Sebastian Raschka
Sebastian Raschka
Assistant Professor of Statistics @ UW-Madison

STAT 453 -- Introduction to Deep Learning and Generative Models (Spring 2020)

Table of Contents

Project Awards

We had an amazing selection of student project presentations this year! Below are the winners (by voting) from each category, Best Oral Presentation, Best Visualizations, and Most Creative Project (click to enlarge).

Course Resources

For the course material, we are going to use a mix between different technologies, each suited best for the given task.

Piazza 1-time sign-up link:
Piazza forum link:

Course Logistics




Office Hours

Course Description

Credits: 3

Course Description:

Deep learning is a field that specializes in discovering and extracting intricate structures in large, unstructured datasets for parameterizing artificial neural networks with many layers. Since deep learning has pushed the state-of-the-art in many research and application areas, it’s become indispensable for modern technology.

The focus of this course will be on understanding deep, artificial neural networks by connecting it to related concepts in statistics, such as generalized linear models and maximum likelihood estimation. Beyond covering deep learning models for predictive modeling, the latter portion of this course will focus on deep generative models and models based on stochastic variational inference, which allows for learning directed probabilistic models.

Besides covering and explaining deep learning and generative models on a mathematical and conceptual level, this course emphasizes the practical aspects of deep learning. Open-source libraries from the Python open-source ecosystem for scientific computing will be used to provide students with hands-on experience for implementing deep neural nets, working on supervised learning tasks, and applying generative models for dataset synthesis. Regarding the class project, students will form teams of three and collaboratively work on a project proposal to outline the planned scope of the project and meet with the lecturer for further discussion and feedback. After receiving feedback on the proposal, students will work independently towards the final project report, which will be submitted in the form of a conference paper for peer-review by other students and the lecturer. Finally, the students will give an 8-10-minute talk at the end of the semester to formally present their projects in class.

Learning Outcomes:

Course Rerequisites:

Along with introducing of the concepts of deep learning and generative models, the in-class lectures will provide a refresher on relevant concepts from calculus and linear algebra; however, a calculus background (e.g., Math 221) and a linear algebra background (e.g., Math 340) is recommended. While this course will also provide an introduction to the basics of the Python programming language for machine learning, it is highly recommended that students are familiar with basic programming and have completed an introductory programming class.

The official requisites are

Course Audience:

Students majoring in math or statistics or those wishing to take additional statistics courses.


Useful Background Material

For those who haven’t taken the machine learning course, no worries, the concepts in the deep learning course are related, but this course will not require knowledge of the machine learning material I taught there. However, it would be good if you could review certain sections from the previous course if you haven’t taken it:

Links to the lecture notes can be found at the bottom (linked in the calendar) of the course website at

Deep Learning Books

Deep learning is a new and very fast moving field, and many of the knowledge is contained in freely available research articles and other articles shared freely on the internet. As of today, there is also no nice textbook available that would be suitable as a textbook for this course.

Thus, I will link free resources, including internet articles and research articles that are relevant for the course. The book suggestions are recommendations but not requirements. I will not use any chapters directly for this course, but you can use them as a personal reference.

Deep Learning – Goodfellow, Bengio, Courville

The “Deep Learning” book by Goodfellow et al. is nice for deeper theoretical coverage of the topic. The book is also officially and freely available as web version at

Python Machine Learning, 3rd Edition – Raschka & Mirjalili

The Python Machine Learning book provides a great intro to general machine learning; the deep learning chapters are in TensorFlow though, and we will be using PyTorch in this class. However, the explanations are still useful.

Deep Learning with PyTorch

The “Deep Learning with PyTorch” is the most relevant book, but it has not been released yet. There is free preview version available at

A link direct link to the PDF draft chapters is available at:

Python Resources

Regarding Python, we will mainly focus on two libraries: NumPy and PyTorch. You can think of NumPy as a linear algebra library that provides utilities similar to MatLab (if you are familiar with MatLab). It’s a library that is used in almost any scientific computing task and other libraries in Python and is generally useful. PyTorch is the main deep learning library we will be using. My deep learning background is in Theano and TensorFlow, but I made the switch to PyTorch about ~1 1/2 years ago when it was released as it offers many advantages over TensorFlow at the same computational performance – in fact, most people use it now for research, and as I know from colleagues at Stanford and NYU, among many others, switched to it from TensorFlow for teaching as well.

