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Course number
CIS 421/521 - Artificial Intelligence
CIS 121 (for undergraduates)
CIT 594 (for MCIT students)
A data structure and algorithms course, plus substantial programming experience (for everyone)
Chris Callison-Burch
Discussion Forum
Time and place
In Fall 2020, the course will be all online.
Lectures will be broadcast live on Zoom on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon-1:30pm Eastern. Recordings will be made available shortly after the live lectures.
The first day of class is Tuesday, September 1, 2020.
The first day of office hours will be Monday, September 7, 2020.
The final day of class is Tuesday, December 22, 2020.
Office hours
To join the office hour queue, please go to
Monday 11am-1pm Eastern - Chris
Monday 4:30pm-6:30pm Eastern – Eddie
Monday 9pm-11pm Eastern - Hanbang
Tuesday 2pm-4pm Eastern- Chenyu
Tuesday 4pm-6pm Eastern - Aditya
Tuesday 6pm-8pm Eastern - Joe
Wednesday 12:30pm-2:30pm Eastern - Daniel
Wednesday 2:30pm-4:30pm Eastern - Halley
Thursday 2pm-3pm Eastern - Yue (Extra Credit Only)
Friday 1pm-3pm Eastern - Bharath
Friday 3pm-5pm Eastern - Lisa
Friday 2:30pm-4pm Eastern - Halley (Python tutorial only. Halley’s Python tutorials will be group sessions held on Gather Town in 3401 Walnut outside of room 463C.)
Sunday 2pm-4pm Eastern - Yue
Required: Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (4th edition) by Russel and Norvig. Note that the 4th edition adds substantial new material over the 3rd edition, so you should buy the 4th edition. You can buy the textbook on Amazon or from the UPenn bookstore, where you can rent the digital version for $40.
Supplemental: Speech and Language Processing (3rd ed. draft) by Jurafsky and Martin. This textbook is currently free online while the textbook authors are revising it to write their 3rd edition. We will use it in the last third of the course.
Materials for Extra Credit Assignments
In addition to the normal homework assignments, we will have a series of optional extra credit assignments that use programmable toy R2D2s. These assignments can be done in pairs. Each extra credit homework assignment if worth up to about 1% of your overall grade.
If you are in Philadelphia, you can borrow one of the R2D2 robots from us. It must be returned at the end of the semester in good working order, or you will have to pay $100 to replace it.
If you are outside of Philadelphia, you can purchase a Sphero R2D2. Currently, you can buy the robot for about $100 on Amazon or $80 from If you live outside the USA, you may need to use a 3rd party shipping service.
If you live outside of Philadelphia, you will also need a Raspberry Pi Sensor Pack that the TAs assembled from parts. We will send it to you if you provide your address on this form.
  • 70% Homework Assignments
  • 30% Exams and Quizzes
    • 10% for weekly quizzes (equally weighted)
    • 10% for midterm 1
    • 10% for midterm 2
  • Up to 3-5% in Optional Extra Credit
The course is not curved. Your overall score is computed as 0.3 * exam score + 0.7 * homework score. All homeworks are equally weighted. Here is how letter grades are assigned based on your overall score:
Score Grade
\(>\) 97 A+
93-97 A
90-93 A-
87-90 B+
83-87 B
80-83 B-
75-80 C+
70-75 C
65-70 C-
50-65 D
below 50 F
Differences between 421 and 521
There is roughly one homework assignment per week, aside from weeks with exams. Students enrolled in CIS 421 may skip one HW assignment, or they may discard their lowest scoring HW assignment. You do not get late days back on the homework that you discard. Students enrolled in CIS 521 must complete all HW assignments and cannot discard their lowest scoring assignment.
Collaboration Policy
Unless otherwise noted, you are not allowed to work in groups on the homework assignments. You can discuss homework problems with others (you must explicitly list who you discussed problems with on each homework submission), but 

all code must be your own independent work. You are not allowed to upload your code to publicly accessible places (like public github repositories), and you are not allowed to access anyone else’s code. If you discover someone else’s code online, please report it to the course staff via a private note on Piazza.
Late Day Policy
Each student has ten free “late days”. Homeworks can be submitted at most two days late. If you are out of late days, then you will not be able to get credit for subsequent late assignments. One “day” is defined as anytime between 1 second and 24 hours after the homework deadline. The intent of the late day policy it to allow you to take extra time due to unforseen circumstances like illnesses or family emergencies, and for forseeable interruptions like on campus interviewing and religious holidays. You do not need to ask permission to use your late days. No additional late days are granted.