CPSC 120 Principles of Computer Science Fall 2015

CPSC 120 Policies

You are expected to be familiar with the course policies stated below. Ignorance of a policy is not an excuse for violating a policy or being surprised when it is applied to you, and will not exempt you from its penalties.

On this page:

Email/Web Policy

You are expected to regularly check your HWS email and the course web page (especially the syllabus page). Announcements, assignments, handouts, and other information relevant to the class as a whole will be posted on the course web page. Email will be used in the case of a particularly time-sensitive announcement (e.g. an announcement about a homework which is due in the next class meeting) or for matters which are only relevant to a few people in the class.


You are expected to attend and be on time for all class meetings (including labs), and to be present for the full class period. Announcements are made at the beginning of class, and late arrivals may miss important information. Late arrivals may also be marked as absent.

Because of the emphasis on in-class activities and participation, attendance will be taken regularly and more than three absences (for any reason) will lower your final grade. No distinction is made between excused and unexcused absences when computing the final grade; however, the number of unexcused absences is taken into account when considering borderline final grades.

Excused absences include absences due to sports competitions, official Colleges activities such as musical performances or debate competitions, academically-related events (such as attending a conference), religious observances, serious illness, or personal or family emergencies. A reason must be provided in order for such an absence to be counted as an excused absence.

Missing class for other reasons - such as being too busy, oversleeping, or leaving early for a vacation - is considered to be an unexcused absence. Any absence for which no reason is provided is automatically considered to be unexcused.

Classroom Behavior

You are expected to be on task during class - web surfing, texting, playing games, doing assignments for other courses, etc. are not acceptable. Except in the case of an emergency, leaving the classroom during class is not acceptable. (Take care of any necessary business before or after class!) Also, please do not use headphones during lab - you may miss important announcements to the class about assignments, and it makes it difficult to interact with you about the assignment.

Make-Up Policy

Students are responsible for acquiring any notes, handouts, assignments, and other material missed as the result of an absence, whether excused or unexcused. This should be done promptly to avoid falling behind.

Every effort should be made to hand assignments in on time, even if you are absent from class that day. (You may email your assignment if you are unable to hand it in electronically.) Arrangements for extensions must be made in advance (see "Extensions" below). In the case of a last-minute emergency, the assignment will be accepted late without penalty only if arrangements are made as soon as possible to get the assignment handed in.

Exams can only be made up if the absence is excused, and additionally require documentation from an appropriate person (dean, doctor, etc) to validate the excuse.

Late Policy

The material in this course is cumulative - you cannot simply skip a topic and figure you'll jump back in with the next one. Keeping up with the coursework throughout the semester is essential. As a result, the late policy is designed with the intent of discouraging falling behind while still recognizing that sometimes something happens that is out of your control and you need a little more time.

Labs and projects will be penalized 5% if turned in by midnight on the due date and 10% per day or part of day thereafter up to a maximum of 50%. (e.g. an assignment due Friday will be penalized 30% if it is turned in on Monday; an assignment turned in a week late will be penalized 50%) Deductions are calculated as a percentage of the total points possible on the assignment, not the number of points you earned. Labs will be accepted at any point up to the final end-of-semester deadline but projects will not be accepted more than one week late.

No work will be accepted after the end of the timeslot in which the final exam is scheduled.

Note that computer labs may not be available at all hours or over college holidays, so be sure to take this into account if you are relying on those facilities. Furthermore, labs tend to get very busy right before deadlines, especially at the end of the semester. "I couldn't get my work done because I couldn't find a computer!" is not a valid excuse.

Extensions / Rescheduling Exams

Extensions will generally only be granted for the kinds of things that count as excused absences, and only if a significant portion of the time allocated for the assignment is affected. Note that leaving early for a vacation, being busy, or having a bunch of assignments due at the same time are not considered reasons for extensions. Save often and make backups of your files - computer failures do occur and are not grounds for an extension.

Rescheduling of the final exam will only be allowed as required by Colleges policy - religious observance, post-season athletic competition, or three or more final exams scheduled on the same day.

Arrangements for extensions and rescheduled exams must be made sufficiently in advance of the date in question - waiting until the day before a team trip which has been scheduled for weeks is not "advance arrangements". In addition, it is the student's responsibility to ensure that there are actual arrangements in place - simply sending an email notification about an upcoming absence does not constitute "arrangements".

