COSC121-18S2 (C) Semester Two 2018

Introduction to Computer Programming

15 points
16 Jul 2018 - 18 Nov 2018


Computer programming in a high-level language with special emphasis on style and structure. This course is a prerequisite for COSC122 and all 200 level COSC and SENG courses.

In COSC121 you will learn the fundamentals of computer programming using the Python language.

Programming is the nuts and bolts of computer science; it is an essential tool but only a small part of the overall subject. Programming involves using a special language to issue a series of instructions to the computer in order to have it solve a particular problem. COSC121 is a prerequisite for all 200 level COSC courses and is normally required as preparation for COSC122.

Videos, Not Traditional Lectures

Learning to program is necessarily a hands-on process, and traditional hour-long lectures poorly support hands-on learning. Lectures also force a relatively slow and laborious rate of progress through course material, when many students would easily handle a faster pace.  And when students discover gaps in their understanding while programming, videos of hour-long lectures are an inefficient way for students to review the lecture-based theory associated with their problem.

To fix these problems, in 2018 we are replacing traditional lectures with videos. Each video will be short (typically around 10 minutes), of a particular programming concept, with examples. Students will review the videos in their own time and place, and preferably they will periodically pause the videos and experiment with the concepts, rewinding as appropriate.

There will be approximately 5-10 videos for each week in the course. It is essential that students keep up with the videos, as lab and assignment work will draw upon them.

In addition to the videos there will be a "Clinic" each week. All students are expected to attend the clinic in the first week, to hear how the course is run. From then on, clinics will essentially be tutorials, with optional attendance. Clinics give you a chance to ask questions about the labs and videos and to meet the lecturers face-to-face.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Understand the following Python data types and their methods : strings, lists, tuples, files, sets and dictionaries.
  • Be able to implement basic algorithms using selection, iteration and function calling.
  • Be able to apply their understanding of the Python language in designing, implementing and testing programs to solve simple problems in science and engineering.
  • Be able to (re)structure code using modules and functions to reduce complexity.
  • Appreciate the performance benefits of hashed data structures in certain applications.
  • Be familiar with simple object oriented programming in Python.
  • Be able to implement simple Graphics User Interfaces in Python.
  • Be able to review and assess the quality and maintainability of Python code.
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.



Timetable 2018

Students must attend one activity from each section.

Clinic A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Monday 10:00 - 11:00 C1 Lecture Theatre 16 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct
Computer Lab A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Monday 11:00 - 13:00 Jack Erskine 133, 134 16 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct
02 Monday 15:00 - 17:00 Jack Erskine 133, 134 16 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct
03 Friday 11:00 - 13:00 Jack Erskine 133, 134 16 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct
04 Friday 13:00 - 15:00 Jack Erskine 133, 134 16 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct

Examination and Formal Tests

Test A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Wednesday 18:30 - 20:30 Civil - Mech E201 Mech Computer Lab (12/9)
Jack Erskine 001 Computer Lab (12/9)
Jack Erskine 010 Computer Lab (12/9)
Jack Erskine 131 Lab 1 (12/9)
Jack Erskine 133 Lab 2 (12/9)
Jack Erskine 134 Lab 3 (12/9)
Jack Erskine 136 Lab 4 (12/9)
Jack Erskine 248 Computer Lab (12/9)
10 Sep - 16 Sep

Timetable Note

Check your personal timetable on My Timetable. Note that you are welcome to attend extra lab sessions provided there are free machines available.

Depending on final student numbers, some of the advertised lab/tutorial streams may not run. Final lab/tutorial options will be available for self-allocation closer to the start of the semester through My Timetable.

Course Coordinator

Richard Lobb


Walter Guttmann


There are four assessment components: weekly laboratory online quizzes, a mid-semester test, a so-called “assignment" and the final exam. The assignment will be a series of programs for you to write, handed out at regular intervals throughout the course. They will for the most part be automatically marked by our online program tester, but some of them will also be assessed by staff for readability and `style'. This set of assignment programs will also be referred to as the assignment superquiz.


There are two main options for books to use to supplement the lectures and support your lab work.
- The second edition of "Practical Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Python 3" by Campbell, Gries, Montojo and Wilson is the best book for the course  as it matches the lecture sequence well.
It is available from the university bookshop, or you buy an e-copy for
$US25 from You can probably find second hand copies of the first edition of the same book, but be aware that it uses version 2.7 of Python, and we are now using version 3. There are only a few minor changes that you will need to adjust for, and we'll give information about this in the course.

- "How To Think Like a Computer Scientist'' is available free online at It uses the same version of Python as you'll need for labs (version 3).


There are several important documents available online about departmental regulations, policies and guidelines at the following site. We expect all students to be familiar with these.

Notices about this class will be posted to the class forum in the Learn system.

COSC students will also be made members of a class called “CSSE Notices”, where general notices will be posted that apply to all classes (such as information about building access or job opportunities).

Additional Course Outline Information

Academic integrity

Every year several students fail the course because of dishonest practice. Please do not be among them. You are encouraged to discuss the general aspects of a problem with others. However, anything you submit for credit must be entirely your own work and not copied, with or without modification, from any other person.

