Computer Systems and Programming (CS 471)
Syllabus - Spring 2020

1 Course Basics

1.0 Course Overview

CS471 provides an introduction to the principles of operating systems theory and practice. Fundamental concepts such as processes, synchronization, scheduling, memory management, file systems, and security will be presented.

Topics for this semester will include.

  • Operating System Fundamentals
  • Processes
  • Threads
  • Process Synchronization
  • CPU Scheduling
  • Memory Management
  • Virtual Memory
  • File, I/O, and Storage Systems
  • Protection and Security
  • OS Design Approaches

1.1 Readings

  • The main resource for this class will be presented through the lectures delivered by the instructor, as supported by the lecture slides. 

1.2 Professor and Section Information

Lecture Professor Email Class Time Class Location
003 Prof. Kevin Andrea kandrea (at) gmu (dot) edu MW 3:00pm - 4:15pm Lecture Hall 3

Your lecture Professor will be responsible for all lecture and course material, as well as grading your quizzes and examinations.

Graduate Teaching Assistant: Zhemin An (

The GTA for this section will be responsible for grading your Programming Assignments.

This is a 3-credit course.

1.3 Office Hours

Instructor Office Hours: Times are Wednesdays after Lecture from 4:30-6:00pm. 
    (Office: Engineering Building, room 4610, inside the Learning Agents Center)

GTA Office Hours: Times are TBA. 
    (Office: Engineering Building, TBA)

You may visit any Professor or GTA for questions about general course material.
  • For Exam and Quiz Grading Questions, see Prof. Andrea
  • For Programming Assignment Questions, you must see this section's GTA, Zhemin An.

1.4 Prerequisites

The prerequisites are automatically and strictly enforced.

  • Grade of C or better in CS 310, and
  • Grade of C or better in CS 367 (or ECE 445)

The students should be fluent in the C Programming Language to complete the programming projects.  These projects require a substantial amount of work to complete.

1.5 Course Outcomes

The CS department has identified these outcomes as ones that must be met throughout the semester.

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of operating systems features, evolution, and design.
  2. Show an understanding of the need for concurrent operation of multiple tasks (processes/threads) and an ability to solve basic process synchronization problems that arise from concurrent operation settings.
  3. Demonstrate knowledge of process scheduling, basic memory management, storage systems, and file system management techniques and their impact on performance.
  4. Be able to implement basic algorithms for OS services such as memory management and process scheduling. 
  5. Demonstrate knowledge of security threats to an operating system from both processes and networked sources and show an understanding of protection techniques.
  6. Demonstrate knowledge of how system calls work along with the mechanisms for interrupt handling.

1.6 Required Textbook

There is no required textbook, however, the following textbook will be referenced and is highly suggested (and free):
Additionally, these textbooks are also good resources for in-depth discussions of Operating System Topics:
    • Operating System Concepts by Silberschatz, Galvin and Gagne (9th or 10th Edition, John Wiley & Sons)
    • Operating Systems - Principles and Practice (2nd Edition, Recursive Books) by Anderson and Dahlin
    • Modern Operating Systems (4th edition, Pearson) by A. S. Tanenbaum

1.7 Electronics Policy

The use of electronic devices (including laptops, tablets, cell phones, smartphones, etc.) is not allowed in this class. If you feel that your learning will be hampered by not having access to your tablet/laptop computer for note-taking or other course-related purpose, you should speak to the instructor at the beginning of the term.

1.8 Blackboard

  • All digital work is submitted to Blackboard by the given deadlines.
  • Grades are posted on Blackboard for all assignments.

1.9 Computer Accounts

  • All work must compile and run on Zeus. This is the reference machine architecture and all projects will be tested and graded on the Zeus server.
  • All grading occurs on this system; other systems might be more forgiving for memory errors, and you don't want to find that out with your grade!
  • To access Zeus from off campus, you will need to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
  • Instructions for accessing Zeus in general, and from off campus, are in the following link.

2 Grading

The course will have two tests and a final. Much of the work during the semester will be completing projects, as well as regular recitation activities (written and digital).

2.1 Semester Grades

Weighting of Assessments:

Category grade % notes
Projects 30%
Homework and Quizzes 15%
Two Midterms (15% each) 30%  
Final Exam 25% cumulative

You must score at least 50% on the Final Exam to Pass the Course

2.2 Grading Scale

Grades will be assessed on the following scale:

Grade Cut-off Grade Cut-off Grade Cut-off Grade Cut-off
A+ 98 % B+ 88% C+ 78% D 60%
A 92 % B 82% C 72% F 0%
A- 90 % B- 80% C- 70%    

Grades will not be rounded prior to assessing the letter grades.

2.3 Calculating Semester Grades

  • You should always be able to calculate your semester grade at any point in the semester with the weightings and the scales above.
  • There will be no make-up or extra-credit assignments at the end of the semester; your grade should be a measure of your semester-long progress.

