Office Hours and Talking to Professors

In conjunction with Student Life, CTSI has been working on a series of videos for students visiting instructors during office hours. On the Student Life side, these videos are a part of their Talking to Your Professors campaign that offers tips and strategies for students who feel shy or uncomfortable (or overwhelmed) about approaching faculty. This information is practical and covers a variety of methods of interaction, including before and after class, social media and email etiquette.

For CTSI, these videos figure into our work on Student-Faculty Interaction. Over the past year, we have highlighted instructors who have found innovative ways to engage with their undergraduate students in our Focus on Faculty profiles and provided resources on effective practices and supporting student faculty interaction. We decided to approach our first topic – office hours and talking to profs – from different angles, starting with some humour…

The video was written and directed by Tyler Blacquiere (who also acts as Christopher Strong), a fourth year U of T student who was working in our office on a work study contract.  We decided that a public service announcement spoof was a great approach to the video – and something that we hadn’t seen before – and Tyler ran with it (even demonstrating a great deal of dedication to the project by watching Sally Struthers commercials in search of material).  All of the faculty members who participated (Barbara Murck, Mark Kingwell, Keren Rice, Shafique Varani and Mike Reid, who jumped in at the last minute to help us out) were generous with their time and are on-camera naturals. We’re still considering whether or not we should release a blooper reel. A lot of very funny stuff was left on the ‘cutting room floor’. (That phrase has little meaning in the digital age but it captures what I mean.)

Our next step was to interview undergraduates and explore some real world scenarios regarding visiting instructors during office hours. We wanted to show positive and negative experiences that students have had with instructors and any advice that they might offer to fellow students. We have a number of these videos prepared and ready to launch but here’s just a taste to whet your appetite.



Academic Integrity: Talking About Plagiarism

Saira Mall, Educational Technology Liaison
Martha Harris, Faculty Liaison

It’s that time of year—assignments are submitted, papers are due, exams are being written, and all at the same time! As pressures mount to complete final course work, students find themselves overwhelmed and want to complete assignments the fastest way they can. In this state of mind it’s harder to find time to think about plagiarism and academic integrity.

Despite our efforts to explain the importance of careful citations and prevent plagiarism, academic offences persist.

Plagiarism can be grey, not black and white

Most students do not have difficulty explaining what plagiarism is, but when it comes to seeing it in their own work, they often have a much harder time. Plagiarism can take different forms in a written work, and is not always intentional.  Students who do not see themselves as cheaters (because they do not intend to cheat) may feel naively confident about their writing and research habits and not know they are doing something wrong until they are confronted with a problem. Something as simple as copying notes from an article or web page can lead to a plagiarized paper when a student forgets how much of the words are copied or forgets to quote a passage.

Talking with students about how to write and cite well can help them understand the importance of academic integrity.  Because there are grey areas, it is our responsibility as faculty members to educate students on what is expected for academic work.  There are a few communication strategies faculty can take to start conversations with students about plagiarism.

Strategies for Talking With Students

In the article Confronting Plagiarism, Nicola Koper posits that, “The only way to feel justified in following through with serious consequences is if one is positive that the student knew what kind of behaviour was academically appropriate prior to the plagiarism occurrence” (Koper, 2012).  It is not just the responsibility of the student to be conscious of all plagiarism prevention. Instructors and TAs need to take the time to start the conversation with their students.  As a faculty member, Koper offers valuable strategies she has used to help her students understand academic integrity. One strategy is taking 30 minutes during the first lecture to talk about plagiarism and proper citations.

Should they have learned that before they got to my class? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that they have. If I take that time in my first class, then no student has any excuse to claim that they didn’t know how to write or paraphrase, if plagiarism accusations come up later (2012).

Her second approach is from the departmental level. Her department requires all students to attend information sessions on plagiarism prevention and copyright. Students receive this information both in and out of class. This can also give departments a chance to talk about issues that are common in their subject.

As educators, we should take care to model proper academic integrity to students in our own teaching. For example, one step to take is to ensure that when we use images and borrowed content in PowerPoint presentations, the original source is always cited. We can also give examples of citations to students, which show them how to cite and quote a passage from an article or web site. With good modelling, students will have real-life examples to refer to throughout the course, to prepare them for the crucial moments when they must write their own papers.

2012 TATP Teaching Excellence Award Winners

Congratulations to the following U of T teaching assistants, winners of this year’s award:

Emily Holland, Department of Anthropology
Stefana Gargova, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Sara Osenton, Department of East Asian Studies
Abdul Rahman Ayoub,
Department of Mathematics & Computational Sciences

Some nominees worked as a part of a teaching team in large lecture courses or science labs while others led small tutorials or language labs. The only common denominators: the nominees enthusiasm for teaching and the enthusiasm for learning they inspired in their students. Nominators were asked to comment on the TA’s communication and organizational skills, their feedback and knowledge of the course material. In each case, the candidate demonstrated dedication, insight and knowledge in the classroom. As always, the response was extraordinary as so many were willing (and often excited) to share their experiences with teaching assistants at U of T. Many students shared stories about TAs guiding them through difficult material, making the tutorial experience an enjoyable one and encouraging enthusiasm about the subject matter. A common theme we noticed this year, students nominate a TA when they feel their voice is being heard whether in tutorials, during office hours or email.

This year, we received 433 online nominations from students and 48 nominations from faculty. A total of 197 TAs were nominated (from more than 40 departments) with 63 TAs eligible for the short list. Thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate a TA this year. Winners receive a cash prize, certificate and award luncheon in their honour.

For more information on this award—and how you can nominate a TA for next year’s award—please visit

Shortlisted Candidates:
Keira Galway, Faculty of Music
Julia Su, Department of Linguistics
Helen Marshall, Department of English
Lauren Beard, Department of Comparative Literature
Robert Williamson, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Guillaume Barlet, Department of Geology
Sherry Esfahani, Materials Science & Engineering
Danielle DeSouza, Department of Occupational Therapy