The Monitor's Handbook



Congratulations on being appointed monitor for prism; the educational computing facility of the Department of Computer Science at York University.  This document explains your duties, answers frequently asked questions and directs you to several resources that are available to you.  It is available in HTML format at:


This document was prepared by head monitor Kemsha Jokhoo in Summer 2000 with input from U. Yigit and H. Roumani.  It is a compilation of several documents, including "The Monitor's Guide" (H. Roumani, G. Gotshalks) and the Monitor FAQ maintained by head-monitors of previous years.



Table of Content

  1. Contacting People - email and phone contacts
  2. The Role of the Monitor - visibility, priorities, assistance to users
    1. Interacting with Users
    2. Giving Help
    3. Account Creation
    4. Correcting and Reporting Problems
    5. Enforcing the Prism Policy
    6. Security and Emergencies
    7. Other Duties - Paper, Staplers, Senior Lab Access, Specialty Labs, Idle Workstations
  3. The Duties of the Head Monitor
  4. General Rules of Conduct for Monitors - Breaks, conduct around the monitor's station, Personal Effects, Phone Usage
  5. Late Monitors
  6. Resources for Monitors


1. Contacting People

?        Questions to Tech should be directed to  This distribution list includes all monitors, the head monitor, the monitor coordinator, and tech. Used for reporting prism-related problems and/or questions.


?        Locked accounts reports should be filed to



?        Distribution list: includes monitors, the head monitor and the monitor coordinator. Used for scheduling, contracts and other monitor-related issues.


?        Information about the monitors is usually kept in ~monitors/doc/phone.txt


Contact Name






Tech - Ulya Yigit



Tech -  Jason Keltz



Tech - Matt Robinson



Tech - Seela Balkissoon



Tech - Paul Griffith



Prof. Hamzeh Roumani


CS Undergraduate Admin



CS Main Office



Head Monitor

70140 (prism Lab)


TA Office






2. The Role of the Monitor

The prism Policy states that the role of the monitor is  "to provide assistance with account creation, with Unix and hardware problems, and enforcement of prism policy ".

As a monitor, you will be providing assistance to students, especially those in first and second year, as well as being responsible for order and the security of the equipment. You will receive support from the tech staff (to whom you will report system problems), from security, from the head monitor, and Prof. H. Roumani, the monitor coordinator.

As part of providing assistance to students, you will help them with syntactic and semantic errors in their programs, as well as problems with UNIX, mail, editors, utilities, and X Windows. You will be responsible for account creation, correcting or reporting system problems, keeping printers supplied with paper, and keeping the lab clean (of listings, screens clean, etc.). You will also be responsible for enforcing the prism policy and reacting to emergencies and security problems. Please be polite at all times.

?        Be visible

Try not to leave your post too frequently. If possible, have the student document the error message and bring it to you.  Or have the student rlogin to his account from your station to determine the error in order to address it. Leaving your post to address an assignment question is discouraged: the monitor needs to be accessible to all students.

?        The Printer is top priority

One of the top priorities of the monitor is dealing with printer problems immediately.  Ensure there is paper in both printers, clear paper jams, change toners if you are authorized to do so, report any problem that you can't fix at once to fixprism. When your shift starts, check that there is enough paper and toner, and email fixprism if more is needed. 'Garbage' printing (when a student accidentally starts printing a non-printable file, or uses the wrong printing command) needs to be dealt with quickly, so that as little paper as possible is wasted.

?        Assistance with prism related Concerns

As stated earlier, avoid leaving your post. Ask the student to bring a copy of the code, or write down the error message, or have the student rlogin to his account. Under his supervision, you may run the code from your terminal to determine the error in order to address it. Under no circumstances should a student be allowed to sit and type at the monitor's station, (except to enter login information).

When the lab is busy, let the student know you can only allocate a few minutes to addressing the question (this encourages them to be specific). However, use your judgment to determine whether the concern warrants extra time.

If another student approaches the desk, be sure to find out whether their concern has higher priority. If so, attend to his / her concerns FIRST.

