Diversity statement

At Pitt, we are always striving to improve our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and that includes promoting the most inclusive learning environmennt possible. I view diversity as a resource and a strength of our community, and I want to make this course work for students of all identities. It is my intent to teach in a way that is as respectful and inclusive as possible with regard to: race, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, cultural background, as well as any other identities that I have unintentionally missed. I am always open to your suggestions, comments, concerns, and constructive criticism on how I carry out this ethos.

At Pitt we have stringent community standards for the treatment of others. I will not tolerate any hate speech, bullying, or harassment of any kind, and I will report any violations of our code of conduct to the Title IX office.

Please feel free to let me know what name and pronouns you prefer to go by, and/or how you want your name to be pronounced, and I will make sure to address you how you want to be addressed.

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, drsrecep@pitt.edu, (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.

Remote attndance

There will be a remote option for attending lectures; however, there are some strings attached. For Pitt to maintain its accrediation, a certain percentage of its courses must be run as "in-person". Unfortunately, this means that I am not allowed to give unfettered Zoom access to class. I have to do everything within reason to encourage in-class attendance. If you want to attend class remotely, you must email me at least one full hour prior to the start of class. You must provide a reason why you are physically unable to come to class. My general policy will be not to ask too many questions, however I reserve the right to ask for a note from a parent or doctor. You must email me each time you want to attend class remotely; if you attend one class remotely, that does not automatically grant you remote access for the next lecture. You should make sure to join the Zoom call 5 minutes before the start of class; if you try to join in the middle of my lecture I can't guarantee that I will see you in the breakout room.

To attend remotely, use the Zoom app. You can access all Zoom links through the Zoom tab in Canvas. Each lecture will be recorded through Zoom. You can find the lecture recordings through the Panopto video tab on Canvas.

Update: The first 2.5 weeks of the semester will be fully remote. The rules above will apply starting on Thursday, January 27th 2022.


There are absolutely zero prerequisites for this course. We are not assuming any familiarity with the course topics. In particular, you do not need any coding experience for this course. The UTAs will help you build your coding knowledge from the ground up. In skills labs, the UTAs will teach you about the coding environment that we will use, and how to write, run, and test your code.


This semester, we are using new digital tool, CourseMIRROR that collects data from student reflections to help instructors identify difficulties that students encounter and provide additional feedback and support for student learning throughout the semester. Please be sure to submit your reflections after each lecture in CourseMIRROR. Please use the passcode uhggmc when you sign up for the course. I will provide extra credit for filling out CourseMIRROR reflections.

Participating in the CourseMIRROR feedback is 100% optional. Here is a link to CourseMIRROR (passcode: uhggmc). Additionally, here is a youtube playlist with demos for how to use the tool. Finally, if you would like, we would greatly appreciate the chance to use your responses to improve the NLP algorithms that power the tool. If you do want to help improve the tool, please read and fill out this survey acknowledging the scope of the study and providing your consent for your response data to be used for research. To be clear, your choice to let us use your data will NOT affect your grade in the class.

Grading Scheme

By default we will use the following grading cutoffs:

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 (10%)

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 due to a recurring conflict (i.e. 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 lab sections each week in which they teach you new skills, explain the assignment of the week, 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.

As noted earlier, you do not need any prior programming experience to take this course. The UTAs will assume no coding background, and they will help you build your skills from the ground up. During the first lab section the UTAs will show you how to access the environment that you will use to write and test your code.

Note: Lectures and skills labs are separate course components that cover separate topics. They are not substitutes for each other. You should not expect skills labs to cover the material needded for the written assignments, and you should not expect lectures to cover the material that you need to complete skills labs. In the past some students have expressed high levels of frustration by this apparent discrepancy - and I empathize with this. As a department we are exploring ways to alleviate this, including possibly splitting Big Ideas into two separate courses. But for now this is how the course is structured. If I were to re-purpose lecture time towards teaching you the skills lab material, I would not be able to cover the big ideas adequately, and I would be acting in defiance of how the course is supposed to be taught.

Synthesis Activities (20%)

A few class will not involve a lecture; instead, you will get into groups of 3-4 and complete an activity that will let you explore the one of the course topics in a deeper and more hands-on manner. You will get to work with examples of how each of our big ideas might be used in real-world situations. Each activity will have some sort of writeup that you need to submit on Canvas. The activities are designed so that you should be able to complete and submit the writeup within the 75 minute class period; however, the writeups will be due a week later, so you can work on them outside of class if necessary.

Synthesis Essays (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 (30%)

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 final 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.

Final Exam

Contrary to what you may have seen on PeopleSoft, there is no final exam for this course.

Extra Credit (1%)

There will be some opportunities for extra credit. First, as noted above, you will receive extra credit for filling out reflections on CourseMIRROR after each lecture. Second, you will receive extra credit for providing feedback on my teaching. Halfway through my courses I always administer an anonymous feedback survey to see how the course is going and what can be improved. If you fill out the survey you will receive extra credit. Similarly, if you fill out OMET surveys at the end of the course, you will receive extra credit. These activities will be worth 1% of extra credit.

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 written or programming 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 me and tell me which assignment you want to use a late token on (and how many tokens you want to use). You may request to use a late token at any time during the semester. You may use late tokens retroactively even after an assignment is due. You may retract a late token to save it or re-allocate it to a different assignment.

You may use a late token on group assignments. However, your late token will only grant you an extension. Your other group members will still receive a late penalty. Perhaps this is fine with you; but if you want your entire group to have an extension, each person needs to use a late token.

You may not use a late token on the final project. Two parts of the final project involve a check-in with the UTA, and a presentation. Both of these take place during skills labs, and thus they cannot be rescheduled. Your final notebook submission also needs to be submitted on time so that we have enough time to grade it.


If you ever accidentally submit the wrong document, and you don't realize this until well after the deadline has passed, you can get a one-time "mulligan" to resubmit the assignment without penalty. However, you must use a late tokens to get a mulligan. Furthermore, you may only get one mulligan per semester. Please be careful and make sure you upload the right document when you submit an assignment! Some additional notes:

Extenuating Circumstances

If you have a family or a medical emergency (including a mental health emergency), or if we encounter the literal apocalypse, 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.

Covid Statement

At Pitt, we are committed to providing instruction in the safest and most responsible manner possible. We strongly encourage you to get a vaccine and a booster. You are also exptected to wear a mask when you are in the classroom or in my office for student hours. Please check out https://www.coronavirus.pitt.edu/ for more information on the guidelines that Pitt is recommending to mitigate the effects of the pandeminc.