Course Syllabus: CORS 236, Spring 2023

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

RENFREW 125   MWF 10:30-11:30 (#74518, 75470)

Spring calendar (important dates only; class meets every scheduled MWF).  This schedule includes homework deadlines, which apply only to Honors students. 



January 11 (Wednesday)

First Lecture (first day of class)

January 16 (Monday)

MLK Day (no class)

February 1 (Wednesday)

Test 1 (during class time)

February 20 (Monday)

President’s Day (no class)

February 22 (Wednesday)

Test 2 (during class time)

March 8 (Wednesday)

Test 3 (during class time)

March 11-19

Spring Break

April 1

Honors assignment 1 due

April 5 (Wednesday)

Test 4 (during class time)


April 26 (Wednesday)

Test 5 (during class time)

April 28

Honors assignment 2 due


May 5 (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.

If you know that you will miss some important deadline (such as be traveling for an exam) and wish to be considered for that ‘absence,’ you should contact me by email or some other electronic method that leaves a verifiable trail.  Handing me a paper or telling me something verbally is not acceptable – I will not honor it.  This notification needs to be at least 1 week in advance of the event.

Course Materials

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

2) Class email

3)  Class meetings (these are scheduled as in person, room REN 125; if that changes, we will move to online).

4) Videos of lecture and class meetings, if they work out (links on Canvas; there is no guarantee). 

6) Canvas for quizzes, some tests and practice questions

Warning about using Canvas for monitoring your grades and test scores.  Canvas is inflexible.  It does not allow an instructor to hide columns (scores can be hidden), and it calculates all sorts of scores and averages for you that are irrelevant.  Do not rely on Canvas in this course to tell you anything useful or even accurate about your scores and grades, except for quiz scores.  Test scores will be posted on, but you will need a 3-digit code to know which numbers correspond to you; that code will be found in your gradebook on Canvas.  Warnings to ignore much of Canvas will be issued throughout the semester, but if you are not attending class or watching recorded lectures, it may be difficult to remember.

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; few of these)

Canvas practice questions and surveys (for credit)

live class meetings (recorded when technology permits)

Canvas quizzes (taken any time before the deadlines)

Tests (taken during class time, every 2-3 weeks)



Test dates are given in the calendar above and will be announced in class in advance.  Test dates are considered invariant except in calamities.  Depending on circumstances, they may be administered online so that you don’t even need to be on campus to take them.

Homework deadlines are provided in the calendar above.  However, if lecture topics get delayed, homework deadlines may be extended.  Homework is relevant only for Honors students. 

Quiz deadlines will be evident in Canvas, announced by email, but will also be announced in lecture.   

Practice questions are provided for over half the lectures; some course credit will be assigned to them (see below).  They are too numerous to justify announcing by emails 3 times a week, so you will need to watch for them on Canvas if you don’t attend lecture.

You are expected to keep up with class.  Re-opening a quiz or practice question set after the deadline is not an option.  Internet failures at the last minute are not considered a legitimate reason for missing a quiz that has been open for a week or more.  If you ask in advance for an accommodation on quizzes or tests, it may be possible to arrange something.  Taking a test more than a couple hours late is never allowed, however, as keys are posted the same afternoon as the test.  If you have travel scheduled, consider asking to take a test early.

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.  Any 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.  The pace of most lectures depends on how well the ideas are being understood, so a rigid schedule of specific 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 five 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 matery of the previous material may be required for a test even though the test covers newer material. 


Topics covered

11, 13 January

Introduction to CORS236,

What is science, where used

18, 20 January

Scientific Method

23, 25, 27 January

Human fallacies

30 January, 1, 3 February

Models (general), Test 1

6, 8, 10 February

Models (specific examples)

13, 15, 17  February

Data errors and fixes

22, 24 February

Data, Test 2

27 February, 1, 3 March


6, 8, 10 March

Language of evaluation, Test 3

20, 22, 24 March

Causation vs. correlation

27, 29 March, 31 March

Third variables

3, 5, 7 April

Controls, Test 4

10, 12, 14 April

Experiments (general)