2.a Interacting with Users

At all times, bear in mind that students are people too, and even if they seem rude, we should try to treat them civilly. Frustration with the system and the pressures of doing assignments sometimes gets the better of us all. Be friendly and they will be friendly.  Keep in mind also that York is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in Canada. What is acceptable in one culture may be rude in another. Before you speak to someone about their behavior, appreciate that not everyone has the same standards and that someone may simply not be aware that what they're doing annoys others.

2.b Giving Help to Users

You will provide assistance to students (especially 1st-year) in the following:

o       Getting acquainted with the prism lab

o       Unix / X-Windows and their utilities (commands, mail, editors, etc.)

In general, students should direct all course and assignment related questions should to the appropriate TA or instructor. Monitors are not responsible for providing help with course assignments. When you provide help, keep the following guidelines in mind:

?        First and foremost, if you're not sure about the answer, say so, and forward it to someone who does. No one expects you to be omniscient.

?        Determine if their problem is specific or systemic. For example, use of a variable declared in one part of a program and reused without declaration in another part may indicate incomplete understanding of scope rather than forgetting a declaration. If it seems to you that the problem is systemic and you don't feel confident about explaining it, then help them with the immediate error and suggest that they talk to the TA or the course instructor to seek general help.

?        "Help a man to fish and he'll have food for one day. Show him how to catch a fish, and he will have food for the rest of his life". If the answer to a question is available on-line (in a man page or in the student's FAQ - see Resources in this document) or in their textbook, then do answer their question but remind them in a friendly way that they can find the answer themselves. For example, "How do I delete a file?'' could be answered with "You can find out about it by using 'man rm’.

?        Avoid doing their assignments for them. It's easy to give so much help that, without intending, you solve their homework problem for them. This is especially true of introductory courses, but can also apply to others. Offer general assistance regarding assignment questions. Do not write or give code to anyone. Do not give the answer to assignments.  If appropriate, suggest a hint, a book, or a website. If you feel the person is trying to get you to do the assignment for them (it happens!), tell them you cannot provide further assistance and refer them to the TA.

?        If you go over to a student's terminal to give them help, be careful not to do anything on the terminal without first asking permission. In particular, do not grab the keyboard or fiddle with files without their express permission. There are three reasons for this: First, it's plain rude. Second, you could accidentally destroy something (which they will hold you responsible for, trust me!). Third, the student will learn a command or technique better if they do the typing. If you are correcting a problem for them, be sure to let them know what you are doing (" I'm removing your Netscape cache files in order to bring your quota back down to 15 Mb").

?        Never entertain a query made by one individual regarding the account of another person; e.g.: "my friend can't login to her account, she asked me to find out why". Tell the individual that the account owner should come to the monitor in person. In the case of students who genuinely cannot come in during normal hours (due to a summer internship, for example), they can email their question to fixprism.

2.c Account Creation (the steps involved and the monitor's role)

Note: With the merger between Atkinson and Computer Science, all students enrolled in COSC courses (and certain ATK courses) will be referred to as Computer Science Students.  Students allowed an account include the above students, but exclude students enrolled in COSC 15XX service courses. A list of ATK courses that allow a user account in prism will be provided. If you are unsure whether an account should be granted, take the students name, and the names of the courses in which he is registered, and forward a message to fixprism.

Rules regarding account status, seat and printing privileges are documented at

User Actions

New users and users who no longer remember their passwords user-ids should login to any free workstation as newuser. This account has no password. Returning students no longer need perform this routine.

On logging in, a program is executed which records information necessary for account generation. They will be asked for their student number and then asked to agree to certain conditions on the use of prism. They must reply "yes" to acknowledge that they understand and agree to the conditions on account use - we will not generate an account for someone who does not agree to the conditions.

The program also asks for their name, local address and phone, and permanent address and phone. They are then asked to type in the password they wish to use to login with. The password is not echoed to the screen. The program verifies the format of the student number and some of the personal data fields.

When they have entered the data, the program directs them to go to a monitor for actual account generation. They must bring photo ID and either their sessional validation card or their official course list. If they do not have ID with them, they will have to come back again when they have it. No account will be generated nor password changed without suitable ID's.

Monitor Actions

Users will come to you to have their accounts generated, to find out about their user-ids if they have forgotten them, or to change their password if they cannot remember it. You will look at the data they have entered through the newuser login, verify it, and okay the account generation or password change, all with the aid of the program tkaudb. You will also point out the prism use policy to users and collect signatures acknowledging this from users.

