Parts of Class

by Mike Gleicher on August 15, 2018

This page describes the various elements of the class – the things we’ll do each week. For details on rules, see the Course Policies page.

I have designed this class with a large number of small activities each week. I understand that it can be a lot to keep track of, but hopefully the fact that there is a constant rhythm of each week being the same will make it easier. (if it’s Monday, you know…).

The first and last weeks may break the pattern a bit…

This class is a continual stream of small things, rather than a few bursts of big things (like a project-oriented class would be). It’s good that you know to expect this from day one.

The Weekly Pattern…

This class will have:

  • Readings (due on Monday)
  • Lectures (usually Monday’s class meeting)
  • Weekly Surveys (Quizzes) (due Tuesday)
  • In Class Exercises (usually Wednesday’s class meeting)
  • Online Discussions (initial posting due on Wednesday)
  • Seek and Finds (due on Friday)
  • Design Challenges (and Design School) (something is due on Friday)

So you know that every Monday, there’s a reading due. Every Tuesday, there’s a survey due. Every Wednesday, there’s an online discussion posting due. Every Friday, there’s a seek and find due. Every Friday, there’s some part of a Design Challenge (or Design School Exercise) due.

Also, each week, there will be a “This Week in 765” posting to the web page (and Canvas) to remind you of the things happening in the week. If you look at the web page, the upper right corner has a summary of this information (it gets updated every week).


Each week there will be a list of required readings, as well as a list of supplemental (optional) readings. To get value from the class, you need to do (at least) the required readings. The reading list for the entire class is available on the Readings (all) page, but you will get the list in smaller chunks week by week.

In general, you should do the required readings for the class before Monday’s lecture (since the readings will help you appreciate the lecture and/or the lecture will try to clarify the readings). In some cases, it is better to read after lecture (for example, the lecture will give some context for when you read).

What: A set of readings for you to read.
Why (Learning Goals): This is a primary way to get the background material
When: Generally, due before Monday’s lecture, but there is no explicit deadline.
How: there is nothing to hand in.
Assessment: will be indirect through other class activities.
Late Policy: I recommend you do the readings, even if you do them late.


Roughly one class period each week will be devoted to a “traditional” (mainly monologue) lecture. There will be some interactive activities on lecture days, and some lecturing on activity days. We will try to make the lectures interactive, but it can be hard given the room and class size.

I will post any slides or materials after class. They will be posted to a folder on Canvas. The slides are not meant to stand on their own – they are designed as a “prop” for the lecture. The slides may have limited value beyond the lecture.

What: lectures (by the instructor or a guest)
Why: This is a primary way to get the background material, in-class discussion is important for clarifying and internalizing concepts
When: one of the class periods each week (generally the first lecture of the week)
How: Show up, pay attention, and participate in discussion as appropriate. There is nothing to turn in, although we might have on-paper surveys or in-class exercises that must be turned in
Assessment: see the policy on attendance. We will try to keep loose track of who comes and doesn’t. It will only affect your grade if you miss enough classes that it is problematic. We will not explicitly score class participation, but it can influence grades in exceptional cases.

Weekly Surveys (Quizzes)

Each week, there will be a “quiz” or “survey” that attempts to assess how well students are understanding the material. It will be a “quiz” since that’s what Canvas calls it, but it is more like a survey since we want to know what people know than to check that they get the right answers. It is more important that you do the quiz each week than it is that you do well on it.

On the 3/2/1/0 scale, you’ll get a point for just taking the quiz, a point for trying (giving reasonable answers), and a point for convincing the grader that you actually did the readings, paid attention in class, or whatever the questions are trying to check.

What: A weekly quiz
Why: This will help you self-assess if you are understanding the material. It will help us get a sense of what people understand (or not) so we can review things as necessary. It also gives us a way to check that people have done the readings.
When: There will be a quiz due every Tuesday (so you can take it after Monday’s lecture).
How: An online quiz in Canvas
Assessment: we will provide feedback on the 3/2/1/0 scale. The quizzes will only affect your grade if you don’t complete “almost all” of them, or if you consistently show signs of being poorly prepared.
Late Policy: The deadline will be strict, since we want the results in case we need to adapt class on Wednesday. Also this will enable us to tell people the right answers.

Online Discussions

Each week there will be an online discussion related to the topic of the week. For each online discussion, there will be a “prompt” – a question you’re supposed to answer in an initial post. After you make your initial posting, you will be able to see other people’s responses and discuss. So there are two parts to the assignment: the initial posting, and discussion afterwards. You are required to do both. And you cannot discuss until after you have made your initial posting.

Discussion is required and will be part of your assessment. A general rule of thumb is that you should make a minimum of 3 responses to others as part of a discussion – but the number of postings is less important than the quality of the discussion. Having a thoughtful conversation, or providing insightful feedback too others is valued.

While adding brief comments to others (like “I agree” or “good posting”) is useful (and you should do it), you should also make more substantive responses as well. It is useful to acknowledge that you have read responses made to your posting. If you don’t have something substantive to add, simply saying “thank you” to a thoughtful reply is a nice gesture to the other.

Because it’s too hard to have a conversation with the whole class, the class will be broken up into random groups for each assignment. Once we get to steady state for the semester in terms of enrollment, we will hold the groups constant so people can get to know each other.