17, 19, 21 April

Experiments illustrated in videos

24, 26, 28 April

Experiments, Test 5

1, 3, 5 May

Current Topics (applying the knowledge)




office location

office hours


Jim Bull

LSS 266B

by appt; all office hours are online, in IRIC common area or iSUB


Course content

This class teaches an evidence-based method of making decisions: how to evaluate evidence, what alternatives to consider, and what to trust. It satisfies all 5 of the Gen Ed Competency and Knowledge objectives for the Scientific Ways of Knowing learning outcome (linked here):

1.   Apply foundational knowledge and models of a natural or physical science to analyze and/or predict phenomena.

2.   Understand the scientific method and apply scientific reasoning to critically evaluate assertions.

3.   Interpret and communicate scientific information via written, spoken, and/or visual representations.

4.   Describe the relevance of specific scientific principles to the human experience.

5.   Form and test a hypothesis in the laboratory using discipline-specific tools and techniques for data collection and/or analysis


The course may seem weakest on (3), but the course is in fact heavily invested in your interpreting and understanding how to communicate scientific information.

In contrast to the usual science courses, the main ideas here are taken from the scientific method, and 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, ten or so on-line quizzes, and on your consistent effort at answering the practice questions.  For Honors students, there are also written homework assignments,

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.  Some topics are not in the book, and the lectures usually go into more depth than does the book.  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 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.

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                  max points

1) 4 tests (5 are given)                                             45 points each

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

3) 20 online surveys/polls (at least 25 are given)    3 points each

4) 2 homeworks -- Honors section only                  15 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 participation surveys are given on Canvas and offer credits toward your grade – you may need to get a certain fraction correct to receive credit (or merely complete it if it is a poll).  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

                  + 4 highest exam scores (45 pts each)                     = 180 total

                  + 10 highest quizzes (6 pts each)                             =  60 total                   

                  + 20 suitably completed surveys (3 pts each)            =  60 total 

compared to a threshold. This means you will get to drop the lowest test and the lowest quiz or quizzes so that only the 10 highest count toward your grade.  Likely, there will be more than 25 participation surveys, but you need only complete 20 of them; you may need to get a fraction correct on a survey to get credit (decided on a case-by-case basis).  There will be at least 11 quizzes offered but could be more.  There are 300 points possible in the semester (330 for Honors). I will use the following grade thresholds for non-honors.  

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 two homework scores will both be included in the total.  Each homework will be worth 15 points, so that brings the total to 330 possible points for Honors.  Honors grade thresholds will be adjusted correspondingly (297 264, 231, 198).


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 (as by allowing more than 45 points on an exam).

Honors students:  The two homework assignments are described on the class web site and will also be annouced in lecture.  The Canvas quizzes will be announced during the semester as they become relevant and due. 

No extra credit or special end-of-semester options.  It is often the case that some individuals ignore their scores until near the end of the semester.  And discovering that scores don’t look so good is often followed by a request to do some extra credit to fill a deficit.  Extra credit or individual-based deviations from the grading rubric above are never offered.  This course rewards work done early in the semester, and it is usually possible for students to have an assured A even before the last test and last quizzes. 

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

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 allowed.  Any makeup may be written-answer, given at semester's end and comprehensive, with no attempt to equate its difficulty to that of the in-class 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 – both for subject material as well as deadlines and information about what to trust on Canvas.  It is thus strongly advised to keep up with lecture in person or by watching any recordings soon after the day they are recorded.   

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.  When you are given more than 3 days to complete a task, problems with your computer, software and connections that prevent you from completing it in the last 12 hours are not grounds for an extension.


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.  Makeup tests are given at the end of the semester, are written-answer and comprehensive over the entire semester.   


University of Idaho is committed to ensuring an accessible learning environment where course or instructional content are usable by all students and faculty. If you believe that you require disability-related academic adjustments for this class (including pregnancy-related disabilities), please contact Center for Disability Access and Resources (CDAR) to discuss eligibility. A current accommodation letter from CDAR is required before any modifications, above and beyond what is otherwise available for all other students in this class will be provided. Please be advised that disability-related academic adjustments are not retroactive. CDAR is located at the Bruce Pitman Building, Suite 127. Phone is 208-885-6307 and e-mail is  For a complete listing of services and current business hours visit

DEI.  This class adheres to all UI policies on diversity, inclusion and equity.

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.