CS 390: Research and Project Design Principles in Computing

(Spring 2016)


CS 390 provides students with an introduction to the research and project design process as applied within the computing field. Students will learn about the tools of the trade and work through design principles starting with the articulation of a question, reviewing methods of exploration, gathering evidence, communicating results, and assessing/evaluating research or project outcomes.

This course will be of interest to the following students:

  1. Students interested in a two semester capstone experience should enroll in this course followed by CS 490 - Design Exhibition.
  2. Students who would like to get involved in undergraduate research (see UROP).
  3. Students interested in working on realworld problems with area companies. Several local companies have proposed projects and will have mentors available throughout the semester.


CS 262 (Low level Programming) is required

CS 310 (Data Structures) and CS 321 (Software Requirements & Design Modeling) is highly recommended


Instructor: Katherine (Raven) Russell
Instructor Email: krusselc_AT_gmu.edu
Email Subject Line: [CS390]
Office: Engineering, Rm 5328
Open Office Hours (no appointment needed) Tuesday/Thursday/Friday 9:00-10:00am
Office Hours by Appointment Tuesday/Thursday after 3pm, Monday/Wednesday before noon


CS 390 is an activity-based course. This means that students must attend all classes and contribute to on-going discussions. There are no exams, but the course grade will be based on class participation and completion of a semester project or research paper:

  1. Participation: readings critiques, progress reports, and presentations: 40%
  2. Semester project: 60%

Tentative list of required activities:

Week Dates Topics Description
1 Jan 19
Jan 21
Defining research
Objectives and first day survey
Discuss research, projects, well-defined problems, and how to get started.
2 Jan 26
Jan 28
Student group formation
Case Study 1
Project discussions
Discuss research papers focused on a single topic
3 Feb 2
Feb 4
Student group project ideas
Case Study 2
Project discussions
Discuss research papers focused on a single topic
4 Feb 9
Feb 11
Finalize group project ideas
Case Study 3
Project discussions
Discuss research papers focused on a single topic
5 Feb 16
Feb 18
Student (group) presentations
6 Feb 23
Feb 25
Resources & Software Development Theresa Calcagno: Fenwick Library Research Department
7 Mar 1
Mar 3
Student (group) presentations
8 Mar 8
Mar 10
9 Mar 15
Mar 17
Project Pitfalls
Tools Identification
Discussion: What can and will go wrong and how to handle it. Are there existing solutions to sub-problems?
10 Mar 22
Mar 24
Student (group) presentations
11 Mar 29
Mar 31
Evaluation Methodologies
Presentation Techniques
Discussion: How do you know when you've succeeded?
Discussion: Tips on presenting your work.
12 Apr 5
Apr 7
Working groups
13 Apr 12
Apr 14
Presentation practice Peer feedback
14 Apr 19
Apr 21
Final group presentations
15 Apr 26
Apr 28
Group Assessments & Evaluations


By the end of the semester, students will be able to:

  1. Articulate and refine a question while following ethical principles.
  2. Engage in the key elements of the scholarly process by:
  3. Assess the validity of key assumptions and evidence, and situate the scholarly inquiry within a broader context.

This course was developed with the support of OSCAR @ GMU and is identified as an Inquiry level course.


PRIME DIRECTIVE: Be able to explain your own work. The work you submit should be the product of your own effort and reflect your personal understanding. Students may be asked at any time to explain their contributions. Inability to do so will be construed as evidence of misconduct.

Both the University and the Computer Science Department have honor codes you are expected to adhere to. We will be reviewing these in class, but more information about the university honor code can be found here: http://oai.gmu.edu/the-mason-honor-code-2/ and the deparment's honor code can be found here: http://cs.gmu.edu/wiki/pmwiki.php/HonorCode/CSHonorCodePolicies. You are bound by these honor codes.

Any submitted work which shows too much commonality with others' work to be completely original, or any plagiarized work, will result in a case for the Honors Committee.