HCDE310: Interactive Systems Design & Technology (Autumn 2020)

Teaching Staff & Office Hours

Sean Munson
smunson at uw dot edu

Akeiylah Dewitt
adewitt at uw dot edu

Meena Muralikumar
mmeena at uw dot edu

Yihan Yu
yyu2016 at uw dot edu

Nadir Tareen
nadirkt at uw dot edu

Jeremy Lin
jlin0101 at uw dot edu

Saksham Aggarwal
saksham8 at uw dot edu

Office Hours: See Slack.

Course email
hcde310instructors at uw dot edu

But please try Slack first!

Course Description

In HCDE 310, we cover identifying opportunities and building interactive systems to solve problems in human centered design & engineering.

We will use the Python programming language, with the initial few weeks devoted to reviewing programming concepts and introducing Python's syntax. Over the quarter, you will specify, design, build, and justify design solutions in terms of user experience and technical design choices.

This course has been designed for students with some prior programming experience — such as CSE142 or CSE160 — though it is okay if you are not comfortable or confident with that prior experience. Weekly assignments provide a venue for applying programming concepts. Assignments will focus on data manipulation and the creation of small applications that leverage data and computational resources from larger, publicly available sources. The course culminates in a final project.

Where this course fits in the curriculum

Lots of programming experience?

If you have substantial prior programming experience, some of this course — particularly the few weeks on key programming concepts — will likely be review. Compared to other UW courses that involve programming, HCDE310 will focus on developing good practices for pulling, processing, and presenting web data, and on building interactive applications using that data.

If you are concerned that you'll be bored with weekly assignments, the teaching team is happy to support you in figuring out extensions or ways to start the project early, to best support your learning goals.

This course focuses on identifying technical opportunities to build interactive sytems, translating those ideas into application designs, and then building prototypes of those applications. You will gain experience with computer programming, data processing, and software design skills. While other HCDE courses will focus on design from the user, interaction, and visual perspectives, HCDE310 will focus on leveraging existing technical resources to build systems that solve human problems or to enable new activities. You will learn to specify, justify, and build technical systems.

This course should be good preparation for building prototypes of the systems you design in future HCDE classes, for processing data you get from user logs or from surveys (again, useful for other HCDE courses and directed research groups), as well as for future courses like HCDE 411 Information Visualization, HCDE 439 Physical Computing, and HCDE 451 Prototyping.


In the information age, these skills are essential, irrespective of the degree you plan to pursue. Students planning to do work that requires data analysis is required are likely to pick up valuable life-long skills.

We'll be using Python. If you have previously taken CSE142, you'll find that Python is a bit different than Java. Compared to Java, Python is flexible and lets you get away with a lot; this can be wonderful for some and unnerving for others. For example, in Python, the following can be typed and immediately executed:

	2 + 3
You get 5 printed out as the answer. In C++, the corresponding program has multiple lines and they require much more explanation.

Python is a wonderful language for general applications and prototyping. It has been used extensively for data analysis (more flexible than spreadsheets), data plotting, building dynamic web sites, games, etc. It is used in many organizations, companies, and applications, incuding NASA, Mozilla, Yelp, Pinterest, Path, Reddit, the National Labs, Google (in fact, Google hired the developer of Python), Eve Online, and Civilization IV.

While all computer languages can largely do all tasks that other computer languages can do, sometimes one language is better than another for a specific task (e.g., C programs often provide better performance but Python programs take less time to write and can be more reliable). Thus, it is useful to be exposed to multiple languages if you are going to take multiple computer science classes. Recruiters often look for experience in a variety of languages. Python is a great language to learn. You will find it to be a very versatile language with a good developer community and many resources available that you can use to continue to learn.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, students should be able to:

We will build these systems using the Python programming language, and so you will also review or learn the following specific programming skills:


Textbooks and Notes

Use the two books as references. Zelle is better to get a quick overview of the language. Downey's book is better when it comes to understanding the details. We will refer to both books during the course and point to the readings from the two books. In general, there is significant overlap in the material between the books. We will generally recommend readings from each book. Memorization is not required in this course.