1.      1.Ask for suitable ID to verify that this person is who they claim to be. They should show you photo ID and either their sessional validation card or their official course list (what we're looking for is something official from York which allows us to verify that the student number they have given us is indeed theirs). If they do not have the ID with them, tell them to come back again when they have it. Do not generate an account, or change a password, without suitable ID being shown. Copies of web documents listing the courses a student is enrolled will not serve as proof, since although they are generated by the Registrar's Office, they may be doctored before being printed.

2.      Ask if they have read the prism policy. If not, give them a copy and ask them to come back when done. Once they do, ask the user to sign the acknowledgement form. Completed acknowledgement forms should be left in the monitor's locked drawer.

3.      Run the program tkaudb. Find the user in the shown list, click the entry, verify the shown data with the user then click the "verify" button. Ask them to write down the username and password. If this is a user who has forgotten ID or password, use the appropriate buttons and follow the same verification procedure as for a new user.

4.      Tell them they will be able to use their accounts in about 30 minutes. You may also suggest that they read the password-selection document - see Resources in this document.

2.d Correcting and Reporting Problems

When reporting a problem, be as specific as you can be about the circumstances. If the problem is a suspected software bug, give a severity level: High (urgent), Moderate, or Low.

?        Hardware Problems
If the problem is urgent, e.g., network outage or server crash, telephone Ulya Yigit (77881). If there is no answer there, leave a message. Normally, there should be a response within minutes. For any other problem, follow the following procedure:  There is a white board near the monitor's desk. All hardware problems are to be recorded on that board when they arise. Problems are also to be reported to the mail alias fixprism. If a repair person comes to fix a problem, and reports the resolution of the problem to a monitor, that monitor should also send a message to fixprism stating what the problem was, and that it has been fixed. They should also remove the entry on the white board referring to the problem.  The first monitor in the morning must check the list of reported problems on the white board, and determine the status of those problems. They should then send a message to fixprism to report all problems still present, and all problems that have been eliminated. The monitor should rub out problems that have been eliminated.

?        Software Problems
If it is a new problem send mail to fixprism and to the monitors mailing list. If the problem has already been reported, but the report was some time ago, send mail to fixprism to remind them of the problem.

?        Other Problems
Use the monitor distribution to report any other problems, or to ask general questions and make requests.

2.e Enforcing the Prism Policy

Prism is the main educational computing facility of the Department and its use is subject to a policy that ensures a safe and friendly environment for all. The policy is contained in a short document: Prism Use Policy, which students read and acknowledge upon account creation.

In addition, all computing at York is governed by a policy set by the University Senate. This policy document is entitled: Policy on Computing and Information Technology Facilities.

Finally, prism is connected to the Internet and, hence, is governed by a policy set by the O-Net Association entitled: Acceptable Use Policy, which governs the department's continued permission to access the net. (There have been problems with chain letters, for example, which could cause sending sites to lose their net access privileges unless carefully monitored!)

All three policies are available on-line (see Resources in this document) and you should familiarize yourself with all them.

Issuing Warnings and Locking Accounts

Note that the prism Policy applies to Teaching Assistants, all Monitors and graduate students as well as undergraduate students.

Students who violate the prism Usage Policy should be told politely of their violation, and asked to stop.  If they stop immediately, then only record the incident using tkaudb. Let them know that the incident has been recorded, and that a second violation will result in account locking. Should this be their second violation, lock the account. Accounts may be locked without warning the user, since all users are expected to be aware of the prism Usage Policy.

When locking the account, you should send a message to describing the nature of the violation and surrounding circumstances.

Eating and Drinking in the Lab

Certain offences require immediate locking on the first occurrence of the offence. These offences include eating, drinking and smoking in the labs. This is a violation of prism Policy and monitors may lock accounts without warning. All students (including TAs (on-duty/off-duty) and graduate students) are aware that eating and drinking are not allowed: there are numerous signs posted, and the prism Policy explicitly states this fact. Monitors: please note: this policy is to be enforced WITHOUT exception. Monitors not on duty may not eat or drink in any lab.

