Algorithms Ground Rules, Spring 2013

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Ground Rule Index:

Contacts Feedback/Questions Exams and Quizzes
Prerequisites Learning Outcomes Academic Dishonesty
Textbook Grading Class/study Approach
Communication Homework/Piazza Cell Phones
Course Materials    

Contact Information


All of the above should give you some mathematical sophistication. That is the hardest part, and many of you may need more. Please see me when you have trouble.


The Design & Analysis of Algorithms, Third edition, by Anany Levitin, Pearson/Addison Wesley, ISBN 9780132316811. Note, the second edition is mostly the same and may be used instead for almost everything. Second edition users, see the mapping between the two editions.

We should cover some of all but chapters 10 and 12, with a few sections dropped or added, depending on the time at the end. Levitin has a distinctive format, that works well some of the time, and not others. I adjust the order in many places. See the list of topics, and the schedule so far, with reading and writing assignments.


Piazza is a great new course-centered interaction site: social media for courses if you will. Make sure you log in and give it your preferred email address. I will generally send announcements through Piazza, so I strongly sugesst you set up Piazza for frequent updates via email. I may occasionally add important notes and override your email preferences, so you get notified immediately.

Course Materials Locations

Feedback and Questions

Please let me know, in person or via a message to me in Piazza, when you need something from the course that I have not thought to include, or not included in sufficient detail for you, or not presented from a point of view that you can follow. We are in this together. For me to succeed, I need you to succeed.

For course content questions that are not addressed in person, please post them on Piazza, not email.

You should be looking to help others, too: besides being good for the community, it is good for your grade. You are NOT graded down for expressing needs for help: to be clear about where the holes are in our preparation and to be proactive are positive. Lots of people have lots of questions about this course. Lots of topics need to be spiraled through, with more questions and a bit more understanding in each pass. Do not be shy with questions!

Piazza is an experiment for us at Loyola, though it has been used enthusiastically by tens of thousands of students in other universities. Suggestions for optimizing its use in our learning community are highly encouraged. More detailed information on the use of Piazza with this course is below in Homework/Piazza.

Do not forget office hours; Look them up; make a separate appointment if that works better: Sitting down together and discussing an issue in depth, maybe pointing and drawing diagrams, is still very useful! Somtimes students need to loop through a topic many times, gaining a bit each time.

Expected Learning Outcomes


Understand important data structures such as

Understand important existing algorithms, such as:

Understand these algorithms at different levels (the central part):

  1. Be able to follow the algorithms in simple concrete situations (play computer to illustrate results)
  2. Calculate run times and resource needs
  3. Recognize new scenarios where known algorithms are directly applicable
  4. Given a somewhat novel situation, create solutions using variations or combinations of algorithms discussed

Understand how many algorithms fit into a larger class of algorithms with common properties and strategies, for example


I will enter your raw (not scaled) scores into the Sakai gradebook for you to confirm. I base your final grade on separate percentages for each part above.

I convert to course letter grades with the following minimum requirements:

A 93 A- 90 B+ 87 B 83 B- 80 C+ 77 C 73 C- 70 D+ 67 D 60.

It is hard to convert desired learning outcome straight into grades, with so many course components, but look at the boldface central outcome for different levels of understanding of algorithms: If you quite consistently succeed at the levels listed up through 2, 3 or 4, then it should roughly correspond to a grade of C, B or A, respectively.

Homework and Use of Piazza

Reading, following examples, and absorbing general concepts is a start, but applying them by doing problems is essential. The exercises are designed to give you experience doing and engaging with all the course topics.

I will try to list problems just before or very shortly after the class where the subject is introduced. I may post a bit further than we get to, not knowing exactly how class will progress. Occasionally I may add an extra problem or two later. In that case I'll try to announce my intention in class, or at least in a later notice.

We are trying a new paradigm with Piazza for most all aspects of homework and general questions. Piazza tracks contributions, so I can give homework credit for all answers and edits.