If you share details of your work with anybody else then you are likely to be in breach of the University's General Course and Examination Regulations and/or Computer Regulations (both of which are set out in the University Calendar) and/or the Computer Science Department's policy. The Department treats cases of dishonesty very seriously and, where appropriate, will not hesitate to notify the University Proctor.

If you need help with specific details relating to your work, or are not sure what you are allowed to do, then contact your tutors or lecturer for advice.

Grade moderation

The Computer Science department's grading policy states that in order to pass a course you must meet two requirements:
1. You must achieve an average grade of at least 50% over all assessment items.
2. You must achieve an average mark of at least 45% on invigilated assessment items.
If you satisfy both these criteria, your grade will be determined by the following University- wide scale for converting marks to grades: an average mark of 50% is sufficient for a C- grade, an average mark of 55% earns a C grade, 60% earns a B- grade and so forth. However if you do not satisfy both the passing criteria you will be given either a D or E grade depending on marks. Marks are sometimes scaled to achieve consistency between courses from year to year.

Students may apply for special consideration if their performance in an assessment is affected by extenuating circumstances beyond their control.

Applications for special consideration should be submitted via the Examinations Office website within five days of the assessment.

Where an extension may be granted for an assessment, this will be decided by direct application to the Department and an application to the Examinations Office may not be required.

Special consideration is not available for items worth less than 10% of the course.

Students prevented by extenuating circumstances from completing the course after the final date for withdrawing, may apply for special consideration for late discontinuation of the course. Applications must be submitted to the Examinations Office within five days of the end of the main examination period for the semester.

Laboratory Work

Practical work is an essential part of learning to program.

A new laboratory exercise will be made available each week and you are expected to work on that exercise during your scheduled lab for that week. Laboratory exercises take the form of an online quiz consisting of information panels interleaved with quiz questions. Quiz questions include programming exercises, where you develop code on the lab machines and then submit the code to the quiz server for instant grading. If your answer is marked wrong you can resubmit for a small penalty. The sum of all your lab quiz marks contributes 10% of your total course mark. If you have not finished the lab by the end of your scheduled session you can continue to work on it in your own time through into the start of the following week if you wish. However you must submit each quiz by its close date, which is typically the Tuesday night of the week in which the lab exercise was opened.

The lab tutors will help you work through the exercises when you are stuck, but try to solve the problems yourself before calling for help. In programming there are in infinitely many possible programming exercises and each one has a huge number of possible solutions. It's not the solution to the problem that's important; it's the mental processes you use to get even one solution that matter. Tutors can provide only limited assistance with guiding your mental processes - ultimately you yourself have to acquire the necessary problem-solving skills.


Your usercode on our computer system enables you to access a range of services. Some of these services are not free and you are responsible for ensuring that your account contains sufficient funds to cover any charges you incur. If your account balance becomes negative then you may be unable to use any computer facilities until you have cleared this debt. The Computer Science Department is not involved with the financial details of your account - you should go to the Information and Communications Technology Services (ICTS) Department for this.
The main chargeable service you are likely to make use of is printing.

To use chargeable services you will need to have money loaded on your Canterbury Card.

See the Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) Department home page for details of services and charges.


If you need help or are feeling lost, seek help immediately. Do not wait until the day before your assignment is due. There is plenty of help available - it is up to you to make use of it.

Sources of help
There are a variety of ways for you to get help.
•   The Learn COSC121S1 forums provide electronic noticeboards for use by all students and staff involved with COSC121S1. You can post any course-related queries to these forums and other students or staff can answer them. You can access the forum by logging into Learn.
However, there are a few rules to be observed:
•    Be courteous. The forum should be a pleasant place for everyone. Rude, angry or arrogant postings will rapidly destroy the value of the forum.
•   Don't be too helpful. By that we mean don't destroy someone else's learning experience by posting direct answers to test, exam or assignment questions. Rather, try to guide someone towards the solutions by hints or suggestions as to where the answers can be found. Never post assignment-related code.
•   If time permits, some problems may be discussed with your tutors during normal laboratory sessions or with your lecturer during the clinics.
•   This year we are trialing a new on-line chat help system, where you can chat to a tutor after hours. The schedule for the chat system is available at
•   Your lecturers are happy to help. However, their time is limited so please try to arrange an appointment by email to ensure that sufficient time will be available to deal with your queries effectively.
•   Some students may wish to engage a tutor for additional private or group tuition. Mr Holland (room 220) can assist with advertising and information about likely costs.

Note that the department is not responsible for computer systems and networks around the campus. The ICTS help desk (x6060) is the place to get help with technical problems outside the department.

Working on your home computer

Many students will do at least some of their laboratory and assignment work on home computers.
To do that, you will need to install some course-specific software as follows:
•   Python, version 3.5 or later. This can be downloaded from NB: Version 2.7 is NOT appropriate, as it is not compatible with version 3, which will be using in the course.
•  Wing101 Version 6.0, the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) we use in COSC121S1. This can be downloaded from . [This is not strictly essential; you can, if you wish, develop your programs using the IDLE IDE that comes with Python. Wing101 is what we will use in the lectures and laboratories, however.]
•  Enjoy the Course!!!

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $834.00

International fee $3,788.00

* Fees include New Zealand GST and do not include any programme level discount or additional course related expenses.

For further information see Computer Science and Software Engineering.

All COSC121 Occurrences