Tampering with Printers/Equipment

Students may not touch/tamper with the control panel, on/off switch, or open any part of the printer. This is in direct violation of prism Policy. Ask the individual to stop, warn him that this is a violation of the prism Policy and log a report using tkaudb.  Do not ask twice, immediate compliance with this request must be tolerated.  Account Locking is warranted if the person does not comply immediately, or if this is the second incident (the first would have been logged using tkaudb).

Non-CS material must be confiscated, a note added using tkaudb, and the individual notified via email. (If you are unsure whether the material can be classified as non-CS, refer it to the head monitor).

Other reasons for account locking can be found at

2.f Security and Emergencies


The lab is rigged with motion detectors and an open door sensor. Individual workstations are also secured. To arm/disarm the system, follow the instructions below, or those given in the handbook. Note that to summon help in an emergency, use the duress signal by pressing the two keys * and # together, then call 33333 to explain.

To disable the alarm: just type the code number followed by a #. You have 30 seconds after entering. When typing in the numbers, you will hear a beep for each number. If not, you did not press the button hard enough. If, after you type the #, you hear a Beep-Beep-Beep, then you did not type the numbers correctly; try again.  To re-enable the alarm, type your code and press #. You have 30 seconds to leave. Do not enable while the red lights are on. (Stand still, wait for the red lights to go off, and then enable.)

See also ~monitors/www/MonitorFAQ.html.

Closing Time

The printers are automatically shut off 1/2 hr before closing. You should announce 15 minutes prior that the lab will be closed.  You can start securing any empty labs at this point. Check to see that there are no terminals/workstations with accounts left open, if so, log the user out and email him (and fixprism).  Straighten the chairs, turn off the lights and close the door.

At closing time, ask users to log off and vacate the remaining open labs. Turn off lights and close the doors. Always quickly check the specialty labs (robotics/digital logic/multimedia/train) to ensure that everyone has gone. Arm the lab, and always make sure the main door closes behind you.


A document detailing specific procedures with regard to Smoke/Fire and Medical Emergencies, Dealing with Disruptive Behavior, and Evacuation of the prism Lab can be found at ~monitors/doc/POLICY/Emergency.html

In an emergency, use the duress signal on the alarm and call 33333 to provide specifics. If it is a medical emergency, clear the area around the person, give what aid you know how to; do not move the person unless a graver emergency sets in; wait for help to arrive. In the case of fire, use the duress signal, clear the room, help those who cannot leave unaided, and then leave the area yourself, closing the door behind you.

If there is an attempted theft, call 33333 or use the duress signal on the alarm if need be.

If someone is rowdy, try first to speak to them if this can be done safely. Otherwise, call security (33333) or use the duress signal on the alarm if need be. Once things have calmed down, try to get their user-ids and lock their accounts. Explain to them that they will need to see the Hearing Officer to get their accounts reinstated. Point out the prism use policy.

2.g Other Duties - Paper, Staplers, Senior Lab Access, Specialty Labs, Idle Workstations

You are also responsible for the following:

Printer Paper

You should monitor the paper trays of the two printers and keep them supplied. Every monitor should ensure that both trays are filled at the beginning of his/her shift.  Should you open the last box in the cupboard, email fixprism to let them know more paper is needed. Also the first monitor of the day should ensure that there is enough paper to last the entire day (usually 2-3 boxes is sufficient).


Both small and large staplers are available for student use and are in the desk drawer along with spare staples. If no more staples are available, inform Clara ( 126CCB or the head monitor. Students may only use the staplers at the monitor's desk. They may not leave the desk area to use the staplers.

Senior Lab Access

This lab is for students who are currently enrolled in 3000 or 4000 level courses in the Department. Please verify with students that they are indeed enrolled in such courses before sending a message to fixprism.

Specialty Labs

These include the Mac, digital logic, real-time, robotics, and you are not responsible for them. Students who need access to them or have questions about them should see their instructor or TA. Note, however, that student may borrow equipment related to the Mac lab locked in the monitor's desk. In this case, students must leave their student card while borrowing such equipment. Students must return the equipment before leaving the lab. Equipment (including cables, manuals etc) may never be borrowed overnight.