In any case, you don’t need to be an expert Python programmer to use these libraries (and I will teach you about PyTorch in this course, so no worries about learning it beforehand). However, some basic familiarity with Python will be necessary in order to use these libraries.

Illustrated Guide to Python (recommended)

This book will not be coverered in class. However, some readers asked me for good Python resources as preparation for this class, and this is one of the resources I would recommend. However, there are many other Python learning resources available online.

For instance, another great book is Allen Downey’s Think Python 2e (free PDF available at

Interactive Python course on Codecademy (highly recommended)

Depending on your preferred learning style, also consider learning Python interactively instead/or in addition of reading a Python book. A great interactive resource for learning Python is Codecademy: In particular, there is a free, < 10 hr interactive course:

Python Like You Mean It

A short, free intro for getting started with Python and its main scientific computing libraries:

Python for Beginners (Video Lectures)

A great video series by educators at Microsoft, which was recently made available for free on YouTube:


The final grade will be computed using the following weighted grading scheme:

To make the grading more transparent and provide students with a better intuition of their performance throughout the course, there will be a total of 1000 points in this course. For instance, 200 points can be obtained from homework assignments (30% of the final grade), 500 points from exams (50% of the final course grade), and 300 points for the class project (30% of the final grade).

The final letter grade will be based on the total number of points/percent of the total points accumulated in the course:

The final grades will not be curved and will be determined based on an absolute scale (percentage of the total points as listed above) to avoid competition between students and encourage collaboration when studying for this course. Graduate students will not be graded separately. For those who have concerns: empirically, this concept has worked very well in my past courses, with 20-30% students performing extremely well and receiving an A.


Both the midterm and final exam will be conceptual, which means that you will not be asked to write code in the exam. You should bring a pocket calculator to the class, but otherwise, no further material will be permitted (except pens).

The final will be cumulative in the sense that some of the earlier topics may be relevant to the final exam; however, the final exam will largely focus on the parts covered after the midterm. In other words, you still should be familiar with all concepts covered in the course, but questions will be centered around the topics after the midterm.

While there will be different types of questions, one question could be as follows:

Q: Does the (computational) time complexity of a k-Nearest Neighbor classifier grow linearly, quadratically, or exponentially with the number of samples in the training dataset? Explain your answer in 1-2 sentences.

A: Linearly. For each new training point there is an additional distance computation.

Class Project


The goal of working on a class project is three-fold. First, it will provide you with the opportunity to apply the concepts learned in this class creatively, which helps you with understanding material more deeply. Second, designing and working on a unique project in a team which is something that you will encounter, if you haven’t already, rather sooner than later in life, and this course project helps with preparing for that. Third, along with the opportunity to practice and the satisfaction of working creatively, students can use this project to enhance their portfolio or resume.

Note about grading

There is no “perfect project.” While you are encouraged to be ambitious, the most important aspect of this project is your learning experience. Hence, you don’t want to pick something that is too easy for you, but similarly, you don’t want to choose a project where you are not certain that is out of the scope of this class. (However, note that the more comprehensive and interesting the project is, the easier you’ll find it to write the 6-8-page project report.) The project proposal is not graded by how exciting your project is but based on whether you follow the objectives of the project proposal, project presentation, and project report. For instance, if your project ends up being unsuccessful – for example, if you choose to design a classifier and it doesn’t achieve the desired accuracy – it will not negatively affect your grade as long as you are honest, describe the potential issues well, and suggest improvements or further experiments. Again, the objective of this project is to provide you with hands-on practice and an opportunity to learn.

The project consists of 3 parts:

  1. a project proposal,
  2. a short project presentation,
  3. and a project report.

The expectations for each part will be discussed in the following sections.

1) Project Proposal

Please note that you should use the proposal-latex file(s) for writing and submitting your proposal!

The main purpose of the project proposal is to receive feedback from the TAs/the instructor regarding whether your project is feasible and whether it is within the scope of this class. Also, the project proposal offers a chance to receive useful feedback and suggestions on your project.

