Computer Science 251
Computer Organization and Architecture

Dickinson College
Fall Semester 2005
Grant Braught

Course Syllabus

Contact Information

My office hours, phone number and e-mail address are available on my home page.

Primary Text

Null & Lobur, (2003). The essentials of Computer Organization and Architecture. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlet.

Good Reference Texts

Patterson & Hennessy, (1998). Computer Organization and Design: The Hardware/Software Interface. Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Mano & Kime, (2001). Logic and Computer Design Fundamentals. 2nd Edition Updated. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Course Description

The purpose of this course is to provide you with a basic understanding of how computers do what they do. In your CS courses up to this point you have been writing programs that control a computer. You have used these programs to get the computer to perform particular tasks. But how is the computer able to understand the language of your program? What is inside that box we call a computer that allows it to carry out the program? These are the fundamental questions that we will be answering this semester.

Topics in this course will include:

What should you expcect in this course? You will be expected to complete a reading assignment from the text before each class. Following each class you will be assigned several homework problems to be completed for the next class period. We will frequently begin the next class period by looking at the solution to one or more of the assigned homework problems. Finally, you will complete three larger projects. In addition, because this course satisfies 1/2 of the writing requirement, at least one of the projects in the course will be accompanied by a written paper that will undergo multiple revisions. Further, the homework in this course will place an emphasis on writing. In particular, some homework questions will ask you to write short essays instead of performing computations or writing programs.

How much time should you expect to spend on this course? To quote the Dickinson College catalog "...Each course, unless otherwise noted in the course description, is equivalent to four semester hours. Credit for courses is based on the assumption that at least three hours of study accompany each class period (excluding labs)." (p. 203) I find that this statement provides a good guideline for courses which meet three days per week. However, it is impractical for courses which meet five days per week and is insufficient for classes which meet twice a week. Given that we meet for the same amount of time as a course that meets three times a week it seems reasonable that you would invest the same amount of time outside of class. Thus, I base my assignments on the expectation that you will spend an average of 9 hours per week outside of class completing the readings, homeworks and project assignments.

Grade Determination

The breakdown of grade assignment is as follows:

Homework 20%
Projects (3) 30%
Midterm Exam #1 15%
Midterm Exam #2 15%
Cumulative Final20%

All assignments will be graded on an absolute scale. As an example a student scoring an average of 82% on homework, 78% on the projects, 68% on the midterm exams and a 87% on the final would have a final grade of:

If at the end of the semester the grades fall below the expected 90% (A), 80% (B), 70% (C) scale, a curve may be applied to the total absolute grades for the course to determine each individual's final grade. However, there is a caveat to the above mechanism for determining grades. In order to receive a passing grade for the course it is necessary to maintain a passing exam average. Thus, a student who ends the semester with a failing exam average (w.r.t. the curve) will not pass the course.

Reading Assignments

Typically you will be expected to complete a reading assignment prior to each class period. The reading will be related to the material that will be discussed during the following class period. By reading in advance you will be better prepared to participate in the discussion of the material. You will also be familiar with the vocabulary being used and aware of the ideas and concepts that you found confusing.


Homework will be assigned on a daily basis. Following each class you will be assigned several homework problems related to the material from the reading and lecture. Homework, if collected, will be collected at the beginning of the following class. However, homework will only be collected sporadically resulting in about 10 assignments being collected throughout the semester. Solutions to all homework exercises will be made available outside my office shortly following the assignment's due date. Homework should be typewritten when possible and please note that writing, spelling and grammar do count!


This course will contain several extended projects. These projects will be designed to reinforce particular material from the course and will run parallel to the course. The projects will be completed in groups of 2 or 3 (preferably 2) students. However, any writeups that contribute to the satisfaction of the writing requirement will be done individually. More details on each project will be provided with the project assignment.


All mid-term exams will be timed (75 min.) and given in class. These exams will be closed book. However you will be permitted one 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper containing hand written notes that can be read with the naked eye. The final exam will be given at the time scheduled by the College. The final will also be closed book, but you will be permitted three 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper containing hand written notes that can be read with the naked eye.

Cheating and Plagiarism

This class follows the definition of cheating and plagiarism as described in the Dickinson College Student Code of Conduct and Disciplinary System. In addition to that definition I would like to make several clear statements about what is permissible collaboration in this class and what is not.

Got the idea? Do your own work and do it honestly! If there is ever any question about whether what you are doing is permitted then most likely it is not! Please ask for clarification on any issues related to this policy before it becomes an issue!

Late Work Policy

Absolutely no late work will be accepted!

However, since I am not a complete tyrant, I am implementing what I call the "NEET" late policy. NEET stands for "No Excuse Extension Time" and you can use it to extend any due dates you choose. The rules of NEET are as follows:

Any assignments handed in late must be given to me in person so that I may account for your NEET.