What: Weekly online discussions with an initial posting and follow up discussion.
Why: The primary goal of these assignments are to get you to think about the material in the readings and lecture, by forcing you to answer questions and have a conversation about it with your classmates.
When: The initial posting is due on Wednesday. The discussions will stay open until the following Friday (a week and 2 days later) to give people time for conversation. Note that it is important for you to make your initial posting on time so that you can discuss it!
How: The discussions will use the Canvas online discussion boards. The class will be divided into groups to make the discussions more manageable.
Assessment: we will provide feedback on the 3/2/1/0 scale. The score will consider both your initial posting, but also your contribution to the discussion (quantity and quality). The online discussions are a significant element in class grading: to get a good grade for the class you must consistently get a good score.
Late Policy: You will be penalized if you consistently contribute your postings late. Others need you to make your postings so that they can discuss! Turning in something late (up until the time that the discussion closes) is better than nothing, but is really unfair to the others who you are supposed to be discussing with.

Seek and Finds

For this assignment you must bring us a …. (data) visualization!

(sorry, this is a reference to an old Monty Python movie – if you don’t know the reference, that line won’t be funny. Even if you do know the reference, it might not be funny).

Each week, we will ask you to bring us a visualization (we will have these seek and find assignments every week). There will usually be some specification of what you need to find. We might ask for a certain kind of data, or an example of the use of a specific technique.

The seek and find ground rules:

  • It cannot be a visualization that you (or someone in class) made.
  • It must be publicly available.
  • You must be able to provide an image.
  • If it’s on a web page, you should copy a picture (either use a screen shot or copy the image). Please shrink the image to a reasonable size, if it’s too small for people to see the detail, they’ll be able to get it from the link you give.
  • Post your image on Canvas following these instructions.
  • Try to find something interesting (to you at least)

Create a posting and include a picture of the visualization. If you found the visualization on the web, provide a link to the page that it is on (if it’s hard to find on that page, give some clues like “on page 4 of“). If you scanned it or photograph it, describe where you got it from (scanned from p7 of January 6th Capital Times).

Try to pick something that you don’t think anyone else will pick. Even though you can peek and see what others are posting, someone might post at the same time as you, so try to avoid redundancy although this isn’t a strict rule.

You are welcome to discuss other people’s submissions (you are allowed to comment on canvas). Discussion is not required. However, students often find it interesting to look at what everyone else has turned in, and to discuss by replying to the postings.

Because a discussion with 50+ people can become unwieldy, we divide the class into groups.

What: Find a visualization (usually on the web) and post a picture and answer the prompt each week. Each will will make a specific request. You are encouraged, but not required, to comment on what other people upload. You are strongly encouraged to at least look at others postings.
Why: Looking at actual examples of visualization will help you connect the concepts of class to real usages. Collecting and looking at a diverse set of examples helps us appreciate the range of where the ideas apply.
When: There will be a seek and find due every week on Friday. The discussion boards will be left open for a week after the assignments are due to allow for discussion.
How: Visualizations will be posted to an online discussion forum on Canvas. Make sure to upload a picture and a link to where it can be found in context.
Assessment: we will provide feedback on the 3/2/1/0 scale scale for the original posting. Full credit requires correctly posting an appropriate image and link and providing a satisfactory answer to the prompt. Quantity and quality of discussion postings may be considered in our subjective assessment of online participation. Consistent performance on the seek and find assignments is a part of the class grading scheme.
Late Policy: Late postings (of the initial visualization) are accepted, but may be penalized (e.g., if you are consistently very late).

In Class Exercises (ICEs)

We will do interactive “activities” in class – approximately once per week. These might be group discussion, design activities (where you create things with pen and paper), critiques, etc.

Participation in these activities is important. Students are required to bring “art supplies” to class (e.g. colored pens or pencils and paper).

We will usually collect some product. Please remember to follow instructions on how you put your name on what you turn in.

We generally will not assess the submitted assignments, beyond checking that the student made a reasonable attempt. Grading these things is subjective, and we don’t want to force people to have art skills.

What: interactive activities in class.
Why: to give a chance to try out the ideas, and make them more concrete.
When: usually once a week in the second class period (normally Wednesdsay)
How: participate in class, and turn in what is asked for
Assessment: We will score on a 3/2/1/0 scale, but generally if you make a reasonable attempt you will get a full score. Consistent participation in ICEs is an important part of final grades.
Late Policy: You cannot make up an ICE (in terms of class grading)- if you miss it, you miss it. If you do miss an ICE, you should discuss it with a classmate to see what you’ve missed.

Design Challenges (and Design School)

The Design Challenges are 3 “mini-projects” over the course of the semester that give you a chance to try out the stuff you’ve learned. Each is a 4 week project with a milestone each week. Roughly, the first project will ask you to explore a data set, the second project will ask you to consider how to adapt standard designs for challenging cases, and the third will ask you to consider a non-standard data type.

The Design School is a set of exercises to help you appreciate graphic design, and hopefully get better at it. These are smaller assignments, but they are done using the schedule (due on Friday) of the Design Challenges.

What: Mini-projects, described on separate web pages
Why: To give students a chance to try out what they’ve learned, and to internalize concepts by doing
When: There will be weekly milestones as part of the projects. Milestones are due on Fridays (with a caveat at the end of the semester).
How: All handins will be done using Canvas.
Assessment: Each design challenge will be given a letter grade. The grade will mainly be based on the quality of the final product (the last milestone of the project). Consistent completion of milestones will also be considered as part of the online participation score.
Late Policy: Will vary, but generally, late assignments will be accepted until the next milestone is due. Consistent lateness will be penalized.