Grading Scheme

By default we will use the following standard scale:

These cutoffs may be lowered if need be, but they will never be raised. Your grade will be rounded to the nearest integer percentage when we compute your grade.

Below we describe all of the components that we will use to calculate your score. You may notice that the percentages add up to 110%, which is more than 100%. This is because different people learn in different ways, and different people succeed at different forms of evaluation. By structuring the class like this, you will have some leeway, and with enough effort you can earn a high grade without having to be perfect on every component of the course.

Note: The best way to think about this is that you have 110 chances to get 100 points. This grading scheme does NOT mean that you get 10 "free" percentage points. It means you get 10 "free" opportunities to earn percentage points. If you have any questions about how to calculate the grade, you should email me for clarification.

In-class participation (20%)

Lectures will involve more than me talking to you as you passively take in information. We will use class time to engage in problem-solving and critical thinking exercises that allow you to learn actively. During lectures I will administer questions through Top Hat. You will then answer them. You may use any device you want. Most of these questions will be graded solely on participaation - you get the points as long as you attempt to answer.

We understand that circumstances will come up, and you may not be able to make it to every second of class. Thus, if you answer at least 80% of the Top Hat questions, you will get the full 20% of participation points. If you answer less than 80% of the Top Hat questions, you will get an extra 20% added to your score - so for example, if you answered 70% of the Top Hat questions, your Top Hat score would be augmented to 90%, and you would get 18% for your participation score.

I do not schedule Top Hat make-up sessions, for the simple reason that it would be a logistical nightmare to try to schedule different make-up sessions for all of the different students who had to miss lectures (or parts of lectures). If you miss a lecture, don't stress, and remind yourself that you have quite a bit of leeway to miss some Top Hat questions without incurring a significant penalty to your participation grade.

If you can't attend lectures synchronously due to a recurring conflict (i.e. time-zone difference, a job, another course, etc.), let me know. I am happy to excuse the in-class participation component of your grade. Note that in this scenario, the other course components will carry higher weights in your grade calculation. I realize that this may not be ideal, but unfortunately I don't know of a better solution, since it's not feasible for me to hold make-up lectures. I am open to suggestions.

Pre-class reading: Each week we will link you to some articles that we encourage you to read. Occasionally, we will administer top hat questions based on these readings. These questions will be graded partially on correctness, to reward you for putting in the extra effort. If you miss these questions, it's no big deal - these are just a small part of the top hat grade. But if you find yourself on the borderline between different letter grades, you may well regret missing these points on the margins.

Skills Labs (20%)

Each week you will complete a skills lab designed to help you build basic fluency in computer programming and software engineering. The skills lab will introduce you to basic tools such as python programming, Jupyter notebooks, markdown, version control, collaborative coding, etc. The UTAs will run skills lab sessions each week in which they explain the assignment to you and help you work through the problems. You do not have to attend the skills lab session, and you do not have to finish it by the end of the session - you can work on it afterwards. But if you value your sleep and social life, I strongly encourage you to take full advantage of these skills lab sessions.

Discissions (20%)

Every other week, we will post a new discussion topic to which you will have respond. The following week, you will have to reply to three (3) other students' answers, either refuting or supporting their arguments. Your discussion posts will be graded on how well you introduced and supported your arguments and your responses. This is not a humanities class, and we aren't grading you as such; we're mostly looking to see that you contributed serious thought and effort to the discussion. Discussions posts are due on Friday afternoons.

Synthesis Assignmennts (30%)

You will have three synthesis assignments in which you will have to apply and think more deeply about the big ideas we discuss in class. For these assignments we will provide you with a prompt, and you will submit a 1-2 page writeup. In these assignments you will need to do some research and cite scholarly article and books that support your argument. We will grade you on the depth of the exploration of your big ideas, as well as your overall writing style and the clarity of your arguments.

