DSC 190 – Representation Learning

📜 Syllabus

Welcome to DSC 190 in Spring 2022! This page should answer most of the questions you might have about how the course is run; check out the frequently asked questions for answers to some common ones. If you don't find what you're looking for here, feel free to make a post on Campuswire.

Here is what the syllabus will cover:


  • Dr. Justin Eldridge ("Justin")


I am excited to be back on campus and to teach in-person once again, and I've heard from many students who feel the same way. Still, I understand that the pandemic continues and that a good number of students may be unable to come to campus or may feel uncomfortable doing so.

As a result, I am structuring the course so that you will have the option to take it remotely or in-person (or a mixture of both). In particular, lectures will be delivered in-person at the regularly scheduled time and location, but I will not be taking attendance. The lecture content will be recorded and posted on podcasts.ucsd.edu so that you will not need to be physically present to keep up-to-date. Exams, too, will be held remotely. Office hours will be offered in a mix of in-person and remote modalities. Because no component of the course will require physical attendance, you will not need to let us know or do anything extra in order to take the class remotely (or in-person, for that matter).

Getting Started

To get started in DSC 190, you'll need to set up accounts on a couple of websites.


We'll be using Campuswire as our course message board. Campuswire is like Piazza, but unlike Piazza, Campuswire does not sell student data to third parties. You should have received an invitation via email, but if not you should get in touch with a course staff member as soon as possible, as we'll be making all course announcements via Campuswire.

If you have a question about anything to do with the course — if you're stuck on a homework problem, want clarification on the logistics, or just have a general question about data science — you can make a post on Campuswire. We only ask that if your question includes some or all of an answer, please make your post private so that others cannot see it. You can also post anonymously if you would prefer.

Course staff will regularly check Campuswire and try to answer any questions that you have. You're also encouraged to answer a question asked by another student if you feel that you know the answer.


We'll be using Gradescope for homework submission and grading. Most of the assignments will be a mixture of math and coding, and the coding parts are usually autograded via Gradescope., You should have received an email invitation for Gradescope, but if not please let us know as soon as possible via Campuswire.


We will not be using Canvas. All course materials will be available at dsc190.com or Gradescope.

Required Materials

You will not need to purchase any materials for this course; we'll use lecture slides as the primary resource.


Lectures will be held in-person at the regularly-scheduled time and place, but they will be podcasted and posted online for remote viewing. Attendance is appreciated, but not required.

Lectures will be at 12:30 pm T/Th in MANDE B-210.

You will be able to find the lecture recordings at podcast.ucsd.edu.

Office Hours

Course staff, including tutors, TAs, and instructors, will hold office hours regularly throughout the week. Please see the office hours page for the schedule and for instructions.


Discussions will be held in-person at 5:00 pm on Wednesday in MANDE B-210.

The discussions review the materials from that week's lectures and prepare you for the homework. Just as with lecture, topics and techniques introduced in discussion might appear on the homework and in exams. In particular, some of the more difficult homework problems may be partially solved in discussion section to give you a good start.

Attendance is recommended, but not required. The discussions will be podcasted, but the nature of discussion section (they usually involve a large amount of groupwork) means that the podcasted discussion might not be as useful as in-person attendance.


There will be two types of assignments in DSC 190: labs and homeworks. Labs help develop essential knowledge, while homeworks test your ability to apply that knowledge to solve more difficult problems. You can think of labs as a quick check on your understanding before you head into the homework.

Labs consist of a small number of autograded multiple choice or numerical answer questions. They will be posted on Gradescope weekly. The exams will consist of questions of a similar format and difficulty as those on the labs. However, the exams will have a time limit, while the labs have no time limit.

In previous iterations of DSC 190, these "essential" questions were actually a part of the homeworks. I've decided to move these essential problems to their own lab assignment, therefore making the homeworks shorter. This has a big benefit: because the labs are autograded and due before the homeworks, you'll get your lab grade before heading into the homework. This gives you an opportunity to patch up any misunderstandings.

Lab Redemptions

You should think of the labs as a first practice towards the goal of mastering the topics in DSC 190. But the first time you practice anything, you're not going to be perfect. The key is to learn from the mistakes.

To encourage this, DSC 190 uses the concept of "redemption" on lab assignments. Under this policy, you may regain 85% of the credit for a lab problem that was previously answered incorrectly by submitting an explanation of your mistake along with a correction. This policy encourages you to revisit lab mistakes in order to correct your understanding, and allows us to give quick, targeted feedback through grading.

