COSC121-21S1 (C) Semester One 2021

Introduction to Computer Programming

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 22 February 2021
End Date: Sunday, 27 June 2021
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 7 March 2021
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Friday, 14 May 2021


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.

*This is an alternative course to COSC131, which is a required course for the engineering intermediate and has a special emphasis on numerical computation.*

In COSC121 you will learn the fundamentals of computer programming using the Python language and can be taken by students who have no previous programming background

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 Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Software Engineering 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 proceed at a fixed rate but some students require a much faster or slower 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, we have replaced traditional lectures and associated learning activities with dedicated Learning Modules.  Each learning module covers a particular topic (or sub-topic) with a mixture of notes, short videos (10-15 minutes) with examples, and quiz questions to develop and reinforce understanding of a particular programming concept,. Students will engage in the learning modules in their own time and place, and preferably they will periodically pause the videos and experiment with the concepts, rewinding as appropriate.
The course is designed with one learning module per week in mind.  You can move an accelerated pace, but do keep in mind your other courses.  More importantly it is important not to fall behind in the material.  Each module builds upon earlier modules and it is easy for the work to become insurmountable.

To support your learning we run a lab session per week and a "Clinic".  Student need to allocate themselves to one of the lab sessions each week and are welcome to "drop-in" to other lab session times if there is a free seat.  "Clinic" sessions provide a group learning experience to address specific problems with material already covered. No new material will be presented at the Clinic Class. Instead, the lecturer will answer students' questions and provide live examples to clarify concepts that the students ask about.

There is a single traditional lecture during week one of course, in which we explain how the course is run. The lecture is delivered several times; all students are expected to attend one of the options.

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.


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

Andrew Bainbridge-Smith


Assessment Due Date Percentage 
Assignment Super Quizzes 15%
Learning Modules 15%
Mid-Course Test 15%
Final Exam 55%

There are four assessment components: weekly learning module quizzes, a mid-semester test, a so-called “assignment" and the final exam.

* Tests and Exams *
Tests and exams are sat in computer laboratories around campus. You will be expected to develop and test code during the exams, for which you will have your normal programming tools (Wing IDE and Python documentation) available. As in the assignments and the weekly laboratories, you will submit your code and receive immediate marks and other feedback. Marks are typically awarded only for code that is completely correct, but you can correct and resubmit failing code for at most a small penalty.

Under Departmental Policy, you must obtain a weighted average of at least 45% in the test and exam to obtain a passing grade.

As programming is a practical skill, fluency can only be assessed via the test and exam, consequently grades will not be derived under the Special Consideration policy.  Please see our additional notes below. for information on how the University Special Consideration rules apply to this course.

* Assignment Super Quizzes *
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.

* Learning Module Quizzes - Laboratory Work *
Practical work is an essential part of learning to program; your goal is to achieve fluency in programming rather than a non-practical general understanding of it.  The learning modules, which include embedded quizzes,  are designed to be completed on a weekly basis.  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 from the learning modules contributes 15% of your total course mark. You are to work on each in your own time and by using the help in the lab sessions.  However you must submit each quiz by its closing date, which is published on each learning module page.   There is a system to apply for automatic extensions, Special Consideration for individual Learning Modules cannot be applied for.

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 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.

Keep in mind that in tests and exams you will have to program on your own, and a high degree of fluency is required.

Textbooks / Resources

There are two main options for books to use to supplement the lectures and support your lab work.

- "Practical Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Python 3" by Campbell, Gries, Montojo and Wilson, 2nd or 3rd edition. This is available from the bookshop or as an e-copy from Our course was originally built around the first edition of this text, but the text and our course have evolved in somewhat different directions since then. However, it is still an excellent text with many good exercises.

- "How To Think Like a Computer Scientist'' is available free online at


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 of at least 50% on the combined assessment items.
2. You must achieve a mark of at least 45% on the weighted average of the test and exam marks, using the weightings given in the "Assessment" section above.
If you satisfy both these criteria, your grade will be determined by the following University- wide scale for converting marks to grades: a total mark of 50% is sufficient for a C- grade, a total 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.

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. Each laboratory exercise is accompanied by an online quiz. The quizzes are electronically graded and the sum of all your quiz marks contributes 10% of your total course mark. Usually you will submit your work at the end of that scheduled lab session but if you wish to continue to work on the exercise in your own time during the next week you may do so.

However, you must submit each quiz by its final submission date, the so-called “drop dead date", which is written on the exercise handout. Usually this is the Friday of the week after the lab exercise is handed out.

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.
•   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!!!

Special Consideration

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.  
In line with the University policy on Special Consideration the following advice and rules shall apply for this course:

1. Learning Module Quizzes - Laboratory Work:
As each learning module lab quiz falls into the minor assessment criteria, special consideration cannot be applied for.   Students may make use of the automated extension application system - note this does not extend out beyond the exam study period.

2. Assignment Super Quizzes:
Students granted special consideration for assignments will only be provided with an extension in time to complete these.  In no circumstance will an extension exceed the final date of the examination period for the semester.  Students should enquire of the course coordinator before making an application as an extension maybe granted without recourse to a formal application.

3. Tests and Final Examinations:
Students granted special consideration for the test or exam will be offered to sit an alternative test or examination on a special sitting date.  Students are advised to inform the course coordinator at the time of, or prior to, making their application so they can be informed in a timely manner of when the special sitting will occur.  Students unable to sit on the special sitting date will receive a zero mark for the assessment.   Note that special consideration cannot be offered where the combined assessments for consideration exceed 50% of the course assessment weight without the support of additional assessment.  

The special sitting date for the test will occur approximately 2 weeks after the original test date.  The special sitting date for the examination will occur in the week following the examination period.   Students should keep this in mind when planning holidays or other activities.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $877.00

International fee $4,438.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, 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