Compsci 82, Fall 2009, About

The course meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:15-2:30 in Bioscience 111.


image *Professor Owen Astrachan
  • office: D241, LSRC
  • email: ola at
  • AIM: ola314159
  • phone: 660-6522
  • office hours: Tuesday 11-12, Thursday 1-2, whenever my door is open.

CS Department
	          Image *TA Sam Slee
  • office: tba
  • email: sgs AT cs DOT duke DOT edu
  • phone: tba
  • office hours: tba
CS Department
	          Image *TA Ryan Scudellari
  • office: tba
  • email: scudella AT cs DOT duke DOT edu
  • phone: tba
  • office hours: tba



Grading is done on an absolute, but adjustable scale. This means that there is no curve. Anyone earning 90% or more of the total number of points available will receive a grade in the A range (A- to A+); 80% = B, 70% = C, 60% = D. This scale may go down, but it will not go up.

What is an A in Compsci 82?

You can earn an A- based on the average of the work you submit, i.e., if you average above 90% you are certain to get an A-. To receive a grade above A- you must exceed expectations. This means you must do everything required very, very well or you must do more than is required and do this well. In other words, to earn an A you must do more than merely meet expectations, you must exceed them. You must also synopsize one of the quantitative readings.

Grades of A+ are possible. To receive an A+ you must exceed expectations, be intensely curious and inquisitive, make the class a wonderful experience for everyone, and write an optional final paper.

What You Turn In

You'll read and think a fair amount in this course, or at least you'll be asked to do so. Different things you turn in for credit count differently toward your final grade. The percentages toward your final grade for each kind of work you turn in are given in the table below.

What you do Percentage of Final Grade
Reading Synopses 18%
Quantitative Problems 10%
Online Quizzes/Surveys 10%
Inclass/group work 10%
Polleverywhere 5%
Peer Assessment 5%
Monday Questions 5%
Goodness Points 7%
Midterm 15%
Final 15%
Total 100%

Readings and Groups

There will be readings assigned most weeks, see the syllabus for topics and the readings page for a list of all readings. The class is divided into three groups and each group will turn in three synopses of the readings spread throughout the semester.

Details of the synopsis you turn in are available, the main idea is to distill and condense the readings and your reaction to the readings into roughly three pages you write and turn in.

Synopses, other written work, and most work in general will be graded on a the following four/4 point scale:

Although you only turn in three synopses during the semester, you're expected to keep up with the readings each week. To ensure minimal compliance there is a reading quiz on Blackboard each week based on the readings for that week. The online quiz must be completed before class on the Monday of the week after the readings, e.g., for readings the week of Aug. 31 - Sept. 4 you complete the reading quiz before class on Sept. 7. These quizzes don't require in-depth understanding. We'll have 150 quiz points for reading during the semester. To earn full credit you must get 60% of the points or 90 points during the semester. You don't have to do every quiz, you need 90 points for complete quiz-credit (see the chart above).

Late Policy

You'll submit your work online. In general work will be due on Thursday at midnight. You'll likely use either the web or Blackboard to submit work. If you write a synopsis we expect you to submit a .pdf file. We will not grade work submitted in any other format. We don't care about midnight vs. 2 am vs. 4 am, but after the sun rises your paper is late.

Please use the Trinity Illness Forms on the web as necessary, and understand its limits. Papers turned in before class on the Monday after they're due will receive a 1 point deduction. Papers will not be accepted after the Monday class.

Class Attendance Policy

You should come to class. If you don't attend you'll miss getting information first-hand, meeting your old and new friends, participating in discussion, and attending some (hopefully) first-rate talks.

On those Mondays (and perhaps occasional Wednesday) when we have an outside speaker you're expected to attend class. We know you won't make every one of these classes, but we expect you to try. To encourage such efforts we'll have a short three question response (you can think of this as a quiz if that helps, but if you listen to the speaker you'll know the answers) at the end of each such class. On those Mondays we don't have an outside speaker scheduled in advance, there may be a spur-of-the moment response. Expect roughly eight responses during the semester, for a total of 24 answers. Full response credit will allow you to miss two Mondays if you notify the instructor by email in advance that you'll miss class.


Any work in this course that does not include an explicit policy about working with others is assumed to be work you do on your own. Occasionally you'll be given work to do with explicit permission to collaborate. Without such permission your work is your own.

Final Paper

To receive an A+ you must do a final paper/project. It's possible to receive an A without doing a final paper, but you must do everything in the course at an A level to ensure an A. You can slip a little and still receive an A if you do a final paper. Specifics about the final paper/project are available.

Final Exam

Relief policy for final exam in the course.