Extensions will not be granted retroactively - if a last-minute emergency causes you to miss an exam or prevents you from handing an assignment in on time, the make-up policy applies (see "Make-Up Policy" above). Note that the "extension" in this case will only be for long enough to get the already-completed assignment handed in; if you need more time to complete the assignment, it will be considered late.

Academic Integrity / Collaboration

The HWS Principle of Academic Integrity governs all of the work completed in this course. Specifically:

  • Exams are to be completed solely by the student whose name is on the paper. Only resources allowed in the exam instructions may be used, and the only person you may discuss exams with is the instructor.

  • Projects complement the exams - they are a chance to combine elements into something larger than the labs, but they are also an opportunity to demonstrate what you can do. You may discuss ideas with the instructor and get help from the instructor, but you may not talk with anyone else (including TFs) about any aspect of the project - this includes discussing ideas, getting help, looking over someone else's shoulder, etc.

  • Labs are a chance to practice the material and gain understanding. You may discuss ideas with other students in the course, get help from the instructor or TFs, and use other materials (such as reference books or websites) as technical references. However, labs are not group assignments - where several people work together to produce a solution - and copying someone else's answer is never acceptable. Anything you turn in for a grade must be your work - your ideas and your effort. In particular:

    • You must write up the assignment independently and in your own words. This means you can discuss ideas and approaches and get help on a particular sticking point, but you may not sit down with a friend or TF and write the program or solution together. (Formulating a question about what you don't understand is useful for clarifying what you do and don't know, and writing things up on your own ensures that you understand the material - or that you realize what you still don't understand in time to get help.)

    • You may not borrow or copy solutions or code from someone or somewhere else and you may not share your own with others until after all parties have turned the assignment in. This includes both computer files and paper copies. This should be obvious: using someone else's program "as a guide" to completing your own is plagiarism, not collaboration, even if you make changes for your own version.

    • You must fully understand the help you receive. (You should be able to explain your solution to someone else.)

    • You must acknowledge, in comments in your sketch, who you discussed the assignment with or got help from and in what capacity (include all sources other than the instructor - other students, tutors, TFs, websites, etc).

The purpose of these rules is to make sure that you learn the material so you can solve the next problem instead of getting an answer that only addresses the current problem. Be careful of too much collaboration - it is worth reiterating that what you turn in must be your own work. You also do yourself a disservice if you rely too much on others, as it is then more likely that you don't fully understand the material and will struggle on exams or later assignments - and it is better to discover this sooner rather than later.

Also be careful when using other materials for help - it is OK to look for examples of concepts, but not to look for (or use) solutions. See "Plagiarism in Programs and on Problem Sets" below for more information on the distinction between examples and solutions.

Copying part or all of someone else's solution is expressly prohibited, and it is never acceptable to be in possession of someone else's program or solution before you have handed in your own. Decompiling or reverse-engineering someone else's code (including provided code) is also prohibited.

Failure to acknowledge help received will generally result in a warning the first time, and point deductions for subsequent offenses. Submitting work which is unreasonably similar to another person's work and/or not being able to explain any part of your solution will result in a minimum penalty of a 0 on the assignment. A second such offense is grounds for failure in the course. Plagiarism offenses may also be referred to the Committee on Standards.

There are no exceptions to this policy; ignorance of the policy and desperation ("It was the night before it was due and there wasn't anyone else to ask!") are specifically not excuses for violating the policy. If you are having trouble with the course material, come to the instructor! - it is never advantageous to "borrow" someone else's solution, and the time spent trying to disguise this "borrowing" is far better spent getting help.

From the HWS Catalogue: (available online at http://www.hws.edu/catalogue/policies.aspx)

Principle of Academic Integrity

The faculty of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, recognizing the responsibility of the individual student for his or her own education, assumes honesty and integrity in all academic work at the Colleges. This assumption is the foundation of all intellectual efforts and lies at the heart of this community. In matriculating at the Colleges, each student accepts the responsibility to carry out all academic work with complete honesty and integrity and supports the application of this principle to others.

