General class policies


Class time is very precious—we’ve got only 4 hours a week, about 60 hours over the course of the semester. Because of this, I have some clear expectations for myself and for you:

  • I will get to class early and ready to go. During class time, I’ll focus exclusively on our course.
  • I’ll use class time as wisely as I can: if the whole group does not need to be involved in a discussion, I’ll try to bring only the needed group together.
  • You’ll also use class time carefully; you will come on time and ready to learn. If you’re late, please enter quietly and speak with me after class.
  • You’ll use classtime to focus on the class, and not the fun things happening inside your phone or out on the internet.

The course is light on lecture and heavy on hands-on learning; especially since this is the case, when there is a lecture, please be careful to pay good attention.


In the spirit of encouraging everyone to be able to be maximally present in class together, it’s important that students feel comfortable and supported. If there is anything physically in the environment that can be reasonably adjusted to make your learning experience better, you should feel generally empowered to make that adjustment. If the lights are too bright at your table, please ask your neighbors if it’s ok to dim them, and if yes, go ahead and do so. If we’re playing music at a work session and it’s too loud, please say so.


Attendance is expected at all sessions. Any absences beyond your 2nd will result in a third of a letter grade (3 point) deduction from your final course grade. An unexcused tardy, which is defined as being more than 3 minutes late to class, is computed as one third of an unexcused absence (1 point off of your final grade).

Excused absences, latenesses, and emergencies are excepted, of course, and don’t carry any penalty. Speak with and email the instructor at your earliest convenience in the case of these events coming about. If you’re stick in bed, please stay in bed: get healthy so you can come back and join us (and please keep your new microbial friends at home with you).

The contents of each class session are posted after the class on the class log page. If you want to know what you missed, please look there first, and then ask your classmates, instructor, or TA questions.

Room access

Enrolled students have access to the IDeATe Phys Comp Lab whenever Hunt Library is open, which is around the clock for most of the academic year. (The library’s hours are posted on their website.) The caveat is that there are many other classes in the lab, and while you can come and go as you’d like, please be respectful of other classes and make as little noise as you can while they’re in session. All of IDeATe’s spaces’ schedules are available online.

The Phys Comp Lab’s inventory is online for your convenience. If you discover a drawer is low or empty, fill this form out so it can be quickly refilled!

While in the Phys Comp Lab please observe some simple rules:

  • Food and nonwater drink must remain in the zone of shame by the door
  • Please store project material in your cubby; if you need more space let us know and we’ll make arrangements
  • Tools that belong to the room (like those on the pegboard in the Heavy Work Zone, or in the red tool cabinet) must always remain in the room. Don’t take them elsewhere without asking, and don’t hide them in your cubby!
  • Electronics in the drawers are available for your use; take them as you need. The expectation is that you’ll return things when you’re done with them. Don’t worry so much about little stuff like resistors and LEDs; do worry about things like motor drivers or rotary encoders or pumps.
  • It’s kind of a Kindergarten situation: when you’re done working, please clean up after yourself.

There are about one hundred students rotating through this room every week in many different classes, so consideration of the common areas is really important.

Projects and collaboration

This course, and IDeATe more broadly, purposefully attracts students from a wide disciplinary range, including art, design, engineering, architecture, computer science, business, science, and more.

Two of the three projects in the course are completed in groups rather than individually. The expectation is that group members will honestly strive to work together on their projects and will rise or fall as a unit, understanding that identifying complimentary strengths and weaknesses early on will help the team succeed. All members of a group receive the same grade for a project except in unusual circumstances.

If your group is having trouble working together, please reach out to the instructor or TA as soon as you think there may be some real issues. As authoritative outsiders, we can step in to help in ways that group members themselves can’t.

Due dates

Assignments are generally due at the beginning of class, and arriving late to class because you are finishing the assignment results in a late attendance mark as well as a late project mark. Documentation is also due at the beginning of class; if you haven’t submitted by 9:30 a.m. on the day the documentation is due, it will be considered late and incur a grade penalty.

Academic integrity

This is not a class, and IDeATe’s Phys Comp Lab is not an environment, where you are expected to write every line of your own code. We gratefully stand on the shoulders of giants and also regular-sized heroes who share interesting projects on Instructables, or Github, or their blogs. You are expected to incorporate ideas, hardware/electronics designs, and even verbatim software fragments from other sources. This isn’t considered plaigirism in this class if: 1) you properly cite sources, and 2) you don’t simply make a wholesale reproduction of somebody else’s project but instead use their work as a jumping-off point. If you do plaigiarize, however, you can expect a serious response, including a major grade penalty and referral to the University disciplinary structure.

If you’re not sure if you’re borrowing too much from somebody else, or you don’t know how to credit the work you’re borrowing from, please discuss it with the instructor or TA.