For this project, you will be working in a team consisting of three students. You are encouraged to form groups by yourself, as discussed in class. If you cannot find group members, the TA and I will randomly assign you to a group. If you have any concerns working with someone in your group, please talk to a TA or the instructor for accommodations.

Proposal Format:






You are expected to share the workload evenly, and every group member is expected to participate in both the experiments and writing. (As a group, you only need to submit one proposal and one report, though. So you need to work together and coordinate your efforts.)

It is crucial that you talk to each other regularly!!! Schedule regular meetings and/or use online communication tools (e.g., Gitter, Slack, or email) to stay in touch with your group members throughout the semester regarding the process of your project.

Modifications to the proposal

After you have received feedback from the TAs/the instructor and your project proposal has been graded, you are advised to stick to the project outline in the proposal as closely as possible. However, if there is a concept introduced in a later lecture (for instance, a machine learning algorithm that you think is more appropriate then the one you proposed), you have the option to modify your proposal, but you are not penalized if you don’t. If you wish to update your project outline, talk to a TA first.

Project Proposal Assessment

The proposal will be graded based on completeness of each of the 5 sections (Introduction, Motivation, Evaluation, Resources, and Contributions) and not be based on language, style, and how “exciting” or “interesting” the project is. For each section, you can receive a maximum of 10 points, totaling 50 pts for the proposal overall.

Also, it is important to make sure that you acknowledge previous work and use citations properly when referring to other people’s work. Even minor forms of plagiarism (e.g., copying sentences from other texts) will result in a subtraction of at least 10 pts each per incidence. And university guidelines dictate that severe incidents need to be reported. If you are unsure about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, please see the helpful guides at

2) Project Presentation

During the last three lectures, you will be presenting your project to the class. The presentation is “free form” but should cover the following:

The presentation should be 8-10 minutes long, plus 2 minutes will be reserved for questions. All members of the group should participate in the presentation.

The voting card should be filled out as follows:

  1. Title of the Presentation, a/10, b/10, c/10
  2. Title of the Presentation, a/10, b/10, c/10 …


The awards will be computed based on the highest number of points for each category. However, one project can only receive one of the prizes. The points for the grade are considered independently from the 3 prize categories. The rubric for the grades is provided in the subsection Project Presentation Assessment below.below.

Project Presentation Assessment

The rubric for assigning the points (out of 100) for the presentation is provided below:

3) Project Report

The project report is expected to be 6-8 pages long (excluding references) and should contain the follwing sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Related Work
  3. Proposed Method
  4. Experiments
  5. Results and Discussion
  6. Conclusions
  7. Contributions

More details are provided in the LaTeX report template at

Please note that you should use the report-latex file for writing and submitting your report!

Also, you are required to submit all the code, computations, and experiments you developed and conducted for this project. Note that the quality of code will not have any influence on your grad and will merely serve as a basis to establish that the report contains original and “real” results.

Project Report Assessment

The rubric for grading the project reports is provided below.

Abstract: 15 pts

Introduction: 15 pts

Related Work: 15 pts

Proposed Method: 25 pts

Experiments: 25 pts

Results and Discussion: 30 pts

Conclusions: 15 pts

Contributions: 10 pts

Optional: Sharing your Project

You are encouraged to share your project/final project report online after you completed the course – for example, via GitHub or on a personal website online.

If there are enough students willing to share their report online, I’d be happy to write a short article summarizing your projects as I’ve done for the deep learning course last year.

Other Important Course Information

Rules, Rights & Responsibilities

See the Guides’s Rules, Rights and Responsibilities

Academic Integrity

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UW-Madison’s community of scholars in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest academic integrity standards. Academic misconduct compromises the integrity of the university. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and helping others commit these acts are examples of academic misconduct, which can result in disciplinary action. This includes but is not limited to failure on the assignment/course, disciplinary probation, or suspension. Substantial or repeated cases of misconduct will be forwarded to the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards for additional review. For more information, refer to

