Ultimate Survival Guide for New Immigrants to Canada

December 25, 2022

Course Selection, Grading Pattern and Plagiarism

The fall term has just ended, and the winter term will start soon. I want to couch on three major topics - course selection, grading patterns and plagiarism. Everything I'll speak about is based on my experience as a student and as a Teaching Assistant for several courses. I'll show you how things work at the University of Manitoba, but it should be the same for every University.

U of M uses a bunch of different systems. We use Aurora for looking up courses and selecting or dropping a course. I will walk you through it. 

So the first thing is to select the courses you plan to take. There are specific mandatory courses, and some could be optional. Your department or supervisor may have a list for it. 

Now, look up courses. Search your course and then read about it.
Mostly the courses are very well organized. Personally speaking, I pick courses that do not have a final exam or the ones where the final exam has a limited weight. If you want things to be easier, don't pick courses with final exams or surprise quizzes. But this is only a rough rule. In some courses, the professor will kill you with assignments and quizzes; sadly, I have been through that. Let us talk About weightage. 

A course may have all or some of these components:
  1. Assignment -  You may have anywhere b/w 2-4 assignments, each weighing roughly 10%.
  2. Quizzes - weight may vary. They are like term tests but usually shorter and may happen quite frequently. Weight could be 5-10% each.
  3. Term Tests - usually two - one in the middle of the term and the other at the end. They could weigh 20% each.
  4. Final Exams - weight could be 50-60%. It could either be written or verbal, or both.
  5. Projects - usually a part of high-level courses. 4000 and above. Can have Variable weight up to 40%.
  6. Surprise Quizzes- these are the worst. Weigh could be 5-10%. You have to be prepared each day for it.
  7. Participation Marks - participation marks may or may not be a part of your course. Usually, Never more than 5%.
  8. Attendance - attendance is usually optional. But attendance would matter a lot for labs or group projects. 

That being said, professors can change the grading scheme mentioned in the course description by up to 5% if needed. I have seen this happening quite frequently, and it usually never puts anyone at any kind of disadvantage. The University of Manitoba uses UMlearn to manage things related to the course. You will find all the updates, announcements,  course material, assignment submissions and even live exams. It is the same system which professors and graders use. Sometimes we do use crowdmark as well.

Since I have been a TA, I can share my experience with you, which may help you get better grades. I have experience grading assignments, tests and labs. I will show you a few samples as well. The system works in a way that the grading is fair. We give marks whenever we can. And that is the case with every grader.  We follow a standard template to grade. Usually, it is provided by the course coordinator, or we need to develop it. The grading pattern, along with the sample solution, is released on UMlearn, and we expect students to contact us only if their grading doesn't match the scheme.

Since the answers are released, there is a chance that some students might have gotten some of these answers from the previous year and copied them. But, trust me, this is not going to work. We will notice it the moment we see it and mark it for plagiarism. Plagiarism is considered a grave academic offence, and we will touch on that later. 

Back to grading, I have graded in a couple of different ways:

  1. Directly on UMlearn - The student uploads the assignment there, and we will mark it there. It is the most common method.
  2. Handin - Computer science students are sometimes expected to submit the assignment on the server. It is department specific method.
  3. Scanned copies - This is the second most common method. For term tests, students are provided with printed question paper. Each question paper has a QR code and is uniquely identified. Limited space is provided to write the answers. You cannot ask for extra sheets or scribble here and there. 

So, you must stay within the margins for the scanner to read it properly and efficiently utilize the space. 

Top mistakes which could make you lose marks:

  1. We can only read and grade if you write within the margins. 
  2. If your work is extremely untidy, we cannot read it. Your handwriting doesn't matter, but the overall clarity and simplicity do. When grading two hundred papers, I want to spend my time on something easily understandable and not on a scribble. I would try for some time, but then I will have to give it a zero or an average mark. 
  3. Answers must be concise. Marking is not based on the length of answers. It is based on the facts stated. When marking, I am looking for the right keywords. For example, if the question is - what is the largest country by area? I would look for the keyword 'Russia' in the answer instead of reading through the sentences or passages.

Ok, let us talk about Academic Integrity, specifically avoiding plagiarism.  

The dictionary definition of plagiarism is - 

Plagiarism is the fraudulent representation of another person's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions as one's own original work.

If you cite the original work, it won't be considered plagiarism. Copying answers from other students or previous year's solutions will be considered plagiarism. We have ways to detect plagiarism. We can run file diff or iThenticate to catch them at a larger scale. 

I have seen students trying to make handwritten submissions to avoid detection. But we go through all of them manually, and our eyes are better at detecting them. We had one case last term, and it was reported. The student got a zero on that assignment.

Plagiarism is a grave offence. When something like this happens, the University takes it seriously. Your course instructor has a couple of options and complete discretion over his choices. 

They may:

  1. Give you a warning and ask you to redo it. 
  2. Give you zero or partial marks and not report to the Dean's office. 
  3. Report to the Dean's office. The Dean's office keeps a record of it. If this is your first time, you will have a few words and receive a warning. If it is your second time, action will be taken. 

This is not something that students don't know. Academic integrity is the first zero-credit course that everyone has to complete in their first term. If you are a research student, you need to complete research integrity as well. 

Do things honestly. That is the best advice I could give to anyone.

Have Questions? Feel Free to Reach Me