Informatics 141 / Computer Science 121: Information Retrieval


Many people have asked me about enrolling in Winter's Informatics 141 / CS 121 (which I'll just call Infx 141 from now on). This page will try to provide some answers. I'll update it as I get more information.

Enrollment and class size: As of January 1, the course is at its capacity of 130 and the wating list is at its capacity of about 70. Judging from the mail I've received, there are others beyond that who still want to enroll, some of whom need the course to graduate this spring.

The school and I are happy to make more seats available, but two things have to happen: First, the seats literally have to be available—we need another classroom with larger capacity at the same time. The ICS SAO is actively looking for another room, and they're often successful, but there are no guarantees. Second, there has to be enough TA/reader support to handle the increased enrollment. If we get the room, I don't anticipate problems with the staffing; I'm just trying to disclose the potential stumbling blocks.

Anyone still wishing to enroll should get onto the waiting list. My intention is to let the automatic process take people from the waiting list and enroll them in the class, so if you keep an eye on Websoc (to see what the capacity is) and on your own enrollment, you'll know of any change as it happens.

Since there are no guarantees of getting a larger room or seats opening up for the waiting list, the ICS SAO would at least like to know who needs this class this year to graduate. You should contact the ICS Student Affairs Office right away, via Email to, if you're not enrolled, if Infx 141/CS 121 is a graduation requirement for you, if no other course can be substituted, and if you would satisfy all other graduation requirements by the end of Summer 2015; if that applies to you, send the message so at least the demand can be assessed.

Prerequisites: Quite a few people have written asking permission to enroll in the course without some of the prerequisites: Statistics, data structures, and Java programming. There's a variety of specific course paths for satisfying these; if you have questions, check with the ICS Student Affairs Office. If you think you took equivalent coursework outside of UCI, follow the SAO's official process for getting outside courses to count as prerequisites.

The whole point of prerequisites is to establish a baseline for the class, so that (a) the prerequisite material doesn't have to be re-taught from scratch, (b) students have a chance at doing the assigned work in without having to take unreasonable additional time to (re-)learn prerequisite material, and (c) all teammates on a group project are able to contribute to the result.

In Infx 141 we will expect that you can do basic statistical reasoning and program at the level of ICS 46/ICS 23/Infx 45 using Java. Unforunately, I can't be any more precise than that because I'm still developing the course materials.

Some people think they have the prerequisite knowledge but not the specific courses; others just want to take the course without the prerequisites, hoping they can pick the knowledge up along the way. An instructor can evaluate the background of a student in these cases to determine whether the student is likely to succeed in the course, but I have to say that I'm not likely to do many such evaluations or make many such determinations, and here's why:

First of all, it's not fair for me to let someone without the prerequisites into the course if there are students waiting who do have the prerequisites. So the waiting list has to be empty and there have to be open seats for the process even to start.

Second, because the course is still under development, I have to be conservative in evaluating students' backgrounds. If I say, "With your background, you'll be fine," and then it turns out that a later assignment or exam question assumes some prerequisite knowledge you don't have, then I've played a role in giving you a false sense of security. Anyone who takes a course without the prerequisites, assuming the registrar's systems even allow enrollment at all, takes the course very much at their own risk: They risk not understanding course material and not being able to do the assignments, all without the TA or instructor being available tto fill in the gaps by re-teaching the prerequisite concepts.

I know people want to graduate according to their original plans. I know it takes time and money to stay for an extra quarter or two. I know it's tempting to say, "Just let me in. All I need is a D– to satisfy the requirement." But surely it's best to learn what the classes have to teach, and that starts with being properly prepared going in.

Bottom line: Keep an eye on the class enrollment. Get on the waiting list as soon as you can. Wait until there are seats that are clearly open, and only then contact me about prerequisite exceptions.

Thank you for your understading as we continue to deal with record high enrollments in ICS.

David G. Kay,
Monday, January 5, 2015 9:48 AM