Course Syllabus: CORS 236, Spring 2021

This syllabus describes the scheduling of and procedural details for CORS 236. This information is subject to change, as described below.  The website for the class, (in the short term), which displays this syllabus, the book, homework assignments, and old exams is

Lecture locations and times

Now Online    MWF 10:30-11:30 (#74518, 75470)

Spring calendar (important dates only; class meets every scheduled MWF).  This schedule omits homework deadlines for Honors students. 



January 13 (Wednesday)

First Lecture (first day of class)

January 18 (Monday)

MLK Day (no class)

January 29 (Friday)

Test 1 (during class time)

February 12 (Friday)

Test 2 (during class time)

February 15 (Monday)

President’s Day (no class)

February 22 (Monday)

Homework 1 due (Honors students)

February 26 (Friday)

Test 3 (during class time)

March 8 (Monday)

Homework 2 due (Honors students)

March 12 (Friday)

Test 4 (during class time)

March 13-21

Spring Break

April 2 (Friday)

Test 5 (during class time)

Drop deadline

April 7 (Wednesday)

Homework 3 due (Honors students)

April 16 (Friday)

Test 6 (during class time)

Homework 3 due (Honors students)

April 30 (Friday)

Test 7 (during class time)

May 7 (Friday)

Last class day

No final exam  (see below for potential use of the final exam period).




In the event that circumstances outside our control prevent an exam being administered at the times given in the calendar (e.g., due to campus closures and evacuations, fire alarms, …), the exam will be rescheduled.  When possible, such rescheduling will take advantage of the times already allocated by the Registrar for CORS236, including perhaps the final exam period.  Thus, any (advance) plans you make to miss a scheduled class time or final exam period is done with the understanding that those times may be used as a backup for an exam that needs to be rescheduled.

Course Materials

1)  Class website (for book, syllabus, homework templates, old exams)    

2) Class email

3)  Zoom live class meetings

4) Videos of lecture and class meetings (links on BbLearn). 

6) Bblearn for quizzes, tests and surveys

For personal matters and emergency issues, you may email Jim Bull at (don’t use this email for questions about class material and other routine matters); always use “236” in the subject line

Structure of activities

pre-lecture videos (watch before class)

pre-lecture surveys (take before class)

live Zoom meetings (recorded)

BbL quizzes (taken any time before the deadlines)

BbL tests (taken during class time, every 2 weeks)


Calendar of lectures

The course will be delivered with a combination of recorded videos that present the material and live lectures that discuss the material interactively.  The pre-recorded videos should be watched in advance of the interactive lectures.

The material follows the on-line book (Scientific decision-making).  However, the dates of specific lecture topics are subject to change based on current events, class progress, and guest lectures.  Furthermore, lectures are interactive and involve student input and feedback (with ‘clickers’ provided free, in class).  The pace of most lectures depends on how well the ideas are being understood, so a rigid schedule of topics for each day of the semester is not given here because it does not fit the type of comprehension-based progress used in the class.  More or less, the four exams will cover the chapters listed below (a more specific coverage will be given shortly before each exam).  Furthermore, the lectures tend to go in order of chapter number, but exceptions are sometimes made.  The book is not a complete substitute for lecture, however, as lectures contain examples and demonstrations not included in the book.   

Weekly topics.  The following table provides an approximate schedule of topics.  Since the pace of material will be determined partly by student mastery of the material, which cannot be known in advance, it is possible that the list will get shifted and/or that some topics will take more or less time than scheduled.  It will thus be critical for students to keep up to date with the class each week.  

Each test will cover the material delivered since the previous test.  Some of the material builds on previous material, in which case the previous material may be included on a test.  (This is not as harsh as it sounds).  Note that if too many students will have conflicts with Friday tests, we will move them to Wednesdays.


Topics covered

13, 15 January

Introduction to CORS236, Scientific Method

20, 22 January

Scientific Method, Human fallacies

25, 27, 29 January

Human fallacies, Test 1

1, 3, 5 February

Models (general)

8, 10, 12 February

Models (condom testing), Test 2

17, 19  February

DWI testing, Data errors and fixes

22, 24, 26 February

Data errors and fixes, forensics,  Test 3

1, 3, 5 March

Evaluation (language, basics)

8, 10, 12 March

Correlation, Test 4

22, 24, 26 March

Third variables, Controls

29, 31 March, 2 April

Experiments, Test 5

5, 7, 9 April


12, 14, 16 April

Impediments, Test 6

19, 21, 23 April

Conflict, deliberate bias, fake news

26, 28, 30 April

Defeating bias, Test 7

3, 5, 7 May

Current Topics (applying the knowledge)




office location

office hours


Jim Bull

LSS 266B

by appt; all meetings are online.  We will let the class pick a weekly time for ‘opt in’ office hours.


