Readings and Discussion Questions

Summary: This document summarizes guidelines for reading and preparing for classes.



Throughout the semester, I will assign readings from a variety of texts. You will be expected to do the assigned readings before class. To provide direction for our class meetings, you will be expected to email me discussion questions the morning before class. 

Texts and other materials

Over the semester, we'll read both from a textbook and from a variety of primary sources.

Larry L. Peterson and Bruce Davie (2003). Computer Networks, 3rd ed. Morgan Kaufmann, Elsevier.
Our textbook, widely recognized as one of the best on the subject.
Research articles.
We'll read several research articles, both historical and contemporary. Most of these articles will be available through eReserve.
Internet RFCs.
RFC stands for "Request for Comments"; RFCs are the official publications of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Internet standards are defined in RFCs. However, RFCs serve other purposes as well: notably, defining proposed or draft standards for discussion (hence, "request for comments") and providing information to the Internet engineering community.
Other articles.
We'll also read articles from trade magazines and the popular press about current topics.

How to read for this class

I suggest you read/skim each assignment two or three times. I find I am usually better off not making any notes at all during my first reading---my early notes are often beside the point as I don't know how the pieces fit together. You will likely prefer one or the other of these strategies, depending on your learning style:

Strategy 1: Top-down
First, skim the assigned text, paying special attention to section headings. Your goal is to get the gist of the work: What is it about? What is its structure? Second, read carefully to fill in the details. Pay special attention to figures and examples. Finally, make notes with page numbers. Your notes should include important ideas and your reactions and questions. (These will be helpful for preparing your discussion questions.)
Strategy 2: Bottom-up
First, read the assigned text carefully and try to understand the details. Pay special attention to figures and examples. Next, skim through the work again, this time trying to put those details together into the big picture: What is it about? What is the larger structure? Finally, make notes with page numbers. Your notes should include important ideas and your reactions and questions. (These will be helpful for preparing your discussion questions.)

You may find it more efficient to combine your second and third readings. I may provide additional suggestions for reading specific types of texts as the term progresses.

Discussion questions


Discussion questions serve, well, to guide our discussion. Thus, questions should help guide us toward a productive discussion in one of two ways: It should help you and other students to understand the concepts, or it should lead us towards insights that go beyond the concepts that are presented.

Bearing these goals in mind, consider asking the following types of questions:

Thus, questions should seek to clarify points of confusion or to expand ideas introduced just briefly.  For the most part, simple factual questions should be avoided (unless the facts are in dispute).  I will assume that you have a clear understanding of topics not addressed in questions, and you should be prepared to contribute to class discussions regarding any aspect of the readings.

Your questions should be related to the text.  Provide adequate context: It should be clear what your question is about. Cite an author and page number(s) in your questions, using direct quotes when appropriate.


Students should submit at least one well-thought-out question for each day on which discussion questions are required. If we read more than one text for class, you need only ask one question.  Students may submit additional questions for support and for extra credit.

Questions must be submitted via email before 10 a.m. on the day of the discussion. I will collate discussion questions into a document which I will then place online (accessible only within Grinnell college).

I will grade discussion questions on a plus/check/minus/zero scale.  Most questions will receive a check.  Particularly valuable or insightful questions will receive a plus.  Questions that are out of context, trivial, or particularly poorly phrased will receive a minus. Students who fail to submit their questions on time will receive a zero.

I will drop your five lowest grades on discussion questions (including zeros).

Janet Davis (

Created January 21, 2007
Last revised January 23, 2007