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

McBurney Disability Resource Center syllabus statement: “The University of Wisconsin-Madison supports the right of all enrolled students to a full and equal educational opportunity. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Wisconsin State Statute (36.12), and UW-Madison policy (Faculty Document 1071) require that students with disabilities be reasonably accommodated in instruction and campus life. Reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities is a shared faculty and student responsibility. Students are expected to inform faculty [me] of their need for instructional accommodations by the end of the third week of the semester, or as soon as possible after a disability has been incurred or recognized. Faculty [I], will work either directly with the student [you] or in coordination with the McBurney Center to identify and provide reasonable instructional accommodations. Disability information, including instructional accommodations as part of a student’s educational record, is confidential and protected under FERPA.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Institutional statement on diversity: “Diversity is a source of strength, creativity, and innovation for UW-Madison. We value the contributions of each person and respect the profound ways their identity, culture, background, experience, status, abilities, and opinion enrich the university community. We commit ourselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, outreach, and diversity as inextricably linked goals.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison fulfills its public mission by creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from every background – people who as students, faculty, and staff serve Wisconsin and the world.”


Note that this is a tentative schedule subject to changes.

Below is a list of topics we aim to cover. However, we will take our time, and it is more important to build a good understanding of the core concepts and the field in general rather than covering one more algorithm. Keep in mind that a good foundation will enable you to study and understand additional algorithms if the need arises.

Topics Summary (Planned)

Below is a list of the topics I am planning to cover. Note that while these topics are numerated by lectures, note that some lectures are longer or shorter than others. Also, we may skip over certain topics in favor of others if time is a concern. While this section provides an overview of potential topics to be covered, the actual topics will be listed in the course calendar at the bottom of this page.

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Mathematical and computational foundations

Part 3: Introduction to neural networks

Part 4: Deep learning for computer vision and language modeling

Part 5: Deep generative models

Part 6: Class projects and final exam


Lecture Material
Jan 21
Day 1
L01 -- Course overview, introduction to deep learning
Jan 23
Day 2
L02 -- The brief history of deep learning
[ Link ] to the "DL with PyTorch"
book draft chapters
Jan 28
Day 3
L03 -- The perceptron
Jan 30
Day 4
Finishing L03

Explaining how to install Jupyter Nb

Help w. getting started w. HW1
Feb 04
Day 5
L04: Linear Algebra for Deep Learning
Feb 06
Day 6
Continuing L04
Deadline for group assignments (see spreadsheet shared by TA)

HW1 due at 11:59 pm (upl. on Canvas)
Feb 11
Day 7
Continuing L04
Feb 13
Day 8
L05: Fitting Neurons with Gradient Descent
Feb 18
Day 9
L06: Automatic Differentiation with PyTorch
Feb 20
Day 10
Continuing L06
HW02 posted. Due on Feb 28th, 2020, 11:59 pm.
Feb 25
Day 11
L07: Logistic Regression and Multi-class Classification
Feb 27
Day 12
Continuing L07
HW02 due tomorrow
Mar 03
Day 13
L08: Multilayer Perceptrons
Project proposals due
11:59 pm
(Canvas submission)

Get the template here.
Mar 05
Day 14
Midterm Exam
Midterm Exam
Midterm Exam
Mar 10
Day 15
Continuing L08
Mar 12
Day 16
L09: Regularization
Mar 17
Spring Recess
University Closed
Mar 19
Spring Recess
Optional: L06.5 Cloud Computing
Mar 24
Day 17
L10: Input Normalization and Weight Initialization
[ HW3 ] due tomorrow (Wed) 11:59pm
Mar 26
Day 18
Continuing L10
Mar 31
Day 19
L11: Common Optimization Algorithms
Apr 02
Day 20
L12: Intro to CNNs Part 1
Apr 07
Day 21
L13: Intro to CNNs Part 2
Apr 09
Day 22
Continuing L13: Intro to CNNs Part 2
Apr 14
Day 23
L14: Intro to RNNs
Apr 16
Day 24
L15: Intro to Autoencoders
Apr 21
Day 25
L16: Intro to Generative Adversarial Networks
Apr 23
Day 26
Project Presentations 1
Apr 28
Day 27
Project Presentations 2
Apr 30
Day 28
Project report due
Fri, May 04, 10:00 am

Get the template here.
May 7
Final Exam
2:45 PM to 4:15 PM