Last Updated: 2015-09-02 Wed 16:44

CS 100: Principles of Computing

George Mason University
Fall 2015
3 Credits

1 Basic Course Information

1.1 Prerequisites: None

1.2 General Education

Fulfills Mason Core requirement in Information Technology (ALL).

1.3 Meeting Times and Locations

Section Days Time Professor Location
001 T/R 12:00-1:15pm Kauffman Innovation 206
002 T/R 3:00-2:45pm Kauffman Innovation 136

1.4 Instructors

Name Chris Kauffman
Office Engineering 5341
Phone 703-993-5194

1.5 Teaching Assistants

Call Me Name Email  
Han Han-Tsung Liu GTA
Talha Talhah Zafar GTA
Jimmy Quyen "Jimmy" Tran UTA

1.6 Required Texts

1.7 Computing Resources

It is required you will have access to a computer with the ability to browse the internet and install programs like Python. Some university labs provide computers for this purpose but most students find it more convenient to have a personal computer. Lecture time will be devoted to installing necessary programs when the need arises. If that it will be difficult for you to gain access to computing resources, contact the course staff.

1.8 Communication

  • Piazza is our central course web site. The announcements, discussion board, and documents posted there are part of the required reading for the course.
    • All instructors and TAs can view all material on Piazza
    • Use public posts on Piazza to discuss HW, and other material related to the course.
    • Use private posts on Piazza for questions involving your own work or code.
    • Mail the professor or TA directly if you have logistic or personal issues to discuss such as setting up an appointment outside of office hours, if a health problem arises, or if you have a personal emergency.
  • BlackBoard is used to submit assignments and disseminate grades.
  • Office Hours are listed for all staff on Piazza (Resources/Staff). No appointments are required to attend office hours: staff will be at the listed location at the given times with doors open ready to help. In addition to attending the regular meeting times, you are strongly encouraged to visit course staff during office hours to further your understanding of the material: we are here to help you learn.

2 Course Description

2.1 Goals

This course is intended to help students learn to think in the manner necessary to fully grasp the nature and power of the digital world around us. The early era of the Internet and the personal computer led to the need for "computer literacy." Now, the changing nature of our global society requires that students learn new ways to think about problems and how to solve them, regardless of students' specific fields of endeavor. Through this course, students will explore major issues related to the "big ideas" of computational thinking (namely, (i) Creativity, (ii) Abstraction, (iii) Data, (iv) Algorithms, (v) Programming, (vi) Internet, and (vii) Societal Impact), as well as how these issues will impact their future lives.

Topics to be covered include.

  • Representation of ideas with bits
  • Basic boolean logic
  • Devices to implement logic functions
  • Programming Languages for data and action
  • Primitive Operations and Abstraction
  • Algorithms for work and play
  • Communication between machines
  • Computing Security Concepts
  • Basic data analysis
  • Impact of automation and communication on human societies
  • Human and Machine Intelligence

2.2 Learning Outcomes

By the end of the semester, a passing student will be able to carry out the following types of activities:

  1. Students will be able to use technology to locate, access, evaluate, and use information, and appropriately cite resources from digital/electronic media.
  2. Students will understand the core IT concepts in a range of current and emerging technologies and learn to apply appropriate technologies to a range of tasks.
  3. Students will understand many of the key ethical, legal and social issues related to information technology and how to interpret and comply with ethical principles, laws, regulations, and institutional policies.
  4. Students will understand the essential issues related to information security, how to take precautions and use techniques and tools to defend against computer crimes.
  5. Students will recognize the significance of the "big ideas" of computational thinking.

3 Coursework

3.1 Lectures

During lectures we will discuss computing concepts and instructors will provide demos of programming relevant to assignments. Occassionally some work will be done in class which students submit and will contribute to the student's overall grade in the class. The days in which in-class work will be done will not be announced in advance.

3.2 Reading

Readings from the textbook(s) relevant to each lecture are listed in the schedule. You will increase your understanding of lectures by reading associated textbook sections ahead of time. Additional reading material may be provided to supplement the textbook which will be posted on the course web page.

