CSCI 395 University of Puget Sound Spring, 2020
Algorithms and Applications:
Opportunities and Risks

Note: Although the content and structure of this course are well developed, day-to-day details are expected to evolve as the semester evolves.

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


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

Initial work for this course 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.


Henry M. Walker

Office: Thompson
Telephone: 3562
E-mail: and

Office Hours

Office hours are posted weekly on the bulletin board outside my office, with additional hours possible by appointment. Please feel free to stop by during office hours; I will strive to work with students on a first-come, first-served basis—as time permits.

Some Possible Topics

Beyond the initial consideration of Big Data, its assumptions, algorithms, and uses, students and the instructor will collaborate in choosing about 2 additional subjects for exploration. Some promising topics include

In addition, the following sources may provide helpful background.

Course Format

As noted in the section of Possible Topics, the course will explore three application areas of computing in some depth. For each such application, study will extend over 5 weeks (3 topics @ 5 weeks/topic = 15 weeks).

More specifically, course work for each application will extend over about 5 weeks, as follows:

Following a tutorial format, modified from the one-on-one, student-instructor meetings at Oxford and Cambridge, the entire group will meet once per week for general planning and reporting. Students then will be paired for collaborative work, with the pairs changing with each topic. Each pair will be expected to meet with the instructor for about an hour each week, exploring material in some depth, reporting results obtained, reflecting upon past work, and anticipating products that will conclude the study of each topic.

Course Work

Although details will depend upon the enrollment for the course and student backgrounds, course work will include these elements:

The work described in this section will require time for both students and the instructor. Students should expect to devote 5-7 hours per week to this course, in addition to the weekly class meeting.

Academic Honesty

All work in this course is governed by 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 the Office of Accessibility and Accommodation at 253-879-3399 or 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 Counseling, Health, & Wellness Services.

For more information, see the Academic Handbook, pages 34-35.

Some Additional University Policies

In addition to course policies identified in this syllabus, the University of Puget Sound has asked instructors to highlight the following university policies:


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.

Ignoring the possibility of the grade qualifiers, + and -, letter grades are considered to have these descriptors:

Grading in this course will take these descriptors seriously.

created 25 June 2019
revised Summer-Fall 2019
15-16 January 2020
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For more information, please contact Henry M. Walker at