Course Mechanics

Summary: Explains course activities, policies, and recommendations.


Grading policy

I will use the following scheme as a basis for computing final grades.

Participation 10%
WarmUps 20% 15%
Labs 40%
Abstracts 10% 15%
Exams 20%

I do not believe in "grading on a curve." I may adjust grades upward if I feel they are not representative of your learning, but I will not adjust them downward. I would be thrilled if you all earned A's in this course.

Learning activities

This class meets three times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Although this is nominally a lecture class, don't expect much lecturing from me! 

There are many ways to approach the subject of comptuer networks. The current text, Peterson and Davie's Computer Networks: A Systems Perspective considers not only particular protocols used on the Internet, but also the abstract problems in building communication networks. Peterson and Davie are still strongly oriented toward TCP/IP, but their presentation has a more global view of protocol interactions. The book is focused on networking protocols and paper analysis; we will use the labs to from paper analysis to practical experience.

I will teach the course at four levels:

Monday and Wednesday classes will be conducted as a seminar/recitation section. Our focus will be on discussion, answering questions, and solving problems. I may lecture some, but I will try to keep my lectures brief. I am asking students to do WarmUp exercises to prepare for class.

Friday classes will be lab sessions; we will discuss your results from the previous week, and you will have time to get started on the next week's lab.

We will meet 1:00 - 2:05 on Monday and Wednesday, and 1:15 - 2:05 on Friday (so that we can spend a little longer at CS table).

This class will be very small and will include at least one auditor. Auditors are expected to read the textbook, complete WarmUp exercises, and participate in class on  Mondays and Wednesdays (at least). Auditors may want to read the abstract papers and try the lab exercises, but they need not write up their findings.


Because much of our work in this course involves collaboration and discussion, you will be evaluated on your participation.

Students who are present, on time, prepared, and who make positive contributions to discussion or other classwork can expect to earn 90 points (an A-) for their participation grade. I will reward students who  provide significant insights or guide discussion in productive ways with a higher participation score. Students who fail to participate regularly or who participate in counterproductive ways (e.g., by dominating the conversation or making inappropriate comments) can expect to earn a lower score.

One unexcused absence (your "oops" day) will have no effect on your participation score. Missing 2-3 classes will reduce your participation score by 10 points. Missing 5-6 classes will reduce your participation grade by 25 points. Missing 7 or more classes will reduce your participation grade by 50 points. I will take attendance most days.

To have your absence count as excused, you must either (a) ensure that I receive documentation of the circumstances of your absence from Health Services or Student Affairs, or (b) contact me to make suitable arrangements at least a week in advance.  In particular, students on sports teams should provide me with their game schedules as soon as possible.

Because I care about you, if you do miss class unexpectedly, I would appreciate a quick call or email as soon as you are able.  Don't be surprised if I email to make sure you are OK. (In a class this size, it will be very obvious when you are gone!)

When you do miss class, it is your responsibility to talk to a classmate about what you missed and then to see me to discuss any further questions or concerns.


To make better use of our class time, I will assume that you have completed reading assignments before class. To get you started thinking about the reading, I will assign reading questions or (hopefully) small problems. You will always have an opportunity to ask questions of me or the class---and I strongly encourage you to do so! Our small class this semester provides an exciting opportunity to learn through discussion and problem solving.

WarmUp assignments will be posted in each week's schedule along with the reading assignment. You should email me your responses by 11 a.m. before class. I will use your responses to focus our time in class---so, no late work will be accepted. 

Any response showing a reasonable effort will earn 1 point; I may occasionally award extra credit. You may miss up to two WarmUps without penalty. (Your "oops" day counts as one of those two.)

A suggestion for how to read: First, quickly skim the reading (3 - 10 minutes) to get a sense of what is covered. Then read selected sections carefully, pencil in hand, noting important ideas, terminology, and questions. You can annotate your textbook or write notes separately, recording the page numbers. Next, review your notes and ask yourself, "What questions did I answer? What questions do I still have?" Finally, answer the WarmUp questions, referring to your notes and the textbook as necessary.


Laboratory exercises will be started in class on Friday and, usually, due on the following Friday. Labs are intended to give practical experience and may or may not be directly connected to the textbook material from the preceeding week. The labs will include a variety of activities: observing real networks using Wireshark and standard tools; experimenting with Emulab, a network emulator; and implementing network protocols.

Labs will be graded by contract. I will clearly state what work must be completed to earn an A or a B.