2.4 Projects (Programming Assignments)

  • Projects are significantly more involved than in previous classes.
    • Start your projects early. You will need extra time to design your solution before programming.
    • You will need time to design test cases for your projects as well. Test cases will not be provided.
    • There is a significant design and code reading component to these projects.
  • Projects are due at a specific time on a specific day.
  • Each Project will Specify Rules and Penalties for that Project.  
    • In General, there will be a late penalty stated on each project.
    • Submissions late by 3 days or more will not be accepted.
    • There will be a late penalty stated on each project.
    • Submit your projects early and often.
    • Do not wait until the last minute, submission may take extra time at the deadlines.
    • Always submit at least a few minutes before the deadline.
  • There are No Late Tokens.  The Deadlines are fixed, though each project will specify any late penalties.
  • Code that doesn't compile will likely get a very, very low score. It specifically must compile on the zeus server.
  • Turning it in on BlackBoard: Each Project will contain submission instructions.
    • Turning in the wrong files will likely result in a zero.
    • Backup your work! Catastrophic computer failure will not be cause for an extension.
      • Use a backup service such as DropBox (or any cloud service), emailing yourself, storing to a USB drive, whatever it takes.
        • Just don't put it in a public git repository where others can find it (this has happened before).
      • Every semester multiple students' computers die, are stolen, or otherwise 'lose' programs and digital work. Don't be the student who forgot to (frequently) back up your work!

2.5 Homeworks and Quizzes

  • There will be occasional homeworks and quizzes to bridge the gap between discussions in class and test-level work.
  • They may be either in person or online, as appropriate, but they will have fixed submission and due dates.

2.6 Tests and Final Exam

  • There will be two Midterms and one Final Exam.
  • They will be entirely paper and pencil - no computers, books, etc.
  • All students must have their GMU identification available on testing days
  • If you know you will miss a test, let your Professor know as soon as possible to coordinate an alternate time.
    • The reason for missing a test must be verified with documentation and may not be automatically granted.
  • If you miss a test (without prior approval), and a valid reason is verified with documentation (ER visit, traffic accident, etc.), we may elect to allow the final exam to count the extra amount to give you a sort of do-over. This policy is not automatic, however.
  • If you miss the final, there is very little I can do for you. Don't miss the final!
    • The Dean has to approve any requests to take missed final exams.
    • This is only granted for medical or other extraordinary circumstances.
  • The final can not be given early. You are starting the course with knowledge of the schedule (see GMU's Final Exam Calendar for the latest schedule, updated as weather events require).

2.7 Contested Grades

  • If you feel points have been incorrectly deducted, contact the grader.
    • Tests and Quizzes: Contact your Professor.
    • Homeworks and Projects: Contact your GTA.
  • If you have not initiated contact within one week of the grade being made available, it is permanent.
    • No grade-hunting in the last couple of weeks!
  • We strive to grade each student's work fairly and uniformly, often through specific test cases and grader-group-discussions, which might even be automated as part of the grading process.

2.8 Course Repetition

  • There is a limit of three graded attempts for this course.
  • A Withdrawal (W) does not count as a graded attempt.
  • Please see AP. 1.3.4 in the University Catalog and consult with your academic advisor if you have any questions.

3 The Honor Code

The honor code at George Mason is an important part of our academic culture. A degree from this institution should be a direct measure of your own progress and abilities, and as such at all times we must ensure that all work that should be your own is your own.

We take the honor code quite seriously. Any attempts at copying or sharing code, algorithms, or other violations of the honor code simply will not be tolerated.

As seductively simple as it may seem to just copy and paste work from a friend or online source, remember that it is just as easy to compare your work electronically, and discover the similarities. We use automated software to flag suspicious cases, and then review them by hand to find the cases that must be submitted to the Office of Academic Integrity. Repeat to yourself: it's not worth trying to cheat. We will catch it, and sadly but surely, we will turn it in.

The penalty for cheating will always be far worse than a zero grade, to ensure it's not worth taking the chance. The usual recommendation is failure in the course. It's a pretty sure-fire way to lose a semester and lose some implicated friends; please don't put yourself through that experience!

3.0 General Rules of Thumb

  • You are not allowed to use code from the Internet.
    • This includes Stackoverflow, Chegg, or any other site with code.
  • You are not allowed to discuss any implementation (code) or design decisions with any other student.
    • This includes prior students and students from other sections.
  • You are not allowed to share or use any code from any other student.

3.1 Some Specifics and Links

  • All students will abide by GMU's Honor Code.
  • All work must be your own. If you are caught cheating, you and every other involved student will be turned in to the honor court.
  • See the CS Honor Code Policies to understand better what constitutes cheating in the CS setting. It clarifies some scenarios that are unique to our sorts of assignments.
  • Here are Prof. Snyder's thoughts about the Honor Code in a CS classroom.

4 Learning Disabilities

  • Students with a learning disability or other condition (documented with GMU's Office of Disability Services) that may impact academic performance should speak with the professor ASAP to discuss appropriate accommodations.
  • We are quite happy to assist as is appropriate, but it must be documented ahead of time by ODS.
    • Bringing the paperwork with you to a scheduled exam or at the deadline for a project or an assigned quiz is far too late!
    • Even if you don't know if you plan on utilizing the accommodations ahead of time, it's in your best interest to prepare them ahead of time.

5 Sexual Harassment and Interpersonal Violence

  • As a faculty member and designated "Responsible Employee," I am required to report all disclosures of sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and stalking to Mason's Title IX Coordinator per university policy 1412. If you wish to speak with someone confidentially, please contact the Student Support and Advocacy Center (703-380-1434), Counseling and Psychological Services (703-993-2380), Student Health Services, or Mason's Title IX Coordinator (703-993-8730;

6 Privacy and Email

  • Students must use their Masonlive email account to receive important University information, including communications related tot his class.
    • I can not respond to messages sent from or send messages to a non-Mason email address.
  • To protect your privacy, I also cannot list your Masonlive email address on any public forum or provide it to any other students.
    • You may, of course, give your email address to any other students.