Idle workstations and Terminals

If a user logged-in at a workstation or terminal leaves it unattended for some time (15 minutes) and the space is needed, you may log out the person involved; in this case, send mail to the student, telling them what you've done. They may have left without realizing they left themselves logged in. If the student has left the machine without saving files in an editor session, the student must consider those files lost. (While it might be a courtesy to write them out to temporary files, this way they learn fast that they'll lose work if they're not careful how they use the resources they're given!)

3. The duties of the Head Monitor

4. General Rules of Conduct for Monitors.

?        Taking Breaks/Locking the monitor’s station
Breaks should not be more than 5-10 minutes. Ask a monitor, TA, or a senior student you trust to sit at the post while you are gone. If the person you ask is not a monitor, lock the monitors station.  Bring your lunch/dinner with you, or make arrangements to have it delivered; taking a 1/2 hr break to go to lunch is unacceptable. In general, if you have to be away from your desk at all, always lock the monitor’s station, and secure your belongings.

?        Conduct around the monitor's station
You may work on your assignments or study quietly while on-duty. It is also perfectly acceptable to chat, or work on an assignment with one or two members of your lab group at the monitor's desk (just remember that no student except a monitor may use the monitor's station). Keep the volume to a minimum so as not to disturb others around you.  Do not allow your friends/lab partners to block the entrance to the lab. However, you MUST attend to any student who approaches the desk immediately - while we understand that the monitor is also a student with deadlines and exams, the monitor must understand that when he/she is on-duty, the student users' needs come first.

?        Personal Effects
For your own security, you should store any personal items away in your bag or in the desk if you have to leave the desk for any reason. This includes stationery items (pens, staplers etc), books, headphones and CDs. You may lock your belongings in the paper cupboard while you are on duty. Avoid lending students your personal effects, especially a stapler. We do not want students to expect the monitor to provide use of his personal effects. If the item requested is not available, the student should acquire it on his own.

?        Phone Usage
The phone is for communication with Tech staff, security, etc.  The phone may be used by Monitors, Admin and Tech staff, and course instructors. Grad students and TAs may not use the phone. On duty TAs should use the TA office phone. Monitors may call and receive personal calls, but please limit the length of the call to a few minutes at most. Students may NEVER use the phone. Refer them to the phones in the lobby entrance. The night monitor may call for the Student Security Escort on behalf of students.  If you receive a call for a student, tell the person that calls for students are not entertained.  If possible, let the student know via email that they are not allowed to receive calls. If you receive a call from a student, politely tell them that their query will be answered if they come in to the monitor's station during normal hours. Also remind them that calls are not entertained. If you see someone using the phone, and you think she may be a student, interrupt her politely and find out who she is.  If she is a student, ask her to hang up immediately and enter a note using tkaudb. A second offence warrants account locking.

5. Late Monitors

?        If your shift is over, and the next monitor to be on duty is absent:

?        During normal work hours
Email or call Ulya immediately at ext 77881. She will arrange to find someone to cover the shift if you are unable to stay. If you know someone who is willing to cover the shift/part of the shift, let her know.

?        After hours
If you can stay on, email fixprism to let Tech know what the situation is, and what time period you covered for the absent monitor. If you can't stay, see if there is another monitor who would be willing to cover the shift.     That monitor should also email fixprism to apprise Tech of the situation and the time covered. If there is no monitor who can cover the shift, evacuate and arm the lab. Leave a note on the door stating  "Lab closed due to Absent Monitor".  Please state the period the lab is closed for (the time period of the monitor's shift).     Should the late monitor arrive, he can re-open the lab.

?        If you are Late
Email or call Ulya as soon as possible to let her know you are resuming your shift. You will not be paid for the part of the shift for which you were absent; the monitor who covered for you will receive payment for that extra time he worked.

6. Resources


The Monitor's FAQ is an invaluable list available to monitors only at

The topics currently on it include:


The Prism Lab

Getting started

York: A Guide To Academic Computing Behavior

Student FAQ

Account Information

How do I change my password? What kind of password should I use?



Prism Use Policy (Departmental)

Policy on Computing and Information Technology Facilities (York)

ONet Association - Acceptable Use Policy (Internet)


Installing SDK, TYPE, and other Java materials

ePost (to see course grades)

Print Release Stations (by Jason Keltz)