Final Project (20%)

At the end of the semester you will form a group with other people in your lab section and work together to determine what is the best neighborhood in Pittsburgh. You will be using data from the Western PA Regional Data Center to construct a data-driven argument for what is the best place to live in Pittsburgh. For this project you will be applying the skills you learned in your skills labs - Python, Jupyter, Git, data science, etc. - to produce a Github repository that includes a README, and a Jupyter notebook that tells a compelling story. You will be graded on how well your final notebook utilized all of the skills you developed in skills labs, as well as the quality of how you present your results. Additionally, about halfway through the project you will have to have a check-in meeting with your UTA to show your progress up to that point. A small component of your fina project grade will be based on the quality of this check-in - you will not get full credit if you wait until the last minute to complete the project.

Academic Integrity

We want you to succeed in this course, but we also want you to succeed with integrity. We want to make sure that you actually learn the material, so that the impact of the course doesn't disappear once the quarter ends. We also want to make sure that every student has a fair chance to succeed, and isn't being taken advantage of by his or her peers. You worked very hard to get into a prestigious school like Pitt, and without enforcing academic integrity that very prestige would quickly crumble. Finally, it would be cartoonishly malicious and cynical to take advantage of the Covid pandemic to circumvent normal academic integrity violations. I can assure you that any grade increase that you receive in this class due to cheating will not benefit you nearly enough to offset the guilt of knowing that you tried to use a global pandemic for grade profiteering.

In this course we expect students to adhere to the University of Pittsburgh of Scholarship Policy. This means that you will complete your work honestly, with integrity, and support and environment of integrity within the class. Here are few examples of what is considered as reasonable and unreasonable collaboration.



Late Policy

Late Penalty

I will accept late work; however, I will impose a late penalty of 0.5% for each hour that an assignment is late. This means that if an assignment is a full day late, you will lose 24 * 0.5% = 12%. Note that canvas rounds up to the next hour, so if you are just 5 minutes late, this will be rounded up to 1 hour and you will still lose 0.5%. This late penalty applies to all assigned work. There is, however, a way to avoid late penalties...

Late Tokens

I understand that circumstances come up - family or medical situations, tough work in other classes, extracurricular commitments, your social life, etc. For this class, you have three (3) late tokens. A late token grants you the ability to turn in an assignment 24 hours late without incurring any penalties. You may use a late token on any assignment, and you may use multiple tokens on the same assignment. Late tokens are cannot be transferred from one student to another. Late tokens cannot be split into fractional tokens. When you want to use a late token, email the instructor and tell him which assignment you want to use a late token on (and how many tokens you want to use).

Extenuating Circumstances

If you have a family or a medical emergency (including a mental health emergency), I can grant you an extension without using a late token. In most circumstances, however, I will probably ask you to simply use a late token or take the late penalty. I reserve the right to request some sort of doctors or parent's note should you make such a request.

Grade Appeals

Grades can be appealed up to two weeks after they have been posted; no appeals will be considered after that time. Please note that the entire assignment will be regraded upon appeal.

Audio/Video Recordings

To ensure the free and open discussion of ideas, students may not record classroom lectures, discussion and/or activities without the advance written permission of the instructor, and any such recording properly approved in advance can be used solely for the student's own private use.

Copyrighted Materials

All material provided through course websites is subject to copyright. This applies to class/recitation notes, slides, assignments, solutions, project descriptions, etc. You are allowed (and expected!) to use all of the provided material for personal use. However, you are strictly prohibited from sharing the material with others in general and from posting the material on the web or other file sharing venues in particular.

Religious Observances

In order to accommodate the observance of religious holidays, students should inform the instructor (by email, within the first two weeks of the term) of any such days which conflict with scheduled class activities.

Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 140 William Pitt Union, (412) 648-7890,, (412) 228-5347 for P# ASL users, as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine whether reasonable accommodation(s) for this course are warranted. It is the responsibility of any student seeking accommodation(s) for this course to present any necessary documentation to the instructor by the start of the term.

Covid Statement

At Pitt, we are committed to providing instruction in the safest and most responsible manner possible. This includes increasing support for remote instruction and taking precautions to minimize the need for medium and large gatherings. Please check out for more information on the steps that Pitt is taking to mitigate the effects of the pandeminc.

For this particular class, here are some of the policies that I will enforce: