BSc Computer Science and Mathematics / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Fundamentals of Computation

Course unit fact file
Unit code COMP11212
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Student comments: 'The material was very interesting and I could definitely see it being useful on the near future. Overall, I enjoyed this course unit, because I felt that it extended to other course units.' - 'Through the material covered you understand better how the computer interpretes data (and generally works), and learn more about programming languages and algorithms.' - 'The course content was extremely interesting, and the PhD demonstrators were helpful and approachable. I am glad I took this module.'


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Mathematical Techniques for Computer Science COMP11120 Co-Requisite Compulsory
Students who are not from the Department of Computer Science must have permission from both Computer Science and their home Department to enrol. Computer Science and Maths students do not need COMP11120

COMP11120 is a co-requisite except for BSc(Hons) Computer and Science and Maths students


This course unit provides a first approach to answering the following questions. What methods are there that can help understanding complicated systems or programs? How can we make sure that a program does what we intend it to do? How do computers go about recognizing pieces of text? If there are two ways of solving the same problem, how can we compare them? How do we measure that one of them gives the solution faster? How can we understand what computers can do in principle, and are there problems that are not solvable by a computer?

Learning outcomes

  • Describe formal languages using a variety of mechanisms.   
  • Define classes of languages and demonstrate translations between those classes.
  • State key properties of classes of languages and determine when those properties hold.
  • Define models of computation and use those models to demonstrate what can and cannot be computed.


There are two groups of topics covered. One of the lectures will be an introduction to the course unit, and one is reserved for revision. That leaves 10 lectures for each part.

The first part (10 lectures) is concerned with expressing particular strings, and collections of strings, and here we will introduce the methods by which a computer goes about it. The ability to recognize key strings (such as programming constructs or variable names) are, for example, required in every compiler, but they are also used by search engines such as Google.The formalisms introduced include finite state automata, regular expressions (most often used in pattern matching), (regular) grammars. The emphasis is on students being able to use these formalisms to solve problems.

The second half of the course (10 lectures) provides an introduction to the topics of complexity, correctness and computability. There are four big topics:

                • the WHILE programming language

                • asymptotic complexity

                • partial and full program correctness

                • computability

Teaching and learning methods

This unit is delivered in a blended manner with a mix of asynchronous and synchronous activities. Self-study materials are made available in the form of detailed notes which include exercises, as well as videos and formative self-assessment quizzes that allow students to check their understanding. Each week there is a synchronous session that allows students to ask questions about the materials and beyond, and discuss the ideas underlying the taught material. Further there are weekly synchronous examples classes where solutions to the assessed exercises are discussed.


Asynchronous video content, approximately 1 hour of content per week.

Synchronous Q&A/worked examples sessions, 1 hour per week.

Synchronous examples classes, 1 per week (starting in week 2)


Students are expected to spend 4-5 hours each week engaging with asynchronous materials such as notes, video and exercises.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Oral communication
Problem solving

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 80%
Written assignment (inc essay) 20%

Feedback methods

Weekly online self-assessment quizzes.

Students present their solutions to set exercises once a week in examples classes. They receive oral feedback to their solutions.

Written feedback is given for summative exercises.

Recommended reading

COMP11212 reading list can be found on the Department of Computer Science website for current students.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 11
Practical classes & workshops 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 76

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Francisco Lobo Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Course unit materials

Links to course unit teaching materials can be found on the School of Computer Science website for current students.

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