COMS 4771-002 Fall 2018 Syllabus


COMS 4771 is a graduate-level introduction to machine learning. The course covers basic statistical principles of supervised machine learning, as well as some common algorithmic paradigms.


You must know multivariate calculus, linear algebra, and basic probability. You must be comfortable writing code to process and analyze data in Python, and be familiar with basic algorithmic design and analysis. You must have general mathematical maturity.

A more detailed list of topics is available here.

Online resources

If you are unsure about whether you satisfy the prerequisites for this course (or would like to “page-in” this knowledge), please check the following links.


Readings will be assigned from various sources, including the following texts:

(All of these texts are available online, possibly through Columbia University Libraries.)

Course requirements

  • Complete assigned reading before each lecture.
  • Attend lecture.
  • Complete homework assignments (34% of total points).
  • Complete two in-class exams (dates TBD; 33% of total points each).

Homework assignments (along with instructions) will be posted on the course website. We aim to have six homework assignments (not counting Homework 0), three before the first exam, and three after. But this is subject to change as the semester progresses.

No late homework assignments will be accepted, and there will be no make-up exams. The lowest homework score (besides that of Homework 0) will be dropped before determining the final grade. If you have to miss an exam due to a valid medical or family emergency, please present any confirmatory documentation (e.g., from a physician) to your academic adviser, and then have your adviser e-mail me about the circumstance. In such a case, your grade composition will be adjusted.

Final grades are not “curved” to fit any particular distribution. Instead, overall course letter grades are assigned according to the percentage of total points earned: 90%-100% is some kind of A; 80%-89% of the total points is some kind of B, etc.

Disability services

If you require accommodations or support services from Disability Services, make necessary arrangements in accordance with their policies within the first two weeks of the semester.

Academic rules of conduct

You are expected to adhere to the Academic Honesty policy of the Computer Science Department, as well as the following course-specific policies.


You are welcome and encouraged to discuss course materials and reading assignments, and homework assignments other than Homework 0 with each other in small groups (two to three people). You must list all discussants in your homework write-up. Discussion about homework assignments may include brainstorming and verbally discussing possible solution approaches, but must not go as far as one person telling others how to solve a problem. In addition, you must write-up your solutions by yourself, and you may not look at another student’s homework write-up/solutions (whether partial or complete).

Collaboration of any kind on Homework 0 and exams is not permitted.

You are encouraged to use Piazza to discuss course material and reading assignments, and to ask for high-level clarification on and possible approaches to homework problems. If you need to ask a detailed question specific to your solution, please mark the post as “private” so only the instructors can see it.

Use of outside references

Outside reference materials and sources (i.e., texts and sources beyond the assigned reading materials for the course) may be used on homework assignments only if given explicit written permission from the instructor. Such references must be appropriately acknowledged in the homework write-up. You must always write up your solutions in your own words.

  • Sources obtained by searching the internet for answers or hints on homework assignments are never permitted.
  • You are permitted to use texts and sources on course prerequisites. If you need to look up a result in such a source, provide a citation in your homework write-up.
  • If you inadvertently come across the solution to a homework problem: you must acknowledge this source and document the circumstance in your homework write-up, and then do your best to produce a solution without looking at the source. You must, as always, write your solution in your own words.


Violation of any portion of these policies will result in a penalty to be assessed at the instructor’s discretion. This may include receiving a zero grade for the assignment in question AND a failing grade for the whole course, even for the first infraction. Such students are also reported to the relevant Deans’ offices that handle cases of academic dishonesty.