For a problem to be eligible for redemption, you must have submitted an answer to the problem.

If you got the problem correct, you'll receive the total number of points for it. If you didn't get the problem correct, even due to a relatively small mistake, you'll receive no credit until you submit a redemption request (see below). If your redemption request is accepted, you'll be given 85% of the credit for the problem. You can think of the 15% deduction as the cost of requiring a TA to look over your redemption request — or, if you're a glass-half-full kind of person, as an incentive to get the problem correct the first time around.

Redemption Requests

There are two ways to submit a redemption request for a lab problem:

  • Option 1. Come to any tutor, TA, or instructor office hours and discuss the problem (preferred)
  • Option 2. Submit a regrade request on Gradescope on Gradescope.

Whichever method you choose, you should answer the following questions:

  1. What was the main misconception or misunderstanding that led to your answer being wrong?
  2. How did this misconception cause the wrong answer?
  3. How does fixing the misunderstanding lead you to the right answer?

The next section contains an example of a good redemption request.

The amount of detail needed in your request depends on how complex your mistake was; if it was a simple one, only one or two sentences may be necessary. A grader will review your request shortly (as long as you submit it within a week of the homework scores being posted, your regrade request will be reviewed). If you aren't able to identify what you did incorrectly, you'll be asked to attend a grader's office hours in order to discuss the problem in more detail.

Warning! We will not be able to handle redemption requests which are *submitted* more than a week after you have received your grade.


Here's a simple example to demonstrate the redemption process. Suppose you're given the following simple problem:

Question: What is 3 + 5 * 2?

Let's say you misapplied the order of operations, giving you an incorrect answer of 16 (the correct answer is, of course, 13). Here's a good redemption request that uses the template above:

1) I misapplied the order of operations. 2) I added before multiplying, so I got (3 + 5) * 2 = 8 * 2 = 16. 3) Multiplication should be done first so that we get 3 + (5 * 2) = 3 + 10 = 13.

Again, the key isn't just giving the right answer — that's published in the solutions, after all. The important part (according to the research) is identifying why you made the mistake.


There will be eight homeworks assigned throughout the quarter, plus one "super homework" (described below). Homeworks will be a mixture of written problems (which are manually graded by our course staff) and coding problems (which are autograded). Each homework will be due via Gradescope at 11:59 PM on the Wednesday after it is assigned except otherwise noted, and you'll have roughly a week to complete each assignment from the time it is posted.

The homework due date is carefully chosen to fit within a one week "cycle". On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you'll have lecture. Lab is then due on Sunday, giving you some practice before the homework. The homework is then due on Wednesday, giving you some time after the discussion and lab to complete it.

Regrade Requests

If you feel that the grader has made a mistake, you may submit a regrade request via Gradescope within one week of the grades being released. Note that part of your grade is clarity, so if your answer was mostly right but unclear you may still not receive full credit.

Note that regrade requests are not the same thing as redemption requests (though both are submitted on Gradescope in the same way). Unfortunately, we cannot offer redemption requests for homework problems as we do with lab problems — homework problems are typically more complex and require more time to grade, and regrading them would take more resources than we have available.

The "Super Homework"

Instead of a comprehensive final exam, we'll have a comprehensive "Super Homework". The super homework will focus on the content from the last two weeks of the quarter, but it will also contain material from throughout DSC 190. It will be about twice as long as a typical homework.

Because the super homework covers twice as much material as a usual homework, it will be worth twice as much. However, you may still collaborate on the super homework as long as you write up solutions in your own words.

The "Super Homework" will be due during finals week, but you'll have several days to complete it.


You are highly encouraged to think about the lab and homework problems together, but you must turn in your own solutions written in your own words. We feel that discussing homework problems is an excellent way to learn, but writing the solutions in your own words promotes a deeper, more solid understanding than discussion alone.

If your worked with someone else on a homework, write "Collaborators:" at the top of the page, followed by their names.

We recommend the following way of working on the labs and homeworks. First, meet with your partner to discuss the solutions, but don't leave the meeting with anything written down. Wait an hour or so, then write up the solutions in your own words working from memory. In that hour, you inevitably forgot some of the details of the solution. If you find that you have trouble filling them in, its a sign that you might not have understood the solution as well as you first thought!

If you have any questions or worries about whether your collaboration constitutes a violation of academic integrity, feel free to ask us on Campuswire.