Additions to Piazza come in several forms: general comments, questions, answers, discussion on an issue with a problem, edits to previous entries (this is a wiki), and polls. Entries can be directed privately to instructors (the TA and me) or to everyone. Entries for everyone can have your name shown or withheld from classmates. Polls that I put out can be completely anonymous.

I am adding some extra structure around assigned homework problems, which are only part of the discussion on the site:

The ways I would like you to handle Piazza entries vary with the situation:

Before a problem is due
Questions and comments posted for everyone that would help with a homework problem, before an answer is posted, need to either be general or conceptual enough not to give away solution details. Do look early at the homework, think, and post such questions, to get early help! If you have a question that is directly related to a solution you are thinking of, it should be a private communication for instructors.
Homework problem solutions and solution edits
The problems are intended for your direct thinking and doing. Answers, and edits to an earlier answer, should be from your personal work and thought, not from somewhere else, not taken from another resource like the internet, not from old solutions to one of these homework problems from before this semester. If you were not the designated original solution poster, and you worked on homework in a study group, and your solution suggests an edit to the current posted version of a solution, be sure to give credit to all. Using other sources is dishonest.
General comments not addressing a particular problem
These can be helpful in any way. If you found a good web site that addresses a course topic in a way that you like, post the URL with a comment. Of course you can always give your own direct comments!

Here are most suggestions on using the individual types of Piazza contribution:

General Comments
These can be anything useful to the general community. Requests for special emphasis in the next class make sense to go out to the whole class, too. After an initial request, "me, too!" additions are very helpful for me to plan how to make class time best support you!
Other than the restrictions around specific assigned problems, use this community for help. We will discover more ways as we go along! Do organize your materials so you know where to look first for resources. Be aware of the recent course reading and topics. Go to the community second.

This is a wiki. One latest version appears directly, though the earlier wiki history can be viewed. Be helpful. It is particularly important in your learning to read critically. If you can improve an answer, edit it! This will be a big plus in my grading if you show how you have read critically what others have written. (Including mine.)

Some guidelines:

  1. Where an explanation or proof is required, show logic clearly, using full English and mathematical sentences. I will expect as much on quizzes and exams.
  2. In algorithms use indentation for blocks, as in the text.
  3. When you provide a counter example, show why it serves as a counter example.
  4. Piazza has a very nice mouse-based equation editor. We will discuss it. Learn to use it. For those who like to write LaTex directly, that is OK, too.
Discussion on a question
There is a provision for discussion of issues separate from answers. If the issue is resolved, the issue can be marked closed (but it is a wiki - it could be reopened by someone else).
If I want quick aggregated responses to multiple choice questions, I may post an anonymous poll. Timely responses are appreciated.

I have allowed and encouraged students to work in pairs on graded homework in the past. In the new paradigm, with results posted for all, and only a limited number of problems being your formal initial responsibility, we will need to discuss how to make this work well.

Always be mindful that particular answers are not the main point of the problems posed: The main thing is to develop the ability to understand and creatively combine and use the ideas behind the problems. If the answer falls in your lap from an outside source, you will likely learn very little. Make sure you are thinking about your process: how you are choosing initial approaches and why the next step is being tried. Students can be in denial, and think that following a solution is a substitute for creating a solution.

Remember, exams and quizzes are individual work. You have to end up being capable yourself. Make sure you are an active contributor to all parts of your work with any allowed collaborator. Active collaboration for initial learning is great. That is a reason for the great success of Piazza.

Use my office hours! A number of past students have indicated they considered the course to be really hard before they started taking advantage of office hours, and then they found the work much more accessible. Take advantage of office hours, for sustained, one on one help! Let me know if the posted hours do not work for you.

Exams and Quizzes

While some homework may be set up to be done collaboratively, the rest of the grading will be for individual work. Tentative In-class Exam Schedule (updated in the course schedule and assignments):

Midterm: Mar 11
Final Exam: Apr 29

I am planning on two take-home quizzes, tentatively due in class Feb 25 and Apr 15.

