COSC-223: Probability and Computing

Spring 2019

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Course Information

Meeting times: MWF 11-11:50am
Location: Science Center A131
Prerequisites: MATH-111 and either one of COSC-112 or COSC-211

Overview: Probability is everywhere in computer science. In networks and systems, it is a key tool that allows us to predict performance, to understand how delay changes with the system parameters, and more. In algorithm, randomization is used to design faster and simpler algorithms than their deterministic counterparts. In machine learning, probability is central to the underlying theory. This course provides an introduction to probability with a focus on computer science applications. We will discuss elementary probability theory, including topics such as discrete and continuous random variables and distributions and Markov chains, and settings in which these are used in computer science (e.g., modeling real-world workload distributions, analyzing computer system performance, and designing and analyzing randomized algorithms).

Contact Information

Instructor: Kristy Gardner
Office: Science Center C215
Phone: 413-542-5428
Web site
Office hours: Monday and Wednesday 2-3:30pm. If you are unavailable during my regular office hours, I can often find time to meet by appointment at other times MWF. I am rarely available to meet on Tuesdays or Thursdays.
TAs: Juan Guaracao and Alex Einarsson
TA evening help sessions: Tuesday 7-9pm (Alex), Thursday 5-7pm (Juan), Science Center C101


1. Homework (15%). There will be written homework assignments roughly weekly. I will hand out the assignments in class, but they will not be posted online, so make sure you come to class.

Deadlines, late days, and extensions: Homework must be submitted by the day and time at which it is due. You may take 5 late days during the semester. These can be used for any reason, without penalty, and you do not need to ask me or tell me that you are using them. Details:

I will grant additional extensions only if I hear from your class dean that you are facing extenuating medical or personal circumstances.

2. Projects (40%). There will be three projects throughout the semester. The first will be before spring break and the second and third will be after spring break. The third project is a "final project" that will be due during exam period and will be in place of a final exam.

3. Midterm exams (20% and 25%). There will be two in-class midterm exams, the first in early March and the second in mid April. The first midterm will be worth 20% of your grade, and the second midterm will be worth 25% of your grade.

I will not take attendance, but I strongly encourage you to attend all class meetings. You likely will find it difficult to keep up with the material if you do not come to class, and I will not use office hours time to teach you material from lectures that you decided to skip.

Intellectual Responsibility

In general, you are expected to do your own work in this class unless otherwise specified. You may discuss how to approach assignments with other students who are currently taking the class, but all code and written work must be your own. A rule of thumb is that after discussing assignments with other students, you should have new ideas but no new materials (written notes, code, photos of the whiteboard, etc.). Copying code in any way (including but not limited to: transcribing code you are reading from someone else's screen, having someone dictate code to you, emailing your code to someone else, copying and pasting someone else's code, collaborating with someone to the point where it looks like code has been copied, etc.) is strictly forbidden.

If you discuss an assignment with other students in the class, please note their names in a comment at the top of your submission. You do not need to note if you consulted with me or the course TAs. Do not discuss assignments with anyone other than myself, the course TAs, and students currently enrolled in the class, and do not look for solutions on the internet.

Exams must be completed individually, without the help of notes, textbooks, the internet, or other people.

If you are unsure whether something constitutes academic dishonesty, please ask me. There's absolutely no penalty for coming to talk to me about whether a certain form of collaboration is allowed.

If you are struggling...

Please come see me. In addition to my office hours and the TA-led evening help sessions, the Dean of Students office offers peer tutoring if we decide you would benefit from some extra time spent one-on-one with a peer tutor. Should you need support related to challenges beyond this course, I encourage you to seek help from the numerous resources available on campus, including but not limited to your class dean, your RC, the health center, and the counseling center.

If you have a documented disability that requires accommodations, you will need to contact Accessibility Services ( or 413-542-2337). After you have arranged your accommodations with Accessibility Services, please set up a time to meet with me to discuss how we can best implement your accommodations in this class.