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California State University Stanislaus

CS 4960 - 01: Seminar in Computer Science

Fall 2021

Tuesday 3:30 pm - 4:20 pm, via Zoom meeting,  Dr. Megan Thomas

[Basic Information]        [Calendar/Assignments]

Welcome to CS 4960, Seminar in Computer Science

Course Description:
Presentation and discussion of selected topics in computer science from current literature.

Course Objectives:

Announcements and Upcoming Events

8/24/2021 Welcome to CS 4960!
11 Aug 2021 Career Center Events

Basic Information

Class "Location": Here are the links to our talk Zoom meetings and the form the non-speaking students fill out to give speakers feedback.

Textbook: None.

Best way to contact Dr. Thomas:  Email  Please put "CS4960" in the subject line of every email. Email without the "CS4960" might be classified as spam by my email filters. (Remember to sign your emails (put your first and last name at the bottom).

Or simply stop by office hours.

Prerequisite: Senior standing and consent of the instructor. (This course is for senior Computer Science majors.)

Warning: I reserve the right to make changes to the syllabus at any time during the term by announcing them in class and on my web page.

Course Requirements, Assignments

Presentation and Paper Due Dates

  • Accept a presentation date assigned by the instructor at the beginning of the semester. The final draft of your paper will be due exactly one week before your presentation.

Topic Selection

  • Choose a computer science topic to research and present to an audience. The audience will include, but not be limited to, the other members of the class.

    1. The topic must have significant scholarly, as opposed to merely technological, content.
    2. The research must draw on multiple sources, and embody concepts that may be expected to endure beyond any particular current technology.
    3. The topic must be selected from a significant article[1] in the "Communications of the ACM" magazine (or equivalent publication[2]).

Topic Proposal

  • Propose the topic to the instructor, in writing. The proposal must specify multiple reliable sources (at least four) from which you intend to draw. (One must be your chosen CACM article.) Include full citations in bibliograpic form: for details about the required form for citations see "Your List of References" and "When You Make Direct Use of a Source" here. Your proposal must also describe the nature of the scholarly content you will include in your presentation.
  • To pass the course, you must turn in a satisfactory proposal. You must get the instructor's formal approval of the proposal by working out an agreement with the instructor. Your presentation must correspond to the agreed-upon proposal.
    • If a student does not have a topic chosen, proposed, and approved by the instructor by the campus Census Date, the student will be instructor-withdrawn from the class.
    • If a student does not even submit a formal proposal by the formal proposal deadline, 10 points (out of 100) will be automatically deducted from the paper grade.
Proposal Process:
  • Preliminary proposal: The preliminary proposal must be made in person, during class time or professor office hours of the second or third week of classes. (See class schedule.) The student must bring a paper copy of the CACM article that will be one of the sources, and will be asked to describe the intended topic and answer questions.
  • Final proposal: The final proposal must be submitted via email. It must agree with the topic discussed during the preliminary topic proposal, and identify at least four good sources, using a proper bibliographic format.
  • Proposal video: Each student must make a five minute (or longer) presentation of their topic proposal, and also must watch the video of their own proposal and turn in a thoughtful, reflective, written response to it. (Form to fill out, in a PDF version and in a MS Word version.)
    • Two responses to each video presentation must be turned in, one from the student making the presentation and one from another member of the class.
    • Students may arrange with the professor to borrow a camera to make the video. (A modern smartphone may also have sufficient memory to create and store a five minute video. If a student uses their own equipment, a copy of the video must be submitted to the professor by bringing the video file on a thumb drive to office hours. Do Not Email the video file.)
    • Submit the video in a file format any operating system can read. (Not a .WMV file.)
    • The video presentation of the topic proposals will not be uploaded to the WWW by the professor, and will be deleted after this course requirement is satisfied.

What to Bring on Paper Draft Feedback Day

  • Paper draft: Upload a file containing at least two full pages of prose from your paper. (Or more, if it is available.) We will "pass the pages around" for other students to read and suggest improvements.
  • Paper outline: Upload a good, detailed outline of your entire paper. (Here are sample paper outlines, to remind you what they look like.) The professor will read and comment on this.
  • Paper bibliography: Upload the bibliography created so far, in proper bibliographic format. The professor will read and comment on this.
  • At this meeting, we will pair up students so that everyone has someone else to watch and critique their topic proposal video.

Written Report

  • Create a balanced and unbiased written report on your topic. Base it on a variety of solid sources, including the ones you listed in your approved proposal. Synthesize and summarize the knowledge you gained from the research. Infuse the exposition of the report with freshness and originality. The audience for your report is upper division college students in computer science. The report must tell what you learned about the subject matter - what you think, feel, and wonder about it. What interesting questions did your research answer? What interesting questions remain unanswered?
    The work each student does for this class, written and presented orally, must be different from work written or presented for any other class.
  • Meet with the professor one week before your written report is due. Turn in a good draft (not a rough draft) of your paper 48 hours before the meeting. (Bringing an outline of your talk ideas to the meeting is recommended but not required.)
    Every section and subsection in the submitted paper draft should be complete and every reference should have all information (date, publisher, authors, etc) completely specified, without any abbreviations. (ACM and IEEE are acceptable abbreviations. So are country or state acronyms, like USA, UK, CA and NY. Spell everything else out.)
  • Turn in your written report one week in advance of your presentation date. Give a copy to the instructor and a copy to each member of the class so that all members can review the information before the talk. Reports must have one inch margins, have numbered pages, and use a font of size 12 or greater. Your report must include a reference page citing your sources, at least six of which must be books, peer-reviewed journal articles, or other sources approved by the professor. Here is more information on proper citation of sources.