If I want to change this quiz timing, or add any, I will give at least a week's notice before sending out take-home quizzes. I will generally send take-home quizzes out at least 4 days before they are due at the beginning of a class. I am likely to give a 2-3 hour time limit on quizzes. Tentative due dates are listed in the course schedule and assignments. In particular I am planning to have quizzes before the Midterm and Final as lower-stakes preparation after you have initially absorbed material in homework.

Quizzes are not cumulative (except as the material is naturally cumulative). Exams are cumulative. Exams and quizzes will not include material that is new in the week immediately before the test.

You may prepare notes to use for this graded work. I will allow at least the following number of sides of 8.5 x 11" paper notes: quizzes: 2, midterm: 3, and final: 4. Other resources are not allowed.

Exam Grading: Do not write down things on exams that you can see are incomplete or incorrect without making some comment acknowledging this -- it is better to know you are wrong or incomplete than to be wrong and think you are right.

Missed Exams : If you must miss an exam, let me know well in advance. Then if you have a good reason we can possibly make other arrangements. I have little sympathy for people who inform me after the fact for no good reason. I may completely excuse you from an exam if you were sick or unable to attend for long enough. Most often if you cannot take an exam at the usual time, I will want you to take it a little later, BUT I WILL NOT LET ANYONE TAKE A LATE EXAM AFTER THE NEXT CLASS PERIOD. If you somehow fail to let me know in a timely fashion that you have an excuse and want to take the exam late, appear at my office hours before the NEXT class after the exam, and I may be able to give you the exam.

IMPORTANT POLICY: If you have an excuse for not being prepared to take an exam, but decide to take it anyway, you don't get to change your mind after you see a poor grade. In certain circumstances I may allow you to delay an exam due to illness, but I will not let you be reexamined due to a poor grade.

Academic Dishonesty

The penalty for cheating may be anywhere from a 0 on an assignment to a grade of "F" in this course. The appropriate dean will be informed in writing of any cheating incidents.

Cheating consists of, but is not limited to the following for all graded work:

  1. Using or copying another person's work in any fashion (other than collaborative work with your partner on homework).
  2. Work includes outlines, algorithms, pseudocode, code, and analyses.
  3. Allowing your own work to be copied or used by another student.
  4. Submitting as your own work something that has been written by another person, and people write web pages, so that includes material on the Internet.
  5. Using any unauthorized reference on an exam or assignment.

Help from any source, particularly from others in Piazza, is fine concerning

  1. Course prerequisites, necessary math
  2. The meaning of a problem (not the plan for the solution or the actual solution).
  3. The restrictions of programming language syntax.

I have unfortunately needed to give out 0's in past semesters, with accompanying referrals to the students' deans.

Campus Network, Rights and Responsibilities

As a user of the campus network, you should be aware of your rights and responsibilities in

Class/study Approach

The class involves basic facts, processes, and analysis methods, plus creative combinations of solution ideas.

Please give me feedback on what constitutes the best use of your time for the limited class hours we have. (The Introductory Questionnaire is a first step.) The more you can read the text to get basic facts and process recipes before class, the more time we can spend in class on things you cannot get easily from a book: asking and answering questions you raise in reading and homework, the analysis of problems, and creatively applying basic ideas you are learning to somewhat novel situations. I have fairly complete notes that supplement the text. I tend to go over them at least briefly in class and like to use class time to think together about how to use the material creatively. I will try to add later to the notes extra things introduced in class.

The algorithms in the book are in pseudo-code. Runnable versions in convenient languages are good. I will supply some algorithms in Python 3.3 and perhaps some in Java or C#.

Cell Phones

Only you know the relative importance of any particular cell phone call, and whether it is important for you to answer a call immediately rather than later. I do want you to be respectful of my class and disrupt it as little as is practical. If you get cell phone calls with fair frequency, be sure to have the ring muted before coming to class. If you rarely get calls, you might not mute it ahead, and your cell phone may happen to ring. Get rid of the noise as soon as possible, and do not get flustered. (I'll probably do that at least once.) I assume you will move outside the classroom for a conversation. If you get fairly frequent calls that you are likely to consider important answering, sit in a place where your exit and re-entrance are as unobtrusive as possible.