CS 3891: Special Topics – Computing and the Environment

Instructor: Doug Fisher (
Class Time: Tuesdays, Thursdays 9:35 AM – 10:50 AM
Class Room: University Club 117
Instructor Office Hours: 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Monday – Thursday ( ) or by appointment
Textbook: None
Prerequisites: CS 3251

The course will cover computing topics broadly and the sustainability challenges to which they apply. There will be weekly readings, which we’ll discuss on the discussion forum and in class. In-class lecture and discussion will often go more deeply into computing concepts, methods, and tools that are relevant to the week, as well as more deeply and more broadly into sustainability topics beyond the week’s reading. In the first part of the semester there are weekly exercises, generally due by Thursday class. There are weekly quizzes (generally in Thursday classes) on the reading for the week, and the quiz will cover and exercises, and the discussion in-class and online as well.

In the latter part of the semester students will work on a project that allows them to delve more deeply into an application of computing to sustainability. Group projects will be specified, designed, and implemented by each group of three students. Some class sessions will be dedicated to intermediate and final student presentations.


  • Weekly Exercises 25%
  • Weekly Quizzes: 35%
  • Group Projects: 40%
    • (including all deliverables, including presentations):
  • Extra Credit Opportunities:
    • Wikipedia contributions: Up to 5% extra credit for coordinated contributions to the Computational Sustainability Wikipedia site — details to follow
    • Discussion Forum Participation: Up to 5% extra credit if you make substantive and helpful contributions in the Discussion Forums throughout the semester. You won’t receive feedback on this until you see your grade at the end of the semester (I’ve done post-by-post feedback/grading previously and as a rule that seems to yield posting for the sake of points rather than for the sake of helping others and getting intellectual feedback). Note that the Piazza discussion forum is set up so that you can post anonymously to other students, but you will be known to me and the TA.
    • Attendance: Attendance is taken on Top Hat. There are 26 regularly scheduled class meetings during the semester, but I won’t count the first class meeting among the “required”. Attendance is based on missing X class meetings from the 25 meetings that I am counting. If X=0 , then attendance counts 0%. There is no penalty for missing <= 4 classes, and the weight allotted to attendance increases in increments of 5% for every four classes missed, though not exceeding a weight of 20%. The weights of other components of the final grade will be adjusted proportionally to insure a final collective weight of 100%.
      • 0% if X <= 4 classes
      • 5% if 3 < X <= 8 classes
      • 10% if 6 < X <= 12 classes
      • 15%  if 9 < X <= 16 classes
      • 20% if 12 < X <= 20 classes

Letter grades will be assigned using conventional ranges:

  • [92.0, 100] A
  • [90.0, 92) A-
  • [87.0, 90) B+
  • [82.0, 87) B
  • [80.0, 82) B-
  • [77.0, 80) C+
  • [72.0, 77) C
  • [70.0, 72) C-
  • [67.0, 70) D+
  • [62.0, 67) D
  • [60.0, 62) D-
  • [0, 60) F

There is no rounding up. There is no “curve” — thus no hidden disincentive to share. A+ is possible, if allowed in the school of the student.


Vanderbilt has no stated guideline (that I can find) on the amount you work per credit hour, but other universities state an expectation of an average of 3 hours per credit hour per week. You can search for it yourself on the Web, but this passes my sanity check (a 20 credit hour semester would have you working 60 hours per week on classes if every class were exactly at “expectation”, and a 15 credit hour semester would have you working about 45 hours per week on classes). For a 3 credit course like this course, that is approximately 9 hours of work per week, including class time (or 6.5 hours outside of class per week, distributed as shown in the parenthetical statements below).