CSC 105 Grinnell College Spring, 2005
An Algorithmic and Social Overview of Computer Science

Instructor Textbook Course Work Schedule ( .dvi format / pdf format / postscript )
Assignments Labs Class Questions Deadlines Collaboration Grading

Computer Science 105 has at least five major goals:

  1. To address common student questions regarding how computers work, why they behave as they do, and how they can be used to help solve problems;

  2. To provide an overview of core topics and great ideas in the field of computer science;

  3. To discuss the general knowledge, skill, and perspectives that will help people function productively in today's technological society;

  4. To consider various social and ethical issues related to computing; and

  5. To help sharpen problem-solving skills, particularly in areas related to computing.

Throughout the course, discussions of topics will begin with common questions. As we shall discover, thoughtful answers to common, practical questions often require an understanding of ideas and principles. Simple, narrow, superficial answers can avoid deep issues, but these are rarely satisfying over the long run. Altogether the course seeks to peel back layers of technical details to discover underlying principles and approaches.

Much of the topic-coverage in this course is informed by discussions within the National Research Council (NRC). More specifically, in 1999, a study group of the NRC produced the report, Being Fluent with Information Technology, that addresses what every informed citizen should know about computers and technology. The report identifies 10 high-level "intellectual capacities", 10 "information technology concepts", and 10 practical "information technology skills" that cover basic computer fluency. This course will consider most (or all) of these topics.


Henry M. Walker

Office: Science 2420
Telephone: extension 4208
Office hours are posted weekly on the bulletin board outside my office.
Additional hours can be scheduled by appointment.
If you wish, you may reserve a half hour meeting by signing up on the weekly schedule.


Walker, Henry M., The Tao of Computing: A Down-to-earth Approach to Computer Fluency, Jones and Bartlett, 2005.


While the schedule for this course is expected to evolve, a Tentative Class Schedule is available in .dvi , pdf , and postscript formats.

Also, if you are logged into the departmental network and want a copy printed, click duerer to have a copy printed on the printer duerer, and click pacioli to have a copy printed on the printer pacioli .

Course Work

Course Work will involve a combination of the following activities.


Deadlines are shown on the Tentative Class Schedule , and work is due at the start of each class specified. A penalty of 25% per class meeting will be assessed for any assignment turned in late, even work submitted at the end of a class. However, for laboratory exercises, an extension is automatically granted for at least one class period if the MathLAN network is down for an unscheduled period for a period of three or more hours during the week preceding the assignment.

Absolute Deadlines:
All homework (except the final Laboratory Exercise) must be turned in by Thursday, May 12 at 5:00 pm;
the final Laboratory Exercise must be turned in by Friday, May 13 at 5:00 pm;

laboratory reports or assignments received after these deadlines will not be counted in the grading of the course.


The work in this course is split between individual and group work. Students are encouraged to work together on all laboratory activities. However, since the course also emphasizes problem solving and individual understanding, collaboration is not allowed on class questions, homework exercises, or papers.


The final grade will be based upon each student's demonstration of her or his understanding of the material covered, not on the performance of the class as a whole nor on a strict percentile basis. While some flexibility may be possible in determining a final semester grade, the following percentages approximate the relative weights attached to various activities in this course.
Lab. Write-ups: 30%     Research Exercises: 10%     Class Questions: 10%     Papers: 50%

This document is available on the World Wide Web as

created December 8, 2004
last revised January 18, 2005
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For more information, please contact Henry M. Walker at