The main idea of the abstract is to summarize and review technical literature in computer science.  Each abstract should begin with a concise explanation of the major points of the article, thus demonstrating your understanding. The abstract should then go on to your analysis of the article: How well did the author(s) present their ideas? Did you find the ideas beautiful? useful? surprising? innovative? speculative? difficult? straightforward? Why?

Each abstract should be one to two pages. Each abstract should have a header including the course number, your name, the due date, the date you submitted your abstract, and a complete citation for the article including author, title, journal, date, url, etc. Please spellcheck and proofread your abstract: If I can't read it, I won't grade it.

Each abstract should be formatted using HTML, LaTeX, DocBook, groff, or another typesetting language---not Microsoft Word! This is because I want you to gain experience with declarative languages and typesetting systems. HTML you all should know about; LaTeX is used for computer science, math, and physics research papers; DocBook is used by O'Reilly Press and others for formatting technical books; and groff is the system used to format Unix man pages. References are available in the CS Learning Center (SCI 3814) and on the web. (To render LaTeX documents, I prefer the pdflatex program.)

Abstracts should be turned in by Tuesday at 5 p.m. 5:30 p.m. to the maroon folder outside my office. Late work will not be accepted unless you have a certified excuse or arranged an extension at least 24 hours in advance.

Most abstracts will earn 1 point. Exceptionally insightful or thorough abstracts (that go beyond the assigned reading) will earn a 2. An abstract that is only summary and includes no commentary or analysis will earn a 0. 

You cannot earn an A in this class unless you complete all 12 at least 7 of the assigned abstracts.

Here are two good examples from my colleague at Harvey Mudd College (dating from roughly my time there, though I didn't write them!)


You will have opportunities to demonstrate what you have learned through two exams, a midterm due Friday, March 6 and a final due Thursday, May 14. These will be closed-book, limited-time, take-home exams. I will futher explain the format of the exams as the time approaches.

Because I intend the exams to assess your own individual understanding of the material, collaboration on exams is not permitted. You should not talk to anyone (except me) about take-home exams before they are due. You should not discuss the problems on the exam, nor your answers. You should not give any information about your progress on the exam (e.g., which problems you have completed or which you found difficult), and neither should you ask others about their progress.  If you have any doubt about what is and is not permissible, ask me.

Course Policies

Contacting me

I expect to stay in touch with students throughout the term.  Please come by during my office hours to discuss course content, get extra assistance, get feedback on an assignment, relate a concern about your study team, or just talk about how the course is going.  My office hours will be posted weekly outside my office (Science 3809); if you wish, you may sign up for one or two 15-minute slots. You may also email me ( to schedule an appointment outside of office hours; please include 3-4 possible meeting times so that I can pick one that works for me.

If you would like to have a conversation in a more informal setting, please consider inviting me to a meal; I also invite you to join me on my walk. I also read plans, though I intend to limit my time spent doing so.

As a rule, email is the most reliable way to get in touch with me.  However, please allow 24 hours for my response. You may also call me in my office (x4306) for more urgent matters.

Academic Honesty

Collaboration is encouraged. You are allowed to discuss approaches to solving problems with anyone in the class. You may use information from the textbook (of course!), other books, and the Web, with appropriate citation. However, copying solutions from any source (person or book) is not allowed. Nor may you give answers away. If you have any questions about what is appropriate or inappropriate, please talk to me.

When working on examinations, you should not use other students as resources.


Work is due at the stated date and time. 

If exceptional circumstances prevent timely submission of your work, you must either (a) contact me to make suitable arrangements as soon as possible, or (b) ensure that I receive documentation of the circumstances from Health Services or Student Affairs. Unless you have appropriate documentation, I will not award an extension less than 24 hours before the deadline.

Deadlines for exercises involving programming or other uses of the MathLAN will automatically be extended by at least one class period if MathLAN is down for an unscheduled period of 3 or more hours during the two days preceeding the assignment due date.  No such extension will be granted for exercises not involving use of the MathLAN.

Absolute deadline: All work must be turned in by Friday, May 9 at 5 p.m.


If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accomodations, let me know early in the semester so that we can work together to meet your learning needs. You will also need to provide documentation of your disability to the Academic Advising Office, located on the third floor of the Rosenfield Center (x3702).

Janet Davis (

Created January 14, 2009
Last revised February 7, 2009
With thanks to Mike Erlinger, HMC, CS 125