Grading scheme

As noted above, more than two unexcused absences (or more than six unexcused latenesses, since three latenesses make an absence) will lower a student’s final grade by 3 points. Each of the homeworks and projects have their own grade breakdowns; see the relevant assignment pages for those details.

The course grade is computed from these components:

  • 20% homeworks
  • 10% Project 1
  • 20% Project 2
  • 50% Final project

The grading scale for undergraduates is as follows:

final percentage of points earned grade assigned
≥90 A
<90 and ≥80 B
<80 and ≥70 C
<70 and ≥60 D
<60 R

Grading and regrading

Practical homeworks (i.e. the type that involve a tech demo) are graded in class when they are due. Homeworks may be turned in late for grading and will be penalized 25% per class day of tardiness. (“Class day” means a Monday or Wednesday we have class. For instance: a homework due on a Monday which would’ve earned a 10/10 will earn a 7.5/10 if handed in on the following Wednesday.)

Projects generally have two grade components: the project itself, and documentation of the project/process. Projects are graded based on their state at the time they are due, i.e. the day of the in-class critique. Documentation is generally due one week later than the project, and is graded after the due date.

Documentation grades include detailed feedback, and you may choose to make improvements to the documentation based on this feedback. Improved documentation is due one week after you receive the instructor’s feedback on the project, and the documentation regrade will be averaged with the original grade given to compute the new final grade for the documentation assignment. For example: after earning a 11/20 points on the original documentation, a student improves it for a regrade of 19/20. The average of these grades (15/20) is the final documentation grade.


IDeATe, the Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology network at Carnegie Mellon, offers undergraduate minors and courses in Game Design, Animation & Special Effects, Media Design, Sonic Arts, Design for Learning, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Intelligent Environments, and Physical Computing. These areas merge technology and creativity and provide learning opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. IDeATe minors and courses are open to all majors. We welcome students from every discipline to the unique learning environment that exists at Carnegie Mellon.

IDeATe is not its own department. Rather, Carnegie Mellon’s departments contribute faculty and courses to the IDeATe curriculum. Therefore, IDeATe does not have its own course number prefix. You can find the IDeATe course offerings for the upcoming semester by going to the Courses section of

IDeATe Common Learning Goals

  • Demonstrate an appreciation for and ability to participate in critique of one’s own work and the work of others
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the role of reflection in learning and designing (begin to become a reflective practitioner)
  • Demonstrate an ability to articulate the story (visually, orally, verbally, aurally…) of one’s own work and one’s own learning
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history, cultural context and social implications of electronics
  • Demonstrate the ability to work in a multidisciplinary environment
  • Demonstrate technical and creative skills in writing software in the Arduino IDE, creating circuits that safely work as intended, and making an effective, interesting, useful device to help improve the life on an older person.

IDeATe resources

IDeATe Lending

Once you are enrolled in an IDeATe course, you will have access to IDeATe Lending. You will maintain your access through the rest of your time at Carnegie Mellon. You must present your CMU ID each time you borrow an item. You will also be able to purchase a limited number of consumable items (such as plywood and acrylic) for projects. Please visit for more detailed information on available resources, to review the IDeATe Lending Borrower Policy, and to find hours of operation.

Classroom and Lending access

If you are enrolled in an IDeATe class at least a week before the start of the course, you will have access to IDeATe Lending and (if applicable) have keycard access to the classroom door on the first day of class. If you add a course during the Add Period, you may need to wait a few business days to receive access while the lists are updated. If you add a course after the last day of the Add Period, email with your name, Andrew ID, and course number so we can add you to our systems.

Laser cutter access

If you are required to use the laser cutters for this class, you have provisional access for the duration of the class. Until you have been trained on the use of the Rabbit laser cutters and have completed the fire safety requirements, you may only use the laser cutters under the continuous supervision of your instructor, TA, or other qualified person. To maintain access to the laser cutters after your class is over, you must complete Environmental Health & Safety training on Fire Extinguisher Use, available at

IDeATe advising

If you have questions or need advice about IDeATe minors or courses, please get in touch with Kelly Delaney, the Assistant Director of IDeATe. Her office is in Hunt 246 and her email is

But really

All of the structure provided by the rules and grades and submission requirements above is there partly because we’re operating in an academic environment that requires that I evaluate you as fairly as I can with a grade at the end of the semester, and partly because a bit of structure helps provide us an environment in which we can thrive.

I hope you’re taking this class because you’re interested in learning something new and useful. I’m teaching it because I sincerely believe that the ability and confidence to use these technological tools can be transformative—and that it’s good to work towards a world in which as many people as possible are empowered to solve meaningful problems in creative ways, build interesting things, and help enrich our shared experience.