Welcome to CS 171!
This website is for both the Harvard college CS 171 course and the Harvard Extension School CSCI E-171 course. All our weekly material, assignments, handouts, quizzes, and pre-readings will be listed on Canvas under Modules.
College Class Meeting Times (mandatory):
- Lecture: Mondays, 2:15 PM - 3:30 PM ET. (Live stream available for DCE students, video recordings available for all)
- Lab: Wednesdays, 2:15 PM - 3:30 PM ET.
- Room: 114 Western Ave, Rooms 2111+2112
DCE (Harvard Extension School) Meeting Times:
- Virtual Section: Mondays, 7:00 PM - 7:45 PM ET.
- Virtual Lab: Thursdays, 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM ET.
- Room: Online on Zoom (links on Canvas)
Instructor and Head TF:
This course is an introduction to key design principles and techniques for interactively visualizing data. The major goals of this course are to understand how visual representations can help in the analysis and understanding of complex data, how to design effective visualizations, and how to create your own interactive visualizations using modern web-based frameworks.
After completion of the course, you will be able to:
- Critically evaluate visualizations and suggest improvements and refinements
- Apply a structured design process to create effective visualizations
- Conceptualize ideas and interaction techniques using sketching and prototyping
- Use principles of human perception and cognition in visualization design
- Apply methods for visualization of data from a variety of fields
- Work constructively as a member of a team to carry out a complex project
CS171 uses an active learning format with a mix of lectures, activities, self-guided labs, homework, and group projects. Here is the weekly rhythm of the course:
- Watch an orientation video (approx. 10 min) to get an idea of what we will cover each week.
- College Students: Attend a mandatory live class (75 min) to participate in lectures, activities, discussions, and projects in breakout groups. In-person class attendance is mandatory except for DCE and exempt students.
- DCE Students: Attend a virtual section (45 min) to participate in group discussions and group projects. Attendance to the online section is strongly encouraged, but you might be excused on an individual basis.
- Hand in your homework assignments at noon ET on Wednesdays.
- College Students: Attendance is mandatory, but you have two options for attendance: We recommend in-person attendance, but alternatively, you and your assigned lab partner can also attend the lab online via zoom. However, you and your assigned lab partner have to decide on one of those two options.
Throughout the week
- Work through asynchronous materials (YouTube videos, websites, lecture videos, book chapters, etc.) that will be posted on Canvas.
- Complete weekly homework assignments, which include finishing your lab notebooks, programming exercises, and work for your group project.
- Attend office hours (or virtual office hours) with the TFs to get help with the labs and homework assignments. DCE students can attend weekly sections with the TFs.
- Overall, expect to spend about 10 hours on asynchronous materials, homework, and project work outside of classes and labs. Students with less programming experience typically will spend more time.
Each of the course components is discussed in more detail below.
To provide the best possible online learning experience during live classes, we have limited enrollment in the course.
College Students: If you are interested in joining this course, please complete homework 0 (HW 0), which is posted on Canvas (under Modules). HW 0 includes the enrollment survey, which automatically enters you into the enrollment lottery. The deadline for filling out the enrollment survey is Aug. 24th (midnight), and you will be notified about the results by Aug. 25th. If you are offered a spot in the class, you have to formally accept the spot (by replying to the email) and request enrollment on my.harvard by the end of the day of Aug. 25th. Otherwise, we will offer your spot to a student on the waitlist. The lottery is random, with a slight boost for seniors and CS concentrators.
DCE Students: Sign up is on a first-come-first-serve basis.
In preparation for the weekly programming labs, you will read chapters in the following textbook:
Interactive Data Visualization for the Web, Scott Murray, O’Reilly (2017), Second edition
An introduction to D3 for people new to programming and web development, published by O’Reilly. “Explaining tricky technical topics with aplomb (and a little cheeky humor) is Scott Murray’s forte. If you want to dive into the world of dynamic visualization using web standards, even if you are new to programming, this book is the place to start.” - Mike Bostock, creator of D3.
Harvard College students can access an online copy of the book on Hollis, or you can purchase the book from the Coop bookstore or any other online retailer.
College students: The class meets every Monday except during the first week when we are meeting on Wednesday. Attending these in-person classes is mandatory and a crucial component of learning the material in this course. Please arrive on time, as we will start promptly. At the end of each class, we will ask you to fill out and submit a brief reflection to collect feedback.
DCE Students: Instead of attending class in person, DCE and exempt college students can either watch a live zoom stream of the class or watch edited video recordings that will be posted no more than 24 hours after class. We also strongly encourage you to complete the in-class activities on your own. Additionally, we will hold a weekly virtual section for the group-work part of the lecture for DCE students. Groups will be assigned by the teaching staff.
