low percentage]. I really like when classes have one really early semester test…[worth] maybe 10%. That gives people an idea of what the prof is looking for, and if they need to start paying more attention,”
That all said, students recommended the following courses. Courses with an asterisk next to them are were also reported to us as weed-out courses.
ANT204 -Two respondents recommended ANT204, with one arguing it should be a breath requirement for all arts and science students.
APS301/302 - A respondent recommended this course because of Professor William Vanderburg’s style of teaching, which apparently includes regularly checking with students to see if they understand material and requesting student input. Course tests were described as accurately representing what students were taught, as well as including good application questions. Finally, the course was praised for providing real world examples of the material that the respondent found helpful.
*BIO120 - While BIO120 was described by a number of respondents as a weed-out course, one respondent recommended it, describing it as fair and suggesting a lot of help is available. The respondent also suggests the environment in BIO120 is not competitive, so students should not worry about comparing marks. Another respondent suggested that while BIO120 is a huge class with weed-out-worthy test questions, it is not nearly as overwhelming as other big science classes, and the lectures and readings can be interesting for students who do see themselves as science specialists.
*BIO130 - BIO130 was recommended by a student because of the lectures of Professor Kenneth Yip.
*BIO230 - BIO230 was recommended by a student because of the lectures of Professor Kenneth Yip. Another student noted that while BIO130 and 230 have similar structures, the tests in 230 proved harder.
CHM249 - A respondent suggested that “CHM249 is an excellent example of a course that should have been a weed-out course BUT was not!”
Classics - Two respondents recommended classics courses in general, arguing that students who put effort into them can do well. One respondent suggested that classics professors enjoy engaging with students, that tests do not contain surprises, and that the course environment doesn’t feel competitive. A third respondent said the following: “If you're a classics nerd, and you want to learn some really cool stuff take Roman Culture and Greek Mythology. Roman Culture is just this whirlwind of exciting information. I had it with Prof. Robert McCutcheon, who I would recommend for any class, but this one specifically. It's not necessarily an easy course, but it's incredibly enjoyable. Greek Mythology is not exactly what you'd expect and that's what makes it great. It teaches you to look at myths in a different way, and to understand them in the context of when they were written/read/believed in. It’s really fun too, of course. How can't you enjoy talking about Greek God family problems? It's like listening to a really dramatic soap opera. Both these classes though are certainly not "bird" courses. There's no such thing here. Never believe anyone who says there is.”
Computer Science - One student suggested that computer science courses taught by permanent lectures are fair across the board (with the exception of required math and statistics courses not run by the department). They cited CSC108, CSC148 and CSC207 as examples.
CSB328 - A student recommended this course as they found the material interesting and the course work manageable.
DRM100 - A student raved about this course describing it as performance relevant and intellectually stimulating. They added that the course instructors are established drama professionals and that tutorials are excellent.
DTS200 - A student particularly recommended taking this course with Antonela Arhin.
ENG220 - A student specifically recommended this course when taught by John Reibetanz as it doesn’t have an exam, requiring students to put up a constant effort over a term, rather than struggle to memorize fact en-masse at the end.
ENG235 - A student specifically recommended this course when taught by Andrew Lesk as it doesn’t have an exam, requiring students to put up a constant effort over a term, rather than struggle to memorize fact en-masse at the end.
ENV100 - A student praised the straightforwardness of tests in this course, suggesting that students can do well so long as they are comfortable with essay writing.
Geography - One student suggested that with one exception (possibly GGR270) , geography courses are consistently fair.
GGR124 - A student reported that this course is relevant in everyday life as it deals with questions of city planning, and neighborhood changes. They also praised the professor(s).
French - An ambivalent recommendation about French as a second language course was provide to us. A student described them as “a necessary evil for all of the wonderful small courses you get,” noting that “Language classes in general are good for that small class experience, and for having a social connection with your classmates.”
History - Two respondents provided broad endorsements of the history department. One singled out HIS241, HIS271 and HIS205.
HMB203 - A student described this course as having a fair marking scheme and containing a manageable amount of content, but cautioned it has difficult multiple choice tests.
JQR360 - A respondent suggested this course contains a lot of valuable information and that they liked their JQR360 professor.
*MAT135 - A student recommended this course citing their appreciation for Prof. Anthony Lam’s teaching.
*MAT136 -A student recommended this course citing their appreciation for Prof. Anthony Lam’s teaching.
*MAT137/157 - A student recommended these courses for what they described as basic critical thinking training.
NEW232 - A respondent recommended taking this course with Prof. Tony Toneatto and was generally positive about the Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health program.
PHL100 - A student praised this course for having a reasonable workload, for emphasizing broad understanding of concepts over memorization, for offering a flexible choice in essay topics and for generally being well taught by Prof. Ronnie De Sousa.
PHS300 - A student praised the instructor of PHS300 for encouraging science students to better understand the social aspects of medicine, and social science students to better understand biomedical science. The student also enjoyed how guest speakers were brought into the class, and that students were encouraged to challenge the professor’s opinions.
POL337 - A student claimed this was “actually [the[ best course I have ever taken because “the prof stated on day one…do the readings, come to class and produce good work and you will get an A.”
POL356 - A student described this course as “[h]arsh in a 'tough love' kind of way, not a nit-picky "I'm going to give an A student a B" kind of way.”
*PSY100 - One respondent described PSY100 as the most interesting course they’ve taken because they can immediately apply its content to their life, while another described it as containing interesting material that students from all fields can understand. Two other praised the professor (one singled out Dan Dolderman), with one suggesting it led them to consider majoring in psychology.
PSY230 - A student described this course, as taught by Dr. Jordan Peterson, as “life changing.”
PSY323 -The student who recommended this course focused their praise on Prof. Cost, arguing she teaches with a passion and is more interested in helping students apply material in their lives than with teaching to tests. The student argued this makes lectures distinctly more enjoyable.
PSY409 - A respondent described this course as “small, in depth and stimulating.” They suggested it was challenging but was good for encouraging critical thinking.
RSM225 - A student described their professor in this course as very relatable.
Small Seminars -The student who suggested seminars argued “Make sure you take one, because after having 4 courses in Con Hall.. you start to forget why you're a student, why you're in university, if you're even smart at all.. and my 20 student small seminar taught me, or rather.. encouraged me to once again believe that I have a voice, and I have good ideas and perspectives. And sometimes a multiple choice test that 2000 kids write with you, isn't necessarily the best test of your abilities.”
Spanish - One student recommended small, upper year Spanish classes where students learn about “anarchy, art, culture” and more.
UNI230 -This is a small course, leading a student to remark “perhaps this enables my professor to grade us more fairly and actually see us as human beings instead of cogs in a 1500-person machine like my first year courses.”