3.3 Homework Assignments

Homework will be a mixture of problem solving, writing English responses to questions, and writing code. Some HW will be individual effort and other HW may be done in groups of a limited size. All HW must be submitted in electronic form to Blackboard by posted deadlines. The exact nature of what should be submitted will be described in each HW. Some HW assignments will be relatively short and have a short turn-around time for submission (1 week) while other assignments will be longer with a turn-around reflecting the effort (2-3 weeks).

Homework will be submitted electronically on Blackboard. Students may submit paper copies to get additional feedback from the grader.

3.4 Exams

There will be a series of mini-exams which last 30 minutes during lecture time. There will also be a comprehensive final exam at the end semester. Refer to the schedule for dates of the exams.

3.5 Term Paper

Students will select a computing topic in the middle of the course on which to do research and craft a substantial paper on the subject. This will require library and online research and will include both a technical component and a social component. The term paper will be due on the last day of class and will be submitted electronically.

3.6 Bonus Credit

Bonus credit will be awarded based on participation in class discussions. Students may elect to sit in the first few rows of the room ("hot seats") and answer questions. Reasonable effort on answering questions in class will garner class participation credit. Participation points may also earned for involvement in the class discussion board such as giving suggestions to students with questions (but not revealing answers wholesale). The highest point winner at the end of the semester will receive a 3% bonus to their overall score in the course. All other students will receive a bonus proportional to the highest point winner. For example, someone tied with the highest point scorer will also receive a 3% bonus while someone with half the participation points will receive a 1.5% bonus.

4 Grading Policies

4.1 Components

Final grades will be determined by scores obtained on homework assignments, in class work, mini-exams, final exam, and term paper. If circumstances require it, the grading scale may be adjusted, generally in the students' favor. The approximate weighting of each component is given below.

Component Count Weight
Homework Assignments 5-7 30%
In-lecture Work 5-7 5%
Zyante Exercises   5%
Term Paper 1 10%
Mini-Exams 3-4 30%
Final Exam 1 20%

4.2 Final Grade Determination

Final grades will be assigned without rounding according to the following criteria. It is a 10-point scale per letter grade, with the upper and lower 2% of each 10% earning a + or -.

Percent Grade Percent Grade Percent Grade Percent Grade
>= 98 A+ 89-88 B+ 79-78 C+ 69-60 D
97-92 A 87-82 B 77-72 C <60 F
91-90 A- 81-80 B- 71-70 C-    

4.3 Grading Disputes

Address grading issues with the grader first which is either the UTA or GTA and will be included as part of grading feedback. Disputes should be made respectfully either in person or via e-mail. If it is not possible to reach a resolution, the professor may be contacted by the grader or student to resolve the dispute.

If you have not initiated contact within 1 week after receiving a grade, the chance to contest the grade has closed.

4.4 Homework Deadlines and Late Submission

  • Homework is due via electronic submission by the beginning of class on the specified due dates (usually Thursday class). You can submit work to BlackBoard as many times as desired. Only the last submission will be graded.
  • Work will not be accepted more than 4 days after the assigned deadline.
  • Late work will be accepted with a -10% penalty per day late.

    Example: HW is due on 10/10 and Jafar hands in his assignment on 10/12. Jafar would have scored 83 but instead gets 83 - 10*2 = 63.

    Iago wants to hand in his assigment on 10/15 but it will not be accepted as it is too late (> 4 days late).

  • On-time submissions will generally be graded and available a week from submission, though exceptional circumstances may cause delays. Late submissions will be graded in as timely a fashion as schedules allow.
  • Contact the professor as soon as possible if health or family emergencies occur that interfere with completing course work.

4.5 Exam Policies

  • Your Mason ID is required for all exams. You may be asked to show the ID to verify your identity on handing in your exam.
  • Missing an exam results in a zero score and make-up exams will be considered only in situations involving death and near death. Proof of such circumstances will be required for a make-up to be considered.

5 Academic Honesty and Collaboration


PRIME DIRECTIVE: Be able to explain your own work including homework code and exam solutions.

Nearly all cheating in programming can be averted by adhering to the PRIME DIRECTIVE. Students may be asked at any time to explain code or exam solutions they submit. Inability to do so will be construed as evidence of misconduct. More specific guidelines are given below.