College students: You will attend a mandatory programming lab every Wednesday. We strongly encourage in-person attendance, but alternatively, you and your lab partner can also decide to attend the lab via zoom.
DCE students: Instead of attending labs in person, DCE and exempt students will have a weekly online lab on Thursdays to work on the lab alone or in pairs. Attending the online lab is strongly encouraged but not mandatory.
Lab pairs: At the beginning of the semester, we will assign you to lab groups. You can work with a different lab partner from within your group every week. You can work on the lab either together with your partner or alone; that is up to you. However, each one of you has to submit their own lab in the weekly homework submission and let us know who you worked with.
Asynchronous Materials & Quizzes
In preparation for class each week, you will work on your own through asynchronous materials (YouTube videos, websites, lecture videos, book chapters, etc.) to ensure that you are prepared for the programming labs and the activities in class. You are expected to read and watch these materials posted on Canvas each week. For the lab readings, you will be asked to complete brief online quizzes that test your understanding of the material for that week.
Weekly homework assignments are going to provide an opportunity to improve your design and programming skills. Homeworks will be due every Wednesday at noon ET. See the homework as an opportunity to learn and not to “earn points”. You can discuss solutions to homework assignments with your TFs during office hours. Homework solutions will not be posted publicly.
A big part of the course will be two group projects. You will work in teams of three students to design and implement interactive visualizations to answer questions about a specific topic and dataset. We will use a design sprint process with a series of graded milestones.
At the beginning of the course, you will work on a guided project in teams assembled by us. Your team will choose one project from a set of topics, project briefs, and datasets. The guided project will familiarize you with the design sprint process and how to create interactive visualizations and dashboards using Tableau.
After the guided project, you will work on a final project for which you can choose your own team with three students each. Your team will create a web page that tells a story with interactive visualizations to answer questions about a topic of your own choosing. A small number of projects will win the coveted Best Project prize (Swiss chocolate).
Office Hours & Communication
The teaching fellows will provide in-person and online office hours at several different times each week for questions you may have. We will also use Ed as our discussion forum and for all announcements, so it is important that you are signed up as soon as possible. Ed should always be your first resource for seeking answers to your questions. You can also post privately so that only the course staff sees your message. During classes and labs, we will use Slack for you to ask for help from TFs, both online and in person. That way, we can keep track of who needs help and which TFs are currently busy helping others.
A quick guide to the different platforms for communication:
- If you’re looking for general information about the class, its syllabus, a listing of the assignments, how we will grade you, or other course policies, you should visit our Canvas class site.
- To submit your individual papers, problem sets, and final project pieces, you will use Canvas. More details when we start assigning these things.
- If you want to ask a question about the course, the class schedule, or specific assignments, you should post your questions on Ed. The teaching staff will also post class-wide announcements on Ed.
- For communication during class and labs, within your design sprint groups or lab groups, you will use Slack.
- For live online video sessions, we will use Zoom. Recorded videos will be linked on Canvas.
- The links to the Zoom sessions, Ed, and Slack are in the navigation menu on the left. Links to posted materials and recorded videos are on the Modules page.
This course can be taken for a letter grade only; there is no pass/fail option. The course grade comprises:
- Participation (10%)
- Quizzes (10%)
- Homework Assignments (30%)
- Guided Project (20%)
- Final Project (30%)
Your participation grade includes watching lecture videos, participating in class and on EdStem, and being helpful to other students. We will drop your lowest quiz score. Any concerns about grading errors must be clearly articulated in writing and sent to <firstname.lastname@example.org> within one week of receiving the grade.
We will map your points to letter grades using the following table:
- A: 100-95%; A-: 90-95%
- B+: 85-90%; B: 80-85%; B-: 75-80%
- C+: 70-75%; C: 65-70%; C-: 60-65%
- D+: 55-60%; D: 50-55%: D-: 45-50%
- F < 45%
Any concerns about grading errors must be noted in writing and submitted to your TF within one week of receiving the grade.
Students taking this course for graduate credit are expected to do more work and perform at higher standards than undergraduate credit students. In particular, we may assign additional tasks in homework for graduate-credit students, and we expect a more comprehensive final project.
For each class and lab, please take care to work through and complete the week’s asynchronous materials prior to class and lab.
