cs492 s17 Course Structure

This page contains elaboration on the structure of the CS492 offering in Spring 2017, including sections on lectures, the marking scheme, the late policy, assignments, role-playing exercises, and plagiarism.


The registrar has scheduled three fifty-minute lectures per week (MWF 13:30-14:20, MC 4060). Once the course assumes its rhythm two of the lecture periods (Wednesday and Friday) are seminars. The class will be divided into two groups of twenty-five students each, one of which meets on Wednesday, the other of which meets on Friday.

Associated with each seminar is a set of readings related to the week's topic. All students are expected to have read all readings before coming to the seminar: discussion will commence using those readings as a base. The instructor may talk for five minutes here and there in order to set the stage, make a technical point, summarize, or concentrate attention. Student participation is important not only to facilitate the learning process but because marks are assessed for class participation.

Marking scheme

Final marks are based on:

There is neither midterm nor final in the course.

Late policy

There is no late policy. That is: late assignments earn no credit. Exceptions are made only in exceptional circumstances: no time because of other assignments is not exceptional, just usual.


Assignments consist of written pieces of varying length on class topics. Each assignment will have a specified focused subject or set of subjects from which to choose. The first four assignments are due in class at the beginning of class on the due date. In my dreams all the assignments for the term are described on the website by the time of the first class. It is up to you to plan your time well in order to produce top quality assignments by the given due dates. (Be especially diligent around the time that midterms are happening in your other courses).

Role-playing exercises (RPE)


The goal of an RPE is to explore a topic by considering two seemingly-opposed points of view. Each point of view is represented by a team of two or three students. Before the RPE each team summarizes its point of view in a short document that all students are expected to read before the RPE. At the beginning of the RPE each team presents its point of view, after which the class discusses the issue, moderated by the team members. The focus of the discussion, and of the RPE generally, is the identification of agreement and disagreement between the two viewpoints. Implications of disagreement and ideas that might bridge gaps between viewpoints are particularly welcome. At the end of class each team summarizes its point of view taking into account ideas raised in the discussion. After the class the two teams, working together, prepare a short consensus document that compares and contrasts the viewpoints, taking into account the class discussion. This document is posted on the newsgroup where other members of the class may discuss it.

After observing RPEs over several terms I have noticed a way in which they often break down. A team member asks a question of the audience, which is answered. But discussion does not ensue; the audience waits for the next question, and the RPE turns into a question and answer session. (The reverse also happens, the audience asking questions, with similar results.) Team members are responsible for breaking up question and answer sessions by introducing discussion.)

Spring 2017

This term -- Spring 2017 -- the RPEs are aligned with the topics discussed in class: the seminars each Wednesday and Friday are followed by an RPE on a similar topic the following Monday. The content and discussion of the points of view should avoid rehashing topic discussions of the previous week, but should go beyond them.

Documents for RPEs

An informal survey has convinced me that students will read the point of view documents on the evening before the RPE, and that they won't read, as opposed to skim, more than a page. (In this the students of today resemble me as a undergrad, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.) Thus, I am requesting that documents be one single-spaced page (four to five hundred words). One can get a lot into a page, and our marking will take into account your success at being concise and complete. There is more than one book among the references that will help to improve your writing mechanics.

The same constraints apply to the consensus document.

The documents prepared by the groups count towards the RPE mark; discussion, in class or on the newsgroup, counts toward the discussion mark.

Summary of RPE Documents
Document Length Available from Created by Comments
Position paper (Group A) One single-spaced page noon of day before RPE Group A
Position paper (Group B) One single-spaced page noon of day before RPE Group B
Consensus document One single-spaced page One week following RPE Both groups working together

Two teams of two or three students choose a topic. As of my most recent check of Quest there are 46 students registered compared to nine RPEs: 46 divided by 18 is two with ten remainder, suggesting that ten groups will have three and eight two. Please send me your requests in groups of two, to which I will add randomly students who don't sign up.

Formation of teams and choice of topics must be completed by Monday, 15 May. Earlier requests take priority over later ones: that is, requests are handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who participate in the first RPE will be marked more leniently. Review the list of RPEs on the website and then send mail to cs492@cgl.uwaterloo.ca to indicate your preference. NOTE: Requests received before Sunday, 7 May at 23.59 will be ignored. Anyone who has not sent a request by the start if class on 14 May will be assigned an RPE slot at the whim of the instructor. Check the RPE chart on the website to find out where you have been placed.

Teams take differing roles on issues where there is disagreement among several points of view. An initial scenario is outlined by the instructor, but teams are free to diverge better to explore the issue. Both sides must agree on the scenario in the presence of the TA, and the scenario must be posted to the newsgroup forty-eight hours prior to the RPE.

Each RPE is preceded by a document from each team outlining the issues they intend to raise. The documents precede the RPE by at least twenty-four hours. They must be about five hundred words, in PDF format, and the result of research. A URL locating each document must be posted to the newsgroup twenty-four hours prior to the RPE.

Students are expected to read the documents to prepare for the in-class exercise. Students may want to post initial comments and questions to the newsgroup.

At the RPE, each team presents its position in exactly six minutes. Presentations should go beyond the position papers so as to lead naturally into the discussion to follow. The class will then direct questions and comments to the teams. Discussion should be confined to the subject and take a variety of viewpoints.

A role playing exercise is not a debate. Markers will take only constructive comments into account. that position. Eight minutes will be left at the end of the class (four minutes per team) to summarize their positions.

All team members must participate actively to practice their oral communication, both presenting the team's position and responding to the audience.

Following and taking into account the discussion, the teams togther produce a joint document describing points of agreement and disagreement. (This is like the result of the discovery part of a court case.) The teams should articulate where they have found a middle ground, and where not. This document should be about five hundred words in length.

Students may provide feedback after reading the joint document. Each team member's contribution will be marked based on the position papers, the class discussion and the final document, taking into account:


As with all courses, it is understood that students are to do their own work unless otherwise instructed; that they must acknowledge consultation with other people and texts; that when they quote from other sources, it should be brief and relevant; that they should add value to the material they have collected through further structuring and analysis. This is particularly important in light of the use of the Web in this course. Any violation of the Student Academic Discipline Policy (Policy #71) will be prosecuted. If in doubt, consult the instructor or TA for guidance.