Group discussions, critiques, and in-class discussions

Group discussions

In groups of about 3-4 people, meet for 1 hour after reading the paper but before writing your critique. Spend some time (perhaps 20 minutes, depending on the paper) making sure everyone understood the important points, and spend some time starting to discuss the points related to the critique (contributions, strengths, weaknesses).

A paper's discussion leader should also use this time to get feedback from his/her group, especially on his/her intended discussion questions.


After the group meeting, write a critique that has five short paragraphs: Although each paragraph can be short, avoid paraphrasing the paper and avoid superficial statements. For example: "The authors propose an approach to detect atomicity bugs, and they evaluate its performance and accuracy." This sentence doesn't really say anything unique to one paper. What's the key aspect of the approach and the key insight that makes it work? What is the (single most important) outcome of the performance and accuracy results, and why?

Some additional advice:

The critique for a paper is due by 6 pm on the day before we discuss the paper in class. As part of your critique, include your name and the names of the group members whom you met and discussed the paper with, both to acknowledge their potential influence on your ideas, and so I can make sure that group discussions are functioning okay. Do not list the names of anyone with whom you did not discuss the paper. You'll still get credit for the critique, but I might bug you about what's going on with your group. Here's a template (keep it simple and plaintext):

My name:

I discussed with these people:

Problem (and why important and/or hard and/or why doesn't prior work address it):

Key insights / contribution / strengths:

Weaknesses / fallacies / flaws:

Unsolved problem(s) / opportunities for future work:

Difficulty/ies in understanding:

I'm planning to send your critiques to everyone. Please read others' critiques before class.

I will periodically grade and provide feedback on your critiques.

Craig Zilles has great advice for writing critiques.

In-class discussions

Discussion leaders should prepare to lead the class in a discussion of the paper's most interesting points. Note that the discussion is not a presentation, i.e., it's not like a conference talk. Everyone has already read, discussed, and critiqued the paper (and read others' critiques). That said, these papers are hard and will have material that's new to most of us, so as much as half of the time should be spent leading discussion of challenging points in the paper. The rest of the time should be spent leading discussion of questions or topics that go beyond just understanding the paper's key points, such as discussing strengths, weaknesses, connections to related work, and opportunities/challenges/ideas for future work.

Having slides is not strictly necessary, but slides are often helpful to put up a few diagrams from the paper (or conference talk), and to display your discussion questions. It's often a good idea to draw on the whiteboard during a discussion.

You may obtain the authors' slides if you like, but don't use these slides (they will cause you to give a presentation rather than lead a discussion). It's okay to copy-paste diagrams from the slides to aid discussions. It's also okay to just copy-paste diagrams from the paper's PDF. Give appropriate credit somewhere on your slides (e.g., acknowledge all help on the first slide of your slides).

Timeline for group discussions and critiques, and for discussion leaders


Discussion leaders