College students: Except for DCE and exempt students, it is important that you attend and proactively participate during the labs and live class each week. We understand, however, that certain factors may occasionally interfere with your ability to attend these in-person sessions. You can miss class or labs up to four times during the semester without any negative consequences. After that, it will affect your participation grade. Please let us know as soon as possible if you have reoccurring extenuating circumstances that affect your ability to attend class or labs. We will ask you for an email confirmation from your resident dean and will try to work out an agreeable solution with you and your team.
DCE students: Attendance for both the virtual class section and the virtual lab are strongly encouraged but not mandatory. You might be excused from the virtual class or lab on an individual basis. DCE students participate completely online, there is no in-person participation for DCE students.
For virtual sections and labs, or when joining the classes live zoom stream, please make sure to:
- participate from a quiet office or similar space (and not from a car, plane, or train), and
- participate with your camera turned on, using horizontal (not vertical) video.
Each student is given two late days for homework assignments at the beginning of the semester. A ‘late day’ extends the individual homework deadline by 24 hours without penalty.
No more than two late days may be used on any assignment. If you have already used all of your late days for the semester, we will deduct points for each day you submit your homework late. Late days are intended to give you flexibility: you can use them for any reason – no questions asked. You don't get any bonus points for not using your late days. Also, you can only use late days for homework deadlines – all other deadlines (e.g., quizzes, project milestones, etc.) are hard.
If you have a verifiable medical condition or other special circumstances that interfere with your coursework, please let us know as soon as possible. You will need to provide a written note or email from a medical professional or your resident dean confirming your inability to participate in course work.
We expect you to adhere to the Harvard Honor Code at all times. Failure to adhere to the honor code and our policies may result in serious penalties, up to and including automatic failure in the course and reference to the ad board.
You may discuss your homework and labs with other students, but you are expected to be intellectually honest and give credit where credit is due. In particular:
- if you work on labs in pairs, you may submit the same lab notebook as your partner, but you must add their name to your notebook submission;
- you have to complete your homework and weekly quizzes entirely on your own;
- You may discuss your homework with your lab partner for that week. You can discuss your code structure and help each other debugging. However, you may not share homework code.
- you cannot share your homework code with anyone else, including on EdStem;
- you may not submit the same or similar work to this course that you have submitted or will submit to another, and
- you may not provide or make available solutions to individuals who take or may take this course in the future.
If the assignment allows it and for your projects, you may use third-party libraries and example code, so long as the material is available to all students in the class and you give proper attribution. Do not remove any original copyright notices and headers.
DCE Students: You are responsible for understanding Harvard Extension School policies on academic integrity and how to use sources responsibly. Stated most broadly, academic integrity means that all course work submitted, whether a draft or a final version of a paper, project, take-home exam, online exam, computer program, oral presentation, or lab report, must be your own words and ideas, or the sources must be clearly acknowledged. The potential outcomes for violations of academic integrity are serious and ordinarily include all of the following: required withdrawal (RQ), which means a failing grade in the course (with no refund), the suspension of registration privileges, and a notation on your transcript.
Using sources responsibly is an essential part of your Harvard education. We provide additional information about our expectations regarding academic integrity on our website. We invite you to review that information and to check your understanding of academic citation rules by completing two free online 15-minute tutorials that are available on this site. The tutorials are anonymous open-learning tools.
College students: Any student receiving accommodations through the Accessible Education Office should email their AEO letter to <email@example.com> as soon as possible. Failure to do so may prevent us from making appropriate arrangements.
DCE students: Harvard Extension School is committed to providing an inclusive, accessible academic community for students with disabilities and chronic health conditions. The Accessibility Services Office (ASO) offers accommodations and supports to students with documented disabilities. If you have a need for accommodations or adjustments, contact Accessibility Services directly via email at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or by phone at 617-998-9640.
Some of the material in this course is based on the classes taught by Alexander Lex at the University of Utah, Carlos Scheidegger at the University of Arizona, Marc Streit at JKU Linz, Pat Hanrahan at Stanford, Jeff Heer at the University of Washington, Hans-Joerg Schulz at the University of Rostock, Nils Gehlenborg at Harvard Medical School, Torsten Möller at the University of Vienna, Tamara Munzener at the University of British Columbia, Helwig Hauser at the University of Bergen, Maneesh Agrawala at UC Berkeley, and Hendrik Strobelt at IBM Research. We have heavily drawn on materials, and examples found online and tried our best to give credit by linking to the original source. Please contact us if you find materials where the credit is missing or that you would rather have removed.
The syllabus page shows a table-oriented view of the course schedule, and the basics of course grading. You can add any other comments, notes, or thoughts you have about the course structure, course policies or anything else.
To add some comments, click the "Edit" link at the top.