Hardware and Software Required for Assignments and Class Work


On Canvas, we have provided instructions for downloading and installing Python 3. There's a good chance your computer already has Python 2.x installed, especially if you are on a Mac. Please, though, make sure you are using Python 3.x as some of the syntax has changed between 2.x and 3.x and most examples and homeworks will not work in earlier versions.

We will show you how to run your Python programs from a command-line and to edit and debug using PyCharm.

Course discussion

One of the best ways to get help during the course will be via the course Slack we have created; you can find an invite link on front page in our Canvas site. You are encouraged to respond to (comment on) other students' messages. Don't worry about giving wrong information: the instructors, or your peers, will post corrections if necessary.

If you have something of a private nature that you don't want to share with the other students, feel free to send a message to one of us individually.


You should “bring” your laptop to each class session. In class, we will mix lecture, lab, homework, and project time -- you will need your laptop to work on this. Following along with the code in the lecture portions may also help you learn faster.

You may refer to the HCDE laptop policy.

Class policies

Giving and Receiving Assistance

The first time you learn technical material it is often challenging. We are going to cover a wide range of topics in the course and we will move quickly between topics. Because it is our goal for you to succeed in the course, we encourage you to get help from anyone you like, especially in the portion of the course before the midterm and even for the completion of assignments.

However, you are responsible for learning the material, and you should make sure that all of the assistance you are getting is focused on gaining knowledge, not just on getting through the assignments. If you rely too much on help completing assignments (rather than help learning the material) and/or fail to master the material, you will struggle immensely with the project and when you encounter programming opportunities in the future, when you must work toward your own goals. The final submission of each assignment must be in your own “words.”

If you receive assistance on an assignment, please indicate the nature and the amount of assistance you received. If the assignment is computer code, add a comment indicating who helped you and how. Any excerpts from the work of others must be clearly identified as a quotation, and a proper citation provided (e.g., in the comments of the code if it is a code fragment you have borrowed). If you are a more advanced student and are willing to help other students, please feel free to do so. Just remember that your goal is to help teach the material to the student receiving the help. It is acceptable for this class to ask for and provide help on an assignment via the course discussion site, including posting code fragments. Just don't share complete answers. If it seems like you've posted too much on the class site, one of the instructional staff will contact you to let you know, so don't worry about it.

Course conduct is governed by the University of Washington Student Conduct Code and the College of Engineering Academic Misconduct Policy. You should also acquaint yourself with the HCDE Plagiarism Policy.

To reiterate, the collaboration policy is as follows: Collaboration in the class is encouraged for assignments — you can get help from anyone as long as it is clearly acknowledged. Use of solutions from previous quarters is not allowed. The authorship of any assignments must be in your own style and done by you, even if you get help. Any significant help must be acknowledged in writing.

Classroom Rules

I like a relaxed classroom where everyone feels comfortable. You are welcome to bring drinks or snacks to class (assuming it is allowed in the room we are in). You can (and should) bring your laptop to class. I would rather have you come to class and listen with one ear than not come to class at all. As a courtesy to others, be sure to put your phone on silence/vibrate. Coming late to and/or leaving early from class is okay, as long as you don't disturb your classmates. Ask questions at any time, and if you have some expertise in a particular topic, please to raise you hand and share it with the class.

Our primary purpose in the classroom is to interact and learn from each other. While non-participation (sleeping; checking email) is permitted, we urge you to consider its effect on your fellow students. Class is a lot more fun when everyone is engaged; a few visibly disengaged or distracted people can suck the energy out of class. We reserve the right to ask you a question to try to reengage you if you seem to have checked out, but we will try not to do this in an embarrassing way.

Student rights

Please read the HCDE statement on student rights.

Acccess & Accommodations

Your experience in this class is important to us. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to us at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), please contact DRS at 206-543-8924, uwdrs@uw.edu, or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.

Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s), and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities.

The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the request form.

Student Conduct

The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution.

Harassment will not be tolerated, and consequences will include immediate removal from the Slack workspace and other course tools. I also emphasize the importance of respecting your classmates' (and teaching team's) boundaries around how and when they wish to be contacted.

I am not an official required to report under UW’s Title IX plan. This means I am not legally required to report misconduct or crime; if you share a problem with me, I will work with you to determine next steps. An exception is if anyone involved is under 18. You also can reach out to UW confidential advocates or SafeCampus.

Guidance to Students Taking HCDE 310 Outside the U.S.

Faculty members at U.S. universities – including the University of Washington – have the right to academic freedom which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events. This also includes access to 3rd-party websites and software, many of which are a core part of assignments in HCDE 310.

If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.

If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues, or access content, censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding HCDE 310, please contact Alex Llapitan (Senior Academic Counselor), who will assist you in exploring options. If, while in 310, you encounter difficulty accessing required content, please let the teaching team know, and we'll do what we can do support you and brainstorm alternatives -- however, with 90 students, there are limits to what we can do and we also won't be able to know what is legal or feasible in each jurisdiction.

Work in the Course — Getting a Grade


There will be assignments throughout the course (nearly much every week and sometimes mini exercises during a lecture). Regular assignments allow you to learn the material in small “chunks” and to keep a close eye on how well you understand the material. In some cases, we will do part or all of the assignments during a lecture, though you will submit it later.

Generally, part of the sessions will be lab time. The teaching staff will be there and will circulate. You can confer with other students and the instructors. This is a great time to work on assignments, and you may be able to finish the weekly assignment in the lab — but don't count on it.

It is important that you keep up with the assignments and that you seek help — from the teaching team or your classmates — if you are struggling.

Late homeworks. The previous assignments are typically discussed in class and we like some time to review your submissions. For this reason, late assignments will receive a zero. You can submit late assignments to get feedback, but no points will be given for an assignment that is turned in after the deadline, unless you have made prior arrangements. Please reach out early if you anticipate missing a deadline -- we will work with you to figure out something reasonable that prioritizes your wellbeing and your learning (in that order).

Additionally, because unpredictable life events happen, we will drop your lowest homework grade at the end of the quarter. However, because unpredictable life events are, well, unpredictable, we encourage to you turn in every hoemwwork on time even if it is only partially complete.

Project. There will be one project in the last 4-5 weeks of the quarter, where you bring all the skills you have learned to one significant problem solving task. You will learn debugging skills, modularity skills, and testing skills. We think the project will be interesting to do and help you pick up life-long problem solving skills that will be useful even beyond programming.

Resource writeup. As a supplement to the project, you will write up a description of an interesting data source or API that other students might want to use in their final project, or an interesting python module or package. More about this later in the quarter. You are free to use any online module or package to talk about, but one list of many of the Python modules can be found at: Python Global Module Index.


Normally, we would have an exam. This balances our collaboration policy by ensuring that you are individually accountable for the material.

However, in our remote setting, I do not believe that it is a good use of our collective energy to figure out how to fairly and equitably administer an exam remotely. Instead, we will use that time as buffer in the quarter for the unepected and to extend your projects.

If the teaching team becomes concerned that you are relying too much on peers for the homework, we reserve the right to ask you to participate in a conversation about any of your assignments, in which you explain how your code works or complete similar assignments, and to factor that conversation into your grade.

Class Participation (Bonus Points)

Class participation, helping others, interacting on the email list and answering questions, asking good questions that lead to interesting discussions, and pointing out corrections to lectures or code will contribute to bonus points, which you can use to help boost your grade.


The graded work in the course will be weighted roughly as follows to determine a final grade. (Note that, in rare cases, participation points could allow you to earn above 100%):

Weekly Assignments55%
Python module/package or data source writeup ("resource writeup")5%

Also see the HCDE grading policy.

Course Outline

The course effectively consists of two parts. In the first part we march through Python in quick fashion; this is largely reviewing and strengthening your knowledge. In the second part, we will focus on data analysis and other applications. We will keep some flexibility in the schedule. If it seems like we need to spend more time on a particular topic, we will shuffle the schedule. It is important for you to let us know when you are having problems. This will help us pace the material appropriately, cover some material in greater depth, and revisit material if necessary.

Success in the Course

The course is designed for students with limited programming experience (e.g., CSE142). If you stick with the course and invest the necessary time, you will be amazed at how much you will learn in 10 weeks and at the doors opened by developing your familiarity with programming and computational thinking.

If you do not have a lot of programming experience, some concepts may take some time to sink in. Do not worry too much if you feel like you are in a fog at times. The assignments are the best way to track your progress through the material.

