CSCI 353 Williams College Fall, 2017
CSCI 353 Tutorial
Algorithms and Applications: Opportunities and Risks

Caution: This course is expected to evolve throughout the semester!

Refinements are likely.

Overview Instructor Office Hours Some Possible Topics Course Format Academic Honesty Electronic Media Accommodations Grading


Algorithms are designed to address specific needs, but these algorithms also may have unintended consequences. For example, in her book, Weapons of Math Description (Crown Publishing, 2016), Cathy O'Neil describes "how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy." This tutorial will examine approximately five application areas. Discussion of each topic will include

Initial work for this tutorial will use O'Neil's book as a starting point.

The selection of later topics will depend upon the interests of students in the course.

For each such application, students will first determine a [partial] list of technical, social, and ethical issues. Attention will then focus on needed hardware, networks, algorithms, and other implementation challenges. With this background, students will explore the current state-of-the-art for modern systems. Potential topics for exploration include


Henry M. Walker

Office: TCL 102
Telephone: (413) 597-5045

Office Hours

Adjustments to this schedule will be posted on the board outside my office.

Some Possible Topics

Beyond the initial consideration of Big Data, its assumptions, algorithms, and uses, students and the instructor will collaborate in choosing 3–4 additional subjects for exploration. Some promising topics include

In addition, the following sources may provide helpful background.

Course Format


The Williams College Catalog states:

Tutorials place much greater weight than do regular courses—or even small seminars—on student participation. They aim to teach students how to develop and present arguments; listen carefully, and then refine their positions in the context of a challenging discussion; and respond quickly and cogently to critiques of their work. Tutorials place particular emphasis on developing analytical skills, writing abilities, and the talents of engaging in rigorous conversation and oral debate.

The Williams home page for Tutorials highlights interactions of two students with one profess for "An in-depth conversation, fueled by intellectual curiosity and the spirit of debate, that takes place over the course of an entire semester", following "the Oxford University style of education."

An article on Williams' tutorials in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlights at least two different models for the format of tutorials:

Format for this Course

This tutorial combines elements of several instructional models, while maintaining the themes of student engagement, close student-faculty interaction, sharpening technical and analytical thinking, and exploration of substantial topics and issues.

Although details will evolve throughout the semester, key elements of the course format are envisioned as follows:

Work Load

Tutorials at Williams require substantial student initiative, effort, thought, and follow-through, as well as substantial student-faculty interaction.

Such work requires time for both students and the instructor, and students should expect to devote 12-15 hours per week to this course, in addition to the weekly group and collaborative-pair sessions.

Academic Honesty

All work in this course is governed by Williams' Honor Code and the rules of the college regarding academic honesty. In summary, standard practice requires that you must acknowledge all ideas from others.

Finally, please note:

If you have any questions about how the honor code applies to your work, please come talk with me. I am always happy to have those conversations.

Cell Phones, Text Messaging, and E-Community Devices

Cell phones, text-messaging devices, and other social-networking connections may not be used during class sessions. If you bring such equipment to the classroom, it must be turned off before the class starts and stay off throughout the class period. Use of such equipment is distracting to those nearby and will not be tolerated.


Students with disabilities of any kind who may need accommodations for this course are encouraged to contact Dr. G. L. Wallace (Director of Accessible Education) at 597-4672. Also, students experiencing mental or physical health challenges that are significantly affecting their academic work or well-being are encouraged to contact me (as course instructor) or to speak with a dean. The deans can be reached at 597-4171.


This instructor's grading philosophy dictates that the final grade should ultimately be based upon the depth, scope, and quality of each student's work, not on the performance of the class as a whole nor on a strict percentile basis.

According to the Williams' Registrar's Office, letter grades at Williams have the following meaning:

Grading in this course will take these descriptors seriously.

created 8 August 2017
revised 8-20 August 2017
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