Categories covered by this principle include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Examinations: Giving or receiving assistance during an examination or quiz violates this principle.
  • Papers: The adoption or reproduction of ideas, words, or statements of another person as one's own, without due acknowledgment, is considered plagiarism and violates this principle.
  • Library Use: Failure to sign for materials taken from the library and similar abuses of library privileges infringe upon the rights of other students to fair and equal access and violate this principle.
  • Reports and Laboratory Exercises: Giving or receiving unauthorized assistance and the fabrication of data or research results violate this principle.
  • Computer Use: Any deliberate attempt to prevent other users access to computer services, deprive them of resources, or degrade system performance violates this principle. The use of programs or files of another computer user or the use of another person's account number or password without permission also violates this principle.

Academic dishonesty is determined in every case by the evidence presented and not by intent. Questions of intent and circumstances under which an infraction occurred may be considered in determining a penalty.

Plagiarism in Programs and on Problem Sets

As with papers, verbatim copying of programs and problem solutions constitutes plagiarism. Also as with papers, plagiarism is not limited to verbatim copying - copying the significant ideas and structure of someone else's program/problem solution also constitutes plagiarism.

But aren't all programs which solve the same task/solutions to the same problem pretty much the same, so won't my program/solution look like everyone else's even if I worked by myself?
It is true that programming languages are simpler and more structured than human languages like English, and so two independently-written programs solving the same problem will be more similar than two independently-written papers on the same topic. However, "more similar" doesn't mean "the same" - there is still flexibility in many aspects of the program, and each programmer will express themselves somewhat differently. It is clear when two programs were derived from the same source, and I routinely run a plagiarism-detection tool on all handins.
Problem sets are similar - there is enough room for variation in most solutions for it to be clear when solutions were derived from the same source.

Programming/problem solving techniques are often explained via examples - what's the difference between using an example and "copying the significant ideas and structure"?
Nothing - the whole point of examples is to provide the significant ideas and structure of the solution, with the idea that the details would be modified for the particular situation.

OK, then, so I can't use any examples because that constitutes plagiarism?!
No, not exactly. What is and isn't allowed is a matter of degree. Let's first define "example" and "solution":

  • An example illustrates a technical point or problem-solving strategy, applied to a different problem instance than the one you are trying to solve. An example can't be used as-is to solve your specific problem, but can be adapted to address some aspect of the problem. For example, an example demonstrating the proper syntax for a while loop is OK to use when writing a program which involves a while loop (as long as the point of the problem isn't to write exactly the while loop given in the example).
  • A solution gives a significant amount of the answer to your particular problem (or an extremely similar problem). Quantity is relevant here - you may view something as just an example (because it doesn't solve your exact problem), but if a single source covers most of what you need to do, it may well be what I consider a "solution".

Using "examples" (as defined above) is generally OK but using "solutions" is not.

There's a fuzzy middle ground here, and I'm still not sure exactly what is OK and what isn't.
Then ASK! - before you get into whatever situation you are wondering about. A few additional guidelines which may help:

  • Any materials provided as part of the course (examples in the textbook, from class, and directly posted on the webpage) are acceptable to use/adapt (unless specifically forbidden, such as on exams).
  • Any solutions written by another student (either this term or in previous terms) are not acceptable to use as "inspiration" or a guide when you are working on the same assignment. (Looking at someone else's work later, after the assignment has been handed in, is fine.)
  • Use caution with materials from other sources - think "examples, not solutions" and ask if you have any questions. In fact, ask even if you are sure something is allowed. (Specifically looking through other materials to find solutions to problems you've been assigned is not acceptable.)
  • Use common sense - the purpose of assignments is for you to practice and gain understanding of the material, and for you to demonstrate what you have mastered. If you are mostly just tweaking something written by someone else - even if you spend a lot of time renaming variables and inserting comments - then what you are turning in isn't your work.

Disability Accommodations

If you are a student with a disability for which you may need accommodations, you should self-identify and register for services with the Coordinator of Disability Services at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and provide documentation of your disability. Disability related accommodations and services generally will not be provided until the registration and documentation process is complete. The guidelines for documenting disabilities can be found at the following website: http://www.hws.edu/academics/ctl/disability_services.aspx

Please direct questions about this process or Disability Services at HWS to Administrative Coordinator Jamie Slusser (slusser@hws.edu, 781-3351) or Coordinator of Disability Services David Silver (silver@hws.edu).

Valid HTML 4.01!