Usually the biggest problem students encounter in the course is trying to do everything in a few hours right before an assignment is due. If you only think about the course a few hours each week, you will get some of the details but they will not mesh together to provide the big picture. In contrast, once you understand the big picture, you will have a solid framework for looking up or learning new details as-needed. The textbook will become an easily scanned reference for you once you know what to look for and why you are looking for it.

Cramming does not work well when dealing with the material in this course. This is because the material in the course is fairly straightforward once you “get it” — once you understand some basic principles. No amount of memorization will make up for not having the big picture. Try not to get stuck on any one thing; it is easy once you have the big picture concepts down (though this does not mean that I don't still encounter puzzling and confusing challenges!). If you do get stuck on something and feel like you are going in circles, ask for help, look at something else, or come at the problem from a different direction.

Good luck and welcome aboard!

Tentative Course Schedule (view on separate page)

This is tentative. It will change based on our progress in the class.
WeekDatesTopicSuggested Reading
(complementary in parens)
1 Sept 30

Introduction to the Course, Computers, & Python.

Zelle ch 1
(Downey ch 1)

Downey ch 2, 6-7
Zelle ch 2, 4.1-4.4, 4.6, 3
Zelle 11.2 — 11.2.2

On the Value of Command-Line “Bullshittery” (Eytan Adar)

HW0: SW installation; basic string operations

2 Oct 5, 7

Operations on strings and lists. Iteration on sequences. File operations. Version control.

Zelle ch 3
(Downey ch 6 & 7)

Zelle ch 7
Downey ch 4

Zelle 11.6;
Zelle 4.5
(Downey ch 5)

HW1: Count chars, words, lines in a file. File operations.

3 Oct 12, 14


Dictionary data structure

Functions. Parameter passing and returning values

Mashups & APIs

Zelle ch 3
(Downey ch 6 & 7)

Zelle ch 7
Downey ch 4

Zelle 11.6;
Zelle 4.5
(Downey ch 5)

P0: Find an interesting API

HW2: Contributor counts

4 Oct 19, 21

Indefinite iteration; nested data structure, and nested iteration

JSON processing

Introduction to Objects

Ideation & Prioritization

Zelle ch 6
(Downey ch 6 & 7)

“The Art of Brainstorming”

HW3: Do more than HW2, with less. Output as .csv files; generate charts in Google Docs, Excel, or D3

P1: Adding value to data

5 Oct 26, 28

Objects and Classes

URL lib; Try/except;

Zelle ch 8

Zelle ch 10
(Downey chapters 15-18)

Tutorial on urllib;
Zelle 7.4

HW4: Calculate likes and comment frequencies from a JSON feed, use classes
6 Nov 2, 4

2 Nov: REST APIs

4 Nov: Lab time

HW5: Fetching and processing a live feed.
7 Nov 9, 11

9: Sorting & List Comprehensions

11: No class. Veteran's Day.

Sorting tutorial

List comprehensions: Wikipedia; another explanation w/ nice examples

8 Nov 16, 18

16 Nov: Jinja Templates & Flask

18 Nov: HTML & CSS (briefly), Deploying Flask apps to App Engine.

HTML tutorial

CSS tutorial

Getting started with App Engine and Python 3

Quickstart with App Engine and Python 3

HW6: APIs, Sorting, more data processing.

9 Nov 23, 25

23 November: Working with forms for user input in Flask.

25 November: Work day?

P2: Project proposal.

10 Nov 28, 30

28 Nov: App Engine & OAuth; App Engine Datastore

30: Location & maps (brief); project time


11 Dec 7, 9

7: Project time

9: Map-Reduce (brief); project time

Map-Reduce: tutorial (don't worry too much about the syntax), App Engine Overview

7 Dec: HW7: App Engine & APIs due

9 Dec - R1: Resource writeup

F Dec 11
15 Dec - P3: Final projects due


This course is based on SI/EECS182 at the University of Michigan, which I redesigned with Paul Resnick in Winter 2009. Chuck Severance, Eytan Bakshy, and Atul Prakash have substantially improved the course before and since, and I have included many of their innovations in this syllabus.