CS 680: Cognition & Multitasking

Course Syllabus

Professor: Dario Salvucci
Email: salvucci @ drexel.edu
Office: University Crossings 142


This course explores how people multitask — that is, perform multiple tasks at the same time. The course takes a computational approach to multitasking by examining and building computational cognitive models of multitasking skill. The course will be run as a seminar focused on reading, discussion, and presentation of work. In the course we will (1) review literature on cognition and multitasking, especially as related to computing and computational approaches; (2) study the ACT-R computational framework as a language for specifying multitasking behavior; (3) build computer models of behavior using this framework; and (4) discuss the broader context of multitasking in today's world.


Students should have taken either CS 530: Developing User Interfaces or CS 630: Cognitive Systems. If you have not taken one of these prerequisites but would still like to enroll in the course, please contact the professor.


Class time will be roughly evenly divided between lectures and student presentations/discussions. Topics covered in class will include the following (in rough chronological order):


We will use the following book for our primary course readings:

Salvucci, D. D., & Taatgen, N. A. (2011). The Multitasking Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.

Additional readings will come from academic papers in related areas and will be distributed electronically (as PDF files). We expect that students will complete assigned readings before class so that we can enjoy more fruitful discussions.


Homework assignments will involve building and testing simulation models. For the simulation models, we will utilize a new Java version of the ACT-R cognitive architecture. Information about ACT-R and the development/simulation system will be distributed in the first class.

Presentation and Discussion

Each student will be asked to give a presentation (by posting slides online) and lead a discussion on one of the special topic readings. Presentations will be done individually, and you will be asked to present slides about the reading, including your analysis and critique of the work, and then lead a discussion on its context in the course. All students will be expected to participate in discussions of the readings and student presentations. Students' participation grades will be based on the quality of their discussion participation.

Please see the Presentation page for more information about the procedure for posting slides and leading the discussion.


All aspects of this course are important for developing an understanding of and appreciation for cognitive systems and modeling. The grading breakdown will be as follows: Late assignments submitted up to 24 hours late will receive 50% credit, and after 24 hours will receive no credit.


The instructor will disseminate important announcements by email through the course mailing list. Also, the web site contains a timeline with links to all information (lecture slides, assignments, etc.) relevant to the course.


Attendance for lectures and exams is expected. In the case of a school closing on an exam day, the exam will be given in the next class period. In case of a snow emergency, Drexel will post information about class cancellations on the Drexel home page, and the professor will try to email you as well. Academic honesty is essential. Cheating, academic misconduct, plagiarism, and fabrication of any submitted material, including both code and prose, are serious breaches of academic integrity and will be dealt with accordingly. Violations will result minimally in a grade of zero for the exam/assignment in question, an additional reduction of one letter grade in the overall course grade, and a report of the violation to the Drexel administration; further penalties may apply to more serious and/or repeat violations. Please refer to Drexel's official Academic Honesty Policy for more information.