Slip Days

You have five slip days to use throughout the quarter on any lab or homework (including the super homework). A slip day extends the deadline by 24 hours. Slip days cannot be "stacked" or "combined" to extend the deadline further — the latest any assignment can be submitted is 24 hours after the deadline. Slip days are applied automatically at the end of the quarter, but it's your responsibility to keep track of how many you have left.

Slip days are designed to be a transparent and predictable source of leniency in deadlines. You can use a slip day if you are too busy to complete an assignment on its original due date (or if you forgot about it). But slips days are also meant for things like the internet going down at 11:58 PM just as you go to submit your homework. Slip days are to be used in exceptional circumstances, so you probably shouldn't get close to using all of them — if you do get close to using that many, I will likely reach out to make sure that everything is OK.



There will be two midterm exams:

  • Midterm 01: Thursday, April 28 (focuses on Lectures 01 — 08)
  • Midterm 02: Thursday, May 26 (focuses on Lectures 09 — 15)

The exams will be held remotely. They will not be at a specific time. Instead, there will be a window of 24 hours during which you can start your exam, but once your exam is started you will have 90 minutes to finish it. There will be no lecture on the day of the exams.

Final Exam

The final exam for DSC 190 is a "no fault" final split into two sections:

  1. An optional Midterm 01 "Redemption" section focusing on Lectures 01 — 08
  2. An optional Midterm 02 "Redemption" section focusing on Lectures 09 — 15

If your score on the midterm redemption section is higher than your score on the original midterm, it will replace that grade. Getting a lower score on a redemption section cannot hurt you (but it will make us sad). As a consequence, the redemption sections are effectively optional.

Under this policy, a bad performance on an earlier exam can be erased by good performance on the same material in a later exam.

Example: You got an "F" on Midterm 1 and a "B" on Midterm 2. You decide to take only the first redemption section on the final (though you could have taken both), and you receive an "A". Your midterm scores are now "A" and "B".

The redemption exams will be held on Monday, June 06 (as scheduled by the registrar).

Like the midterms, you will be able to start the exam at any point in a 24 hour period. Each section will be timed separately; you'll have 90 minutes for each.

Note that the topics from Lectures 16, 17, and 18 are not on any exam. These will instead be tested in the Super Homework.


We'll be using the following grading scheme:

  • 12.5%: Labs
  • 30%: Homeworks
  • 7.5%: "Super Homework"
  • 25%: Midterm 01 (or Redemption Midterm 01, whichever is larger)
  • 25%: Midterm 02 (or Redemption Midterm 02, whichever is larger)

In a typical quarter, the midterm redemption policy has the same effect as a traditional "curve", therefore replacing the need for one. The standard grading scale (where an A is 93+, A- is 90+, B+ is 87+, etc.) will be used as a starting point, but once all scores are in, we will run a clustering algorithm to automatically find the best cutoffs for each letter grade. These cutoffs can only be lowered. For instance, the threshold for an "A" will never be higher than 93%.

A+ grades are awarded to the students whose overall grades are in the top 5% of the class.

Support and Resources

As instructors, our job is to foster an environment where everyone, regardless of identity, feels welcome and is able to focus on learning. If there is something we can do in this mission, or if there is something preventing you from succeeding in the class, please let us know. If you feel uncomfortable speaking with us or are searching for help on a specific concern, there are several campus resources available to you, including:

More generally, if you have any concerns about your ability to focus or succeed in this course, or just need someone to talk to, please contact us ASAP and we'll figure something out.


Because of the pandemic, we must prepare for the unfortunate possibility that you will get sick and be unable to participate in this class for long periods of time. The university has a mechanism for helping in this situation: the Incomplete. If you are unable to complete the course because of reasons outside of your control, you may be given an Incomplete instead of a letter grade. This simply means that you will complete the rest of the work at a later time. Once you have done so, your overall grade is calculated and your Incomplete grade is replaced.

An Incomplete does not allow you to re-do work that has already been completed, only to do work that hasn't been completed.

If you feel that you may want to take an incomplete, it's in your best interest to contact me as soon as possible!


Is this class curved?

In a typical quarter, the midterm redemption policy has the same effect as a traditional "curve", therefore replacing the need for one. The standard grading scale (where an A is 93+, A- is 90+, B+ is 87+, etc.) will be used as a starting point, but once all scores are in, we will run a clustering algorithm to automatically find the best cutoffs for each letter grade. These cutoffs can only be lowered. For instance, the threshold for an "A" will never be higher than 93%.