MCS 274: Database Systems (Spring 2011)

Course Description


Essentially all contemporary information systems in commercial applications use database technology. This course provides an introduction to this technology, both as a collection of hands-on skills and as a conceptual subject with mathematical foundations. The course includes an integrated laboratory component and a realistic database development project.

Although I have done a lot of database programming, this will my first time teaching this course. Max Hailperin has taught several iterations of the course, and has kindly allowed me to use the material from his latest version, which I will be doing, with some modifications.

Class web pages

All course materials will be available through the class web pages. The main URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hard-copy hand-outs only to those students who ask for them.

Text and documentation

Our primary text is A First Course in Database Systems, 3rd ed., by Jeffrey D. Ullman and Jennifer Widom. If you would prefer to acquire Database Systems: The Complete Book, 2nd ed., by Hector Garcia-Molina, Jeffrey D. Ullman, and Jennifer Widom, that would be equally acceptable: it contains a verbatim copy of the First Course plus additional chapters we won't be using.

Documentation for the Oracle Database 10g Release 2 will also be available both online and in hardcopy form in the lab.


There will be two intra-term tests as shown on the syllabus and a final exam as scheduled by the registrar. If you have a conflict with a testing time, please contact me as soon as possible to make an alternative arrangement.

Exams will be closed-book and mostly closed-notes. You may, however, use a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with hand-written notes for reference. (Both sides of the sheet are OK.)


Some days, shown on the syllabus, we will meet in the OHS 326 computer lab rather than in the usual classroom. Each lab assignment will also require you to spend additional time out of class.

Homework assignment policy

I will assign a collection of homework problems for each chapter (except chapter 1). You may turn in any individual homework problem whenever you think you have it solved. I will return it to you as quickly as I can, but normally with only an indication of whether it is acceptable or needs more work. The reason why I won't write much on the work I turn back to you is because I would like to talk with you face-to-face. If a problem needs more work, you should treat that as an invitation to come talk with me about it. Once you've done the additional work, you may turn the problem in again, attached to (or clearly marked on) the original. In fact, you may turn each problem in as many times as you like (up until the deadline given below), until it is marked as acceptable. Your grade for the homework portion of the course will be based on the fraction of homework problems that you eventually did acceptably.

The final deadlines for rewrites of homework problems are: 2:30pm on February 25th for chapters 2 and 6, 2:30pm on March 24th for chapters 3, 4, and 7, and 2:30pm on May 12th for chapters 8-12.

Late assignments

All lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. Late lab assignments will be penalized by one “grade notch” (such as A to A- or A- to B+) for each weekday late or fraction thereof. However, no late assignments will be accepted after graded assignments are handed back or solutions are distributed.

If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you will not be penalized. Simply write “late due to illness” at the top of the assignment, sign your name and hand it in. Other circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.


The course components will contribute to your grade in the following proportion:

  • Test 1: 16%
  • Test 2: 16%
  • Final exam: 18%
  • Homework: 20% (based on fraction done: see above)
  • Labs 1-4: 16% (4 @ 4% each)
  • Lab 5 (project): 14%

However, I reserve the right to subjectively adjust your final grade. Please see me if you have any question how you stand. Class participation is not graded; however, it allows you to find and repair the gaps in your understanding before doing the assignments, and thus can dramatically improve your grade. You are responsible for all course material, whether or not you are present when it was covered or distributed.

Style guidelines

All assignments should be readily readable and should not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. Use full English sentences where appropriate (namely almost everywhere) and clear diagrams, programs, etc. Remember that your goal is to communicate clearly and that the appearance of these technical items plays a role in this communication process. Be sure your assignments are always stapled together and that your name is always on them.

Class and Lab Attendance Policy

Attendance, both physical and mental, is required. I reserve the right to lower your grade if I feel you are missing or showing up late too often. One exception: you do not have to attend lab sessions for a given lab if you have already handed in that lab.


Any substantive contribution to your project report by another person or taken from a web site or publication should be properly acknowledged in writing. Failure to do so is plagiarism and will necessitate disciplinary action. As a student at Gustavus you are expected to uphold the Honor Code and abide by the Academic Honesty Policy. A copy of the honor code can be found in the Academic Bulletin and a copy of the academic honesty policy can be found in the Academic Polices section of the Gustie Guide.

Specifically for this course, I will expect absolutely no collaboration on the homework and tests. Regarding the labs, you may talk with each other, but be sure to cite significant contributions from others in your write-up. Two rules of thumb: discussing things in general is good, but giving the crucial step is not; also, emailing code or looking at someone else's computer screen is not okay.

Disability Services

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) work together to ensure "reasonable accommodation" and non-discrimination for students with disabilities in higher education. A student who has a physical, psychiatric/emotional, medical, learning, or attentional disability that may have an effect on the student's ability to complete assigned course work should contact the Disability Services Coordinator in the Advising Center, who will review the concerns and decide with the student what accommodations are necessary. Disability Services Coordinator Laurie Bickett (6286) can provide further information.

Help for Students Whose First Language is not English

The Writing Center has on staff a part-time tutor with professional training in ESL/ELL instruction. Students can schedule work with this tutor by contacting the Writing Center. Students may bring their instructor's documentation concerning their ELL status. Where it is appropriate, faculty may choose to allow such students more time to complete either in- or out-of-class writing assignments. For further information, contact the Academic Advising Office.