Independent Study (ICS 499, 699)

I’m glad you’re interested in taking an independent study course with me in an upcoming semester. This page is intended to help make sure you understand my particular style and philosophy for these courses.

An important thing to understand is that ICS 499 and 699 are independent study. That means that I expect self-discipline far beyond what I normally require in a classroom. I expect you to be self-motivated, to have a passion for the topic, and to jump in and work hard on it. If I need to be chronically sending you emails to see what you’re doing, then the situation is not working and you should drop the course.

Time commitment. I expect you to spend an average of 3 hours per week on this course per credit hour. If you take it for 3 credits, for example, then around 9-10 hours a week should be spent on your work.

Meetings. I don’t have any rigid requirements regarding meetings. You can meet with me as much or as little as you feel the need. Most students meet with me more in the beginning of the semester to get started, then less during the middle, and then more again near the end when they’re finishing up.

I do have a rigid requirement regarding weekly status reports. You must write a blog entry once a week, due by Monday at noon. This blog is typically a few paragraphs long and typically contains the following:

  • A description of what you’ve accomplished during the prior week.
  • How many hours (roughly) you’ve worked this past week.
  • What you intend to accomplish during the next week.
  • Pointers to your current set of work products (programs, web pages, tech reports, html documents, whatever).
  • Any other stuff (questions, comments, pointers to cool web pages you’ve discovered, etc.)

I recognize that there are some periods during the semester (midterms) when things just pile up and you can’t work on your independent study project as much. Or at all. When this happens, don’t cover up. Just note in your blog that you didn’t get a chance to work at all this week on this project. Remember that the amount of time you work should average out to about 3 hour per credit hour for the whole semester. Thus, it is entirely possible that you’ll only work 13 out of the 16 weeks of the semester, but still put in more than enough time to succeed.

That said, I only enter into independent study arrangements with students who I believe are reasonably productive. If your blog claims that you worked 40 hours last week, but there’s no significant change in the state of your work products, then you won’t actually get “credit” for the 40 hours with respect to your grade. (I’ve never actually had this happen.)

Communication, the importance of. The biggest mistake some students make is to start working, get behind, and then avoid communicating with me in any way for weeks at a time. Don’t do that. Send me an email, call me, or stop by, then confess your sins, and we can then work out a solution together. If you keep communicating with me about your situation, in most cases we’ll work something out that is agreeable to both of us. One of the advantages of an independent study is flexibility. And school is stressful enough without having to avoid a Professor in the hallway, right?

Final Deliverable. At the end of the semester, you must create and submit a final deliverable. In most cases, this is a technical report that summarizes your progress and conclusions from the semester of work.

General requirements for the technical report:

  • Submitted to me in PDF as an attachment to an email
  • It should be written using either LaTeX or Word, and formatted according to either: (a) ICSE conference paper format, or (b) UH Thesis format.
  • Be sure to include both an Abstract section (that summarizes the entire paper) and a Future Directions section (that summarizes how your work so far would be continued).
  • Length should be at least 10 pages.
  • Number of citations to other work should be at least 10.
  • Spelling, grammar, organization, and clarity of thought are essential components.

You should submit a rough outline to me for review by the middle of the semester, and a rough draft of the completed report around two weeks prior to the end of the semester. The final version is due by the last day (Friday) of finals week.

A goal of this technical report is to provide you with a “deliverable” from the semester that you can add to your professional portfolio, as well as an opportunity for you to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what you would do next if you continued in this direction.

Depending upon your project, you will also hopefully have code as a final deliverable. In some cases, you might create a different artifact and submit it as your final deliverable, but that must be negotiated with me at the start of the semester.

Final grade. Your grade will be based on:

  • the quality and consistency of your blog entries (as an indication of the quality and consistency of your work throughout the semester).
  • the quality of your final deliverable (the technical report).