    Students must also turn in their written report in to, via a link the instructor will create in Canvas , one week in advance of their presentation date. Student papers will not be graded until after they are visible in

    Finding "good sources": To find good sources of information, start with the links at the bottom of this web page, or at the CSU Stanislaus library web site. Do not start with a search of the entire WWW. A search of the entire web is likely to lead you to untrustworthy information put out either by a) marketing and advertising groups, or b) "predatory publishers".

Oral Presentation

  • On your assigned date deliver a twenty to twenty-five minute oral presentation of the content of your written report. (Seminar presentations will be publicly announced and will be open to visitors who may wish to attend.)
    • Important: The talk must be at least twenty minutes. Nineteen minutes and 59 seconds will be an automatic NC.
    • Additional information about the oral presentation and accompanying slides will be given in class.


  • Attend all the presentations of the other members of the class, and react to them by asking questions and by writing a short critique which will be collected and given to the presenter.


Assuming you fulfill all the requirements listed above, I will base your grade on three components:
  1. your grade on your written report,
  2. your grade on your oral presentation, and
  3. your participation grade.
Each of the components above will get equal weight.

I'll grade your paper and oral presentation based on the thoroughness and depth with which you address your topic as well as the clarity, accuracy and style of your presentation. You'll get a grade between 0 and 100 for each.

The video-taping of your topic proposal and reflections thereon will be part of your oral presentation grade.

You'll get two participation credits for each time you attend a presentation and turn in an acceptable critique sheet. You'll get one participation credit for each time you attend a presentation and turn in an unacceptable critique sheet. I'll compute your number of satisfactory critiques as a percentage of two times the number of credits, and this percentage will be your participation grade. (If you show up late for a presentation and interrupt the speaker, you will receive a half-credit for that day.)

You will receive credit (a grade of "CR") for the course if
  1. you receive a a score of 60 or above in each of the three components, and
  2. your average over the three components is 70% or above.
Otherwise you will receive no credit ("NC").

(The above "course requirements" and "grading" are borrowed liberally from Dr. John Sarraille and Dr. Melanie Martin's CS 4960 course description, with permission.)

Academic Honesty

The work you do for this course will be your own, unless otherwise specified. You are not to submit other people's work and represent it as your own. I consider academic honesty to be at the core of the University's activities in education and research. Academic honesty is expected at all times in this course.


  1. "What if I show a video during my presentation?" : As long as copyright laws are properly obeyed (see me if you have a question about how to do that), fine by me. But I will turn off the stopwatch that is keeping track of the length of your talk while the video is playing. So 15 minutes of videos will not shorten your talk requirements by 15 minutes.
  2. "What am I supposed to look for / comment on when reading student papers?"

    This list is just to generate ideas. Feel free to use your own insight to help your fellow students improve their papers.

    1) Is the paper at least a promising length? (Less than 10 pages is worrisome.)
    2) Grammar and spelling? Any errors you can point out how to fix?
    3) Are unfamiliar technical terms defined soon after they are first used?
    4) Are citations provided for facts and quotations the author presents? *
    5) Are there at least a half-dozen "good" sources in the bibliography?
    6) Does the bibliography provide complete and well-formatted information on each and every source?
    7) Did the author answer all the "what you learned and think" questions from the course syllabus?
    8) Diagrams, graphs, charts -- clear captions, sources cited, readable labels?

    9) Do key ideas show up only as quotations, without further discussion? (bad) *
    10) Does the author clearly identify at least a few real-world uses, implications, and / or concerns about the topic they are discussing? In other words, is it clear why the topic is important?

    11) Is the paper organized well? Introduction, background / history / definitions section, topic-related sections, conclusion section?
    12) Are the technical topics well explained? Enough background provided for a CS major to understand them? Clear examples?
    13) Are the technical topics deeply technical enough? Would a history or business major understand? (bad - not technical enough)

    4* Citations should be provided for "new" facts, and for all quotations, but "everyday" facts do not necessarily require citations. For example, "bananas are yellow" or "CPU = central processing unit" do not require citations. "Google made $x profit in 2016" would require a citation.
    9* Quotations show that the author can insert quotations, but do not show understanding of the concepts in the quotation. Paper must discuss quotations to show that the author understands what the quotation means.

Research Topic, Writing and Public Speaking Information


[1] Significant articles are long. Two-page opinion pieces are not considered, for this purpose, significant.
[2] If a student wants to know if a particular publication is an equivalent publication, the student should ask the professor promptly.

News of Interest to CS majors near graduation

"Episode 434: Steven Skiena on Preparing for the Data Structures and Algorithm Job Interview" of the Software Engineering Radio podcast. (10 Nov 2020)

"The Highest Paying IT Jobs For 2021: Robert Half", 19 Oct 2020,