CPSC 327 Data Structures and Algorithms Fall 2009

CPSC 327 Course 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.

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.

Assignments and Evaluation

Readings: Readings are an important component of this course, as they provide a starting point for the material that will be covered in class. Readings are to be done before the class period for which they are assigned.

Thinking Problems: Knowledge is gained by thinking about the material, not having it (only) pass in front of your eyes. Readings will often be accompanied by one or two "thinking problems", to prompt you to think more deeply about the material and to set the stage for the day's class meeting. Thinking problems are due at the start of class on the day for which they are assigned.

Homework: Homework problems will be designated as "practice problems" or "creative problems". Practice problems will focus on fundamentals and will be assigned frequently to provide opportunities for rapid feedback. Practice problems are due the next class period after they are assigned. Creative problems will focus on applying the material rather than reciting it.

Projects: Practical applications of the course material will be emphasized in three several-week projects. The projects will involve programming.

Exams: There will be two midterms and a final exam. All will be take-home exams, and will emphasize applying concepts rather than simple recall. More information about the exams will be provided closer to the exam dates.

Final Grades: Final grades in this course will be computed as follows:

  • Thinking Problems: 10%
  • Homework: 30%
  • Projects: 25% (approx. 8% each)
  • Exams: 35% (midterms 10% each, final 15%)

Attendance: You are expected to attend and be on time for all class meetings. Late arrivals may be marked as absent. Attendance is not explicitly factored into your final grade, but note that a large number of absences often negatively affects your grade. In addition, the number of unexcused absences is taken into account when considering borderline final grades.

Participation: You are also expected to participate in class. This does not mean that you have to volunteer for everything, but you should be actively engaged in class - i.e. you are paying attention and contribute meaningfully to the class on a regular basis. You should not hesitate to ask questions about the course material, either in class or outside of class via email or office hours - if you remain confused about something, it will make the next topic that much harder.

Late Policy

Exams are due at the time stated. Late exams will only be accepted as outlined under "Missing Class / Make-Up Policy" and "Extensions / Rescheduling Exams" below.

Creative problems and projects will not be accepted more than two class periods after they are due. (e.g. an assignment due Friday will not be accepted after the following Wednesday) Late work will be penalized 5% if turned in by midnight on the due date and 10% per day or part of day thereafter. (e.g. an assignment due Friday will be penalized 30% if it is turned in on Monday) Deductions are calculated as a percentage of the total points possible on the assignment, not the number of points you earned. This policy is intended to discourage habitually late handins and to prevent one late assignment from taking away time needed to work on the next, while still recognizing that sometimes there are circumstances where one just needs a bit more time.

Thinking problems and practice problems will not be accepted late, since they will often be discussed in class on the due date. However, a few "freebies" will be allowed without affecting your grade.

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.

Missing Class / Make-Up Policy

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.

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.

Making up work (missed exam or assignment deadline) will only be allowed in the case of an excused absence, and only when it was not possible to have made arrangements in advance. Making up an exam requires documentation from an appropriate person (dean, doctor, etc) to validate the reason for the absence. Arrangements for making up work must be made as soon as possible after the due date missed.

Extensions / Rescheduling Exams

Rescheduling of exams and extensions on assignments will only be allowed in compelling circumstances (e.g. an excused absence on exam day, or a series of excused absences covering a significant portion of time before the due date). In particular, note that leaving early for a vacation is generally not a compelling reason, nor is being busy or having a bunch of assignments due at the same time.

Arrangements for rescheduled exams or extensions 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".

If arrangements cannot be made in advance (e.g. due to a last-minute emergency), the policy for make-up work applies.

Collaboration Policy

The Principle of Academic Integrity (see the HWS Catalogue, p. 33) governs all of the work completed in this course. Specifically:

You are generally allowed to discuss the course material and assignments with other students and to use other materials (such as reference books or websites) as technical references, but anything you turn in for a grade must be your work - your ideas and your effort. In addition, you must:

  • acknowledge, in the assignment write-up, who you discussed the assignment with or got help from and in what capacity (include all sources - other students, tutors, the instructor, websites, etc)
  • fully understand the help you receive (you should be able to explain your solution to someone else)
  • write up the assignment independently and in your own words (this helps ensure that you really do understand the solution)

For team or group assignments, the policy applies to the group: work submitted must be the ideas and effort of the group, and discussions with or help from people or sources outside the group must be acknowledged.

The exception to the "discussion allowed" rule is exams: exams are to be completed solely by the student whose name is on the paper. The only person you may discuss the exam with is the instructor, and you may use only those materials authorized in the instructions.

You are encouraged to work on thinking problems and practice problems with others in the class. Explaining things to others is a valuable way to cement your own understanding - or to realize that you didn't understand a concept as well as you thought. However, even for these problems, you must still acknowledge your collaboration, fully understand the help, and write up your solution independently.

For other creative problems and projects, however, be careful of collaborating too much with others - 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, and it is then more likely that you don't fully understand the material - and it is better to discover this before an exam.)

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

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.

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 that is plagiarism.

Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)

Hobart and William Smith Colleges encourage students to seek the academic collaboration and resources that will enable them to demonstrate their best work. Students who would like to enhance their study skills, writing skills, or have other academic inquiries should contact the CTL. You may visit the CTL web site to learn more about the services and programs that are available: http://www.hws.edu/academics/ctl/

If you are a student with a disability for which you need or may need accommodations, you should self-identify and register with the Coordinator of Disability Services at the Center of Teaching and Learning. You will then be required to provide for review documentation of your disability to that office. Disability related accommodations and services generally will not be provided until the registration and documentation process is complete. Guidelines for documenting disabilities and information pertaining to registration with the CTL can be found at our website: http://www.hws.edu/disabilities

Extra Time on Exams or Other Accommodations

If there's something about the course that would serve you better (e.g. course material in other formats), let me know!

If you need extra time on exams or other accommodations, see the section on CTL above. CTL will then provide you with a letter stating what accommodations you are eligible for. You must provide me with this documentation in advance in order to receive accommodations.

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