Course Description

In this course we will examine how computational linguistics has been used to model language in its interactional context. We will consider particular methodological approaches and subtasks such as dialog act tagging, chatbots and generation, social network analysis, agent-based modeling, and computational sociolinguistic case studies. We will also explore relevant background on how interaction has been studied in other areas of linguistics such as conversation analysis, pragmatics, gesture studies, and sociophonetics, and brainstorm possible productive synergies between computational methods and these approaches. The course will conclude with final projects which either propose a study, collect a dataset, or conduct an analysis on interactional data.


Week Dates Content Materials
1 1/7 Logistics
2 1/14 Introduction


and optionally

3 1/21 Turn-taking and Dialog Act Tagging


4 1/28 Discourse Structure and Dialog State


5 2/4 Clicking, Alignment, and Uptake


and at least one of

6 2/11 Power


7 2/18 Embodiment and Multimodality


8 2/25 Grounding, Agents, and Emergence


9 3/4 Repair, Conflict, and Deception


10 3/11 Conclusion and Final Project Presentations


* Coronavirus Note *

We remain in a difficult situation in the world. Everyone is distracted and anxious to some degree, we're all facing challenges across the board, and our physical and mental health (and those of our loved ones) are the top priorities. I trust we will all be doing our best to adapt to the cirumstances and giving each other a lot of leeway and understanding.

In this context, I am particularly willing to be understanding of problems that arise; in exchange I ask for communication on your part. If need be, please just let me know what's going on and I'll do what I can to help.

Structure and Assignments

Reading, Ed Prep (weekly)

Our goal is to create a tight-knit space for discussion and intellectual engagement this quarter, so it is essential that you come to class prepared having done any assigned readings. I plan to assign on the order of 3 papers per week (less than 100 pages), so this should be manageable. I’m hoping to not overwhelm with reading so you can do it thoroughly, aiming for a relatively high level of understanding, and even allowing for time to e.g. dig deeper into sources cited by the papers, investigate methods they mention, etc.

Doing this thoughtfully and in advance of class is the most important assignment for the quarter. If you haven’t been able to keep up with reading, the quality of our discussions will suffer. Therefore I would ask you to set aside explicit time for doing readings for this class *before* Friday in each given week. Personally I will set aside several hours for myself to do (or re-do) this reading on Wednesdays. This way if something unavoidable comes up that interrupts my ability to stay on top of things, I have some buffer and can still do it before class.

Each week I will make a “questions and comments” thread on Ed. By each Thursday evening, I would like everyone to post in this thread with roughly three questions or comments about the reading. What came up for you in these readings? What was confusing? What was new to you? What was exciting? What has been missed here? What ideas for future research does this work bring up?

These can also take the form of pointers to other work. For example, if some readings we’re doing call up a connection for you to some other area of work you’re interested in, let us know about that and explain the connection. Or they could involve, e.g., looking briefly over a more foundational work cited by the current one, and let us know what relationship you found.

It is fine if these questions/comments are short; some of your questions/comments can also be in response to other peoples’ posts. Class time itself is relatively short and precious, so the point of this is to start testing the waters in advance, and build up a storehouse of paths we could choose to take when we’re together discussing.

GSI/FSO (1x/quarter)

Get stuck in, figure something out (or figure $#@%! out, if you please).

“Get stuck in” is one of my favorite British English expressions, meaning to dive into something with energy and determination, to get lost in a topic of interest, to go down a rabbit hole in a positive and productive way. When engaging with research work you will inevitably encounter things that are confusing, that you’ve never heard of, or even that seem to make no sense. You’ll run into complicated methods about which you have only the vaguest idea. I’ve often had the experience of hearing about some method or concept over and over in passing, until finally I hit a point where I say, okay, that’s it, I have to figure out what this means.

So here I’m trying to officially encode and encourage this sort of intellectual engagement. As you go through readings and discussions, keep an eye out for these moments that blend confusion/unfamiliarity with interest/curiosity. When you find one, follow it through and try to better understand something (anything) you didn’t understand as well before. As an example of something you could GSI on, imagine thinking: “I keep hearing about Markov chain Monte Carlo methods, what the heck is that anyway, and where did that name come from?”

What this follow-through looks like is of course totally up to you. This could be more reading (whether academic sources or non-), or watching (e.g. explainer YouTube videos on some concept, lecture videos from another course, a documentary on someone’s life), or other kinds of engagement. For example maybe you feel you have heard over and over about some method and really understand it conceptually, but you’ve never actually tried it, so you have a go at implementing/using it.

Once you feel you’ve figured $#@%! out to some degree, where you feel satisfied for now, post on Ed about what you did and what you learned. This doesn’t have to be an epic essay, but just a brief explanation. If you understand some concept in a way you didn’t before, try to convey that new understanding to others who might have a similar confusion.

Lead a Week (1x/quarter)

We have approximately 9 content meetings for this course, and 7 students. For the middle 7 classes, I would like one person each time to take responsibility for helping start / frame the discussion and lead throughout. We should not be having a wheel-and-spokes style discussion where one person is the center, more the idea is to have that person be responsible for reviewing the Ed questions/comments and thinking ahead of time about what directions might be most interesting to pursue in our discussion.

Final