Your overall grade for the course will be derived from three components. At a high level grading is based on the following formula:

  • 60% written assignments (two lowest assignments dropped) and 2–3 in-class quizzes (none dropped)
  • 30% exams (an in-class midterm and a final)
  • 10% class participation (scored three times)

Final letter grades will be norm-referenced, influenced strongly by the performance of students this term, with the distribution of grades of previous students as a foundation.

Case briefs and technical homeworks (60%)

Some of our assignments will be based on cases, for which you’ll write briefs, and some of our assignments will be based on technical material, for which you’ll answer questions.

For every case or technical article we cover, you will be expected to write a brief. COMPSCI 391L uses a form of flipped teaching: assignments are due before the class meeting in which they are first discussed. As described in class and in the text by Delaney, briefs are a short summary and description of a legal decision, following a particular format. Your briefs will be graded according to a rubric. We will weight all briefs equally. Expect to brief about four cases per week.

Assignments may also include responses to “notes” that appear at the end of each section of Kerr, newspaper articles, technical papers, and legal documents outside of Kerr. Note responses are not as tightly constrained in format as briefs, though we expect most note assignments can be written in one page or less. Like briefs, we will grade note responses according to a rubric. Expect to write one or two note responses per week. Even if we do not assign a note response, you should read the notes themselves carefully. Some are not hypotheticals but instead important commentary and information from Kerr. And all notes are fair game for exam questions. Similarly, we may ask for a response to a relevant blog post, and grade it as a note response. Student in 591L will have more involved responses, and occasionally will brief cases or be assigned readings not assigned to students in 391L.

Students in 591L will also be responsible for a significant independent paper, applying synthesizing their knowledge of law and technology. 591 enrollees should read further details on the paper requirements and note that it will account for approximately 25% of this component of the course grade (15% of the overall grade).

We will use Moodle exclusively to accept assignments, which must be in the form of a PDF (no word, text, or other formats), with your name clearly visible. Assignments are due at 9:00am on the due date, but as a grace period we will accept them until 1:00pm. We will not accept assignments after this time, and we will assign a score of zero for work that is not submitted by this time (or at all). We will, however, drop your two lowest assignment grades.

The in-class quizzes will be included into this component of your grade. I expect to announce the quizzes, but I reserve the right to give unannounced quizzes if participation is low or of low quality (I’ll announce when unannounced quizzes are a possibility.)

Each assignment and quiz will be worth a certain number of points. Your grade will be the sum of all points earned over all points assigned. See the grading rubric documents.

Exams (30%)

There will be a midterm exam and a final exam. Each will be weighted equally. The midterm will be given in class. The final is not cumulative. It will cover material presented after the midterm, though some references to pre-midterm material are inevitable and are to be expected. Exams will cover the textbook (Kerr) as well as all materials/articles/PDFs on the required reading list.

You may bring your own hand-typed/written notes and graded briefs to the exam. No other material is permitted. You may not include wholesale excerpts from the text in these briefs and notes. I will audit whatever material you bring to the exam, which should take less than five minutes per student. (Hint: Take notes when we review the answers to homework each class. I won’t be providing an answer key.)

Your overall exam grade must be above the passing threshold in order to pass the class.

Class participation (10%)

We will assign this portion of your grade on the basis of your presence and participation in class. Obviously, we expect you to attend class. Further, we expect you to participate in class discussion, posing and answering questions as appropriate.

We will assign grades of only full, half, or no credit for class participation, once in early October, once in early November and once after classes end.


I expect you to attend lectures and exams.

  • If you will be absent (either from class, or from an exam) due to religious reasons, you must provide me with a written list of such dates within one week of your enrollment in the course.
  • If you will be absent for a University-related event, such as an athletic event, field trip, or performance, you must notify me as soon as possible.
  • If you are absent for health reasons, I expect you to notify me as soon as possible.
  • If you are absent for other extenuating non-academic reasons, such as a military obligation, family illness, jury duty, automobile collision, etc., I expect you to notify me as soon as possible.

If you must miss a quiz or exam for an excusable reason, I will work with you to find an acceptable time for you to take a makeup. If you miss a quiz or exam without prior notice, I will require an explanation and possibly written documentation in order to judge whether the absence is excusable.

Similarly, if you miss a class without prior notice, I will require an explanation and possibly written documentation in order to judge whether the absence is excusable.

Technology in the classroom

At the start of the semester, I will permit laptops and the like in the classroom. If it becomes clear that they are being used for purposes not directly related to the class, I will ban them. It is unfair to distract other students with Facebook feeds, animated ads, and the like.

Regardless, I recommend taking notes by hand. Research suggests that students who take written notes in class significantly outperform students who use electronic devices to take notes.


Incompletes will be granted only in exceptional cases, and only if you have completed at least half the course with a passing grade. Prior to that, withdrawal is the recommended course of action.

Academic honesty

General academic honesty statement

Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent.

Please read the UMass Academic Honesty Policy.

Course-specific academic honesty information

Cheating is usually the result of other problems in school. Please come see the course staff if you are unable to keep up with the work for any reason and we will work something out. We want to see you succeed and will do everything we can to help you out!

You may discuss material with others, but your writing must be your own. When in doubt, contact the instructor about whether a potential action would be considered plagiarism. When discussing problems with others, do not show any of your written or programmed solutions to others. When asking others for help, do not take notes about the solution other than to jot down publicly available references. Use only verbal communication.

If you do discuss material with anyone besides the instructors, acknowledge your collaborators in each write-up. If you obtain a key insight with help (for example, through library work or a friend), acknowledge your source, briefly state the insight, and write up the solution on your own. In a fair fraction of your write-ups, I expect to see citations (though you need not cite the course texts).

Never misrepresent someone’s work as your own. It must be absolutely clear what material is your original work. You MUST cite all your sources properly. You must remove any possibility of someone else’s work from being misconstrued as yours. Also note that the facilitation of plagiarism (giving your work to someone else) is academic dishonesty as well.

Plagiarism and other anti-intellectual behavior will be dealt with severely. If you engage in academic dishonesty, you will almost certainly receive an F for the course. Further, if there are formal disciplinary proceedings, I will lobby for the maximum possible penalty. Investigating plagiarism is a pleasant experience for neither instructor nor student. Please help us by avoiding any questionable behavior.

As a condition of continued enrollment in this course, you agree to submit all assignments to the Turn It In for textual comparison or originality review for the detection of possible plagiarism. All submitted assignments will be included in the UMass Amherst dedicated database of assignments at Turn It In and will be used solely for the purpose of checking for possible plagiarism during the grading process and during this term and in the future.

Offensive topics and material

This class will often be a discussion of real-life court cases and criminal scenarios. You may find some topics of discussion distasteful, offensive, disturbing, and shocking, which is atypical for Computer Science. For example, we will openly discuss true and hypothetical scenarios and cases of child sexual exploitation, adult pornography, homicide, and other violent crimes. You are welcome to sit out for any discussion if you feel uncomfortable, no questions asked, no need to ask ahead of time. We will try to keep all discussions at a high level and to avoid lurid details, and you should do the same, but it is inevitable that there will be some frankness in discussion as well as candid court decisions.

Accommodation statement

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students. If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS), you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help you succeed in this course. If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that we may make appropriate arrangements.