5.2 Thou Shalt Not

For the purposes of this course, the following actions constitute scholastic misconduct (cheating):

  • Directly copying someone else's solution to a homework problem, including student solutions from a previous semester
  • Directly copying an answer from some outside source such as the Internet or friend for a homework problem
  • Making use of an Instructor Solution manual to complete homework problems
  • Paying someone for a homework solution or submitting someone else's work as your own
  • Posting solutions to any web site including our course web site
  • Collaborating or copying someone else's answer during an exam
  • Aiding or abetting any of the above
  • Witnessing any of the above and failing to report it the instructor immediately

Refer to the following links for additional information.

5.3 Penalties

Any instance of misconduct that is detected will be referred to the honor board and will likely result in failing the course. Be advised that the teaching team will be employing electronic means to detect plagiarism. This is extremely easy with computer code so keep your nose clean.

5.4 Fair Collaboration

The purpose of this course is to learn about programming and learning from one another is a great help. To that end, the following actions will NOT be considered cheating in this course.

  • Talking to other students in the course about HW problems and informally describing how a problem may be solved.
    • Be very careful as you do this that you do not share any sort of code as this will be detected.
  • Getting or giving help fixing a small bug or two: a second set of eyes is a great boon to finding that misplaced semicolon that is preventing your code from compiling.
  • Searching the Internet for alternative presentations of a programming concept.
  • When unsure whether collaboration is fair or not, stop the activity until it can be cleared with instructor.

At all times keep the PRIME DIRECTIVE in mind when studying with another student. The above collaborations should be limited to getting someone over a hurdle, not carrying them across the finish line.

About half your grade will depend on programming projects. Doing them individually prepares you for the exams in which no collaboration of any kind is allowed.

6 Additional Policies

6.1 Programming Assignments

Since this is a programming course, some special policies will be in effect.

  • Programming assignments will be submitted to Blackboard at the specified dates. You may submit assignments to Blackboard as many times as you like: only the most recent submission will be graded (up to the deadline).
  • Back up your program regularly. Keeping backup copies of your work is your responsibility. Losing work due to a disk failure, accidental deletion, etc., is not a justification for late submission. Technologies like Dropbox automate the task of backing up which can make life much easier and safer. Submitting occasional early versions to Blackboard is also wise. Should last-minute problems happen such as accidental deletion, you will at least have some of your work to show. No code to submit means no credit.
  • Submitted code that does not compile or run error-free will receive little to no credit.
  • When test cases are provided by the instructor use them and make sure your code passes all tests.
  • Familiarize yourself with how plagiarism works with programming as described in other parts of the syllabus.
  • Keep an untouched copy of your final code submission. It is important that you not touch your programs once you have made your final submission. If there are any submission problems, consideration for credit will only be given if it can be verified that the programs were not changed after being submitted.

6.2 Behavior and Accommodations

Students are expected to maintain a high level of civility for all participants in and out of class meetings. This includes respecting the beliefs of participants of all genders, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. Harassment of any type will not be tolerated and failure to behave in a respectful manner will result in referrals to University Counseling or the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. Any instances of sexual harassment will be reported to the Office of Equal Opportunity according the following policy:

Observance of religious events will be accommodated for students of any faith.

All possible accommodations will be made for students with disabilities. Please contact Disability Services ( and the instructor for further information.

7 Guidelines for Success

  • Most homework problems have analogs that are (1) discussed in lecture or (2) described in an example problem in the textbook. This should encourage you to
    • Attend lecture and take notes
    • Read the content of each section of the textbook carefully
    • Analyze the example code distributed by the instructor

    Most successful students do all of these.

  • Seek help from the instructor or teaching assistant when a concept is unclear. If you blow a problem on a HW or exam and don't see why, attend office hours to ask about it. We are here to aid your learning process.
  • Form good habits early on. We have a large amount of material to cover which means you will need to spend time outside of lecture reading and experimenting. Things will move fast so don't fall behind.
  • There is a wealth of information on data structures online. Don't be afraid to consult online tutorials if a particular topic is troublesome for you. However, do not misuse to the Internet to obtain solutions that you don't understand. Follow the PRIME DIRECTIVE at all times.

Author: Chris Kauffman (
Date: 2015-09-02 Wed 16:44