Course content

This class teaches an evidence-based method of making decisions: how to evaluate evidence, what alternatives to consider, and what to trust. The main ideas are taken from the scientific method, but the emphasis is on applying that style of decision-making to all sorts of normal problems in daily life. You should learn how to evaluate a newspaper article about some new claim or discovery, what kinds of limitations underlie any study (and thus how to look for weaknesses), and how to improve almost any goal-oriented procedure. The course content consists of lectures and demonstrations (plus a few short videos) in class.  Your course grade is determined by your performance on the exams, written homework assignments, a few on-line quizzes and an on-line survey. 

As noted above, lectures mostly follow the order and content in the class book (Scientific Decision-Making) written by Pease and Bull (modified by Chis Warnock and Konrad Prus in 2012), although lectures also augment the material in the book.  In addition, some of the first topics are not in the book, and a few others may not be as well.  Whether you attend lecture or not, you should know what was covered in class for the exams.


Syllabus (this document)

The syllabus describes the procedures, materials and events/schedules for CORS236.  It is not only useful at the beginning of the semester, but it is also relevant throughout the course.

Updates.  If it is necessary to make changes during the semester, I will announce these changes in lecture and post a new syllabus and post a notice on the class web site. You are responsible for all announced changes, whether or not you attend lecture.  Indeed, I cannot guarantee that all lectures will be recorded, and relying on videos in lieu of attending lecture is done at your own risk.

Course book

I do not use a standard text for this course, instead lecturing from my own material and from various publications in the scientific literature, news, and other sources. An online book (Scientific Decision-Making, no charge) contains most of the class material. It is available for free on the class web site .  Although the book contains most of the material for this class, the lectures include current events and a few new topics each semester that are not in the book.

Downloading the book, sample problems, and homework

The class website ( has the on-line class material.  The syllabus, book (and homework assignments, for honors students) may be modified during the semester.  You will be notified of any changes, but you should be aware that any downloads of material done at the beginning of the semester will not have those updates.

Old exams available. Exams and keys from previous years are posted on the class website.  You are encouraged to study them as ‘practice’ exams, but there is no credit given for doing so.


Grades will be determined by your best

1) 6 tests (7 are given)                                             30 points each

2) 10 online quizzes (at least 11 are given)             6 points each

3) 20 online surveys (at least 20 are given)            3 points each

4) 3 homeworks -- Honors section only (4 given)   20 points each

Tests cover the material in class – pre-recorded videos, live lectures, and anything assigned.  Quizzes are standalone; they give an article or video and ask you to apply what you have learned.  The online surveys constitute participation credits – you will receive full credit for completion, regardless of which answers you chose.  And in some cases, a survey may count double credit, if completion is especially important.

         Not every test, quiz and survey will count toward your final grade. Your final grade will be determined from the sum of your

                  + 6 highest exam scores (30 pts each)   = 180 total

                  + 10 highest quizzes (6 pts each)           = 60 total                                       + 20 completed surveys (3 pts each)        = 60 total

compared to a threshold. This means you will get to drop the lowest test and the lowest 1-2 quizzes.  Likely, there will be more than 20 surveys, in which case you need only complete 20 of them.  There are 300 points possible in the semester (360 for Honors). I will use the following grade thresholds for non-honors.  Grades will be assigned a ‘+’ in the top 25% of the intervals (except there is no A+). 

A         (270 and above)            (90% or more of 300 points)


B+, B    (240-270)                          (80%)


C+, C      (210-240)                       (70%)


D+, D        (180-210)                     (60%)


F                         179 and below



For honors students, the highest 3 homework scores (out of 4 given) will be included in the total.  Each homework will be worth 20 points, so that brings the total to 360.  Grade thresholds will be adjusted correspondingly (324 288, 252, 216).


I may change these thresholds to make them more lenient -- that is, to benefit you; I will not make them more stringent (but there is no assurance that the thresholds will be changed).  Furthermore, any opportunities for additional points will merely be added to your total and thus make it easier to get a higher grade – I will not rescale your points if there is an opportunity to make more than 300 total points.

Honors students:  All 4 homework assignments are described on the class web site and in the book, and will also be discussed in lecture.  The BbLearn quizzes will be announced during the semester as they become relevant and due. 

Correcting and challenging exam grading:  a 1-week window

All matters concerning your score on an exam must be presented within a week of posting the exam and your score. 

Copies of the exams and keys are posted within hours of the exam so that you can see how the exam was graded.  The complicated nature of many questions leads some students to ask about or even object to the way that questions were graded.  You may ask how questions were graded in person or over email, but there is also a formal procedure for challenging the grading of answers; if successful, these challenges could result in a more favorable grading of your answer.  These formal challenges to the grading of exams must be presented by email to the class email account or in writing to Jim Bull within 1 week of the date the exam results are posted.  Challenges relating to the amount of partial credit given for incorrect answers are never successful - don't bother explaining that you think you should get some credit for getting two of 10 grouped questions correct.  Likewise, you may not challenge an exam on the grounds that you were misled when you asked a question during the exam; if a question was genuinely misleading, then that should be the basis of the challenge, not the fact that you were not told the answer. Some grouped questions don't give any partial credit. The assignment of points and partial credit depends on many factors, such as how difficult the question is, whether you had access to that question in the sample problems, and how serious a misunderstanding is implied by a wrong answer.

Challenges may cost you points.  If your challenge to a question indicates that you do not understand the issues, you can lose 1 point on that question.  This penalty may never be used and is not intended to dissuade you from challenging a question.  Rather, it is intended to ensure that you understand the question and answers before offering a challenge.  You will not lose points by indicating that you interpreted the question differently than it was intended, but you could lose points if your challenge indicates that, after getting your exam back, you still don’t understand the issues needed to answer it. 

You may challenge a maximum of two questions per exam.  If you think that more than two questions had problems, use the best two cases for your challenges and get someone else to challenge the others.  If a question has fundamental problems, then it will be regraded for the entire class, so you can benefit by someone else’s challenge.  Probably at least half the challenges that are accepted lead to regrading of the entire class (done in such a way that no one’s score goes down).

The format for challenges to the key, whether on paper or email must do the following:

1) Give your exam version (keycode)


2) Paste or write the exam question and its preamble and into your document – so that all the information used to answer the question is there.


3) Indicate the answer you chose, the answer on the key, and why you think your answer should be credited.


If your challenge deviates from this format so much that I cannot understand it or cannot evaluate it without going back to your version of the exam or your answer sheet, there is a good chance that your challenge will be dismissed regardless of its content.  Furthermore, I do not engage in a dialogue about challenges or send email responses back.  I will evaluate those that are submitted and regrade where appropriate, but you will not be notified of the outcome except via changes to your exam score.


Make-up tests

Tests will be administered as pdfs emailed to you.  You will be taking these remotely.  In the event that you have a legitimate reason for not taking a test during the scheduled time, you must notify Bull in advance; a make-up will be arranged.  Any makeup will be written-answer, with no attempt to equate its difficulty to that of the BbLearn counterpart.  Note that everyone will be dropping one test score, and you need no excuse for missing one test. 


You are not penalized for failing to attend lecture.  Nonetheless, you are responsible for material presented in class, regardless of whether you attend.

Lost assignments; internet downtime, and other factors preventing on-time completion/submission

There is a host of problems that can delay completing online work.  In general, don’t wait until the last minute to take a quiz or survey, since there are times of high activity that slow internet traffic on campus, and you may be affected by software incompatibilities.  I will honor major, campus-wide interruptions that last more than a couple hours but not individual cases of internet interruptions, computer loss and hardware/software malfunction specific to your computer. 


Other Matters


CORS 236 counts toward the Idaho STEM requirement.


Students with disabilities

Any student with a documented disability (physical or cognitive) who requires academic accommodations should contact the Services for Students with Disabilities office as soon as possible to request an official letter outlining authorized accommodations.

Student grievances, complaints, dishonesty, and other matters

If you have a problem with the conduct of the course (e.g., you take issue with teaching methods, feel that the classroom environment is not conducive to proper education, or another matter), please first discuss the matter with Jim Bull. If you are not satisfied, you may take the matter higher up.

Religious Holidays.  By UI policy, you must notify me of your pending absence at least fourteen days prior to the date of observance of a religious holy day.  If you must miss a class, an examination, a work assignment, or a project in order to observe a religious holy day, you will be given an opportunity to complete the missed work within a reasonable time after the absence.


A request from me to you

I solicit your help in identifying problems when they arise. If something is wrong with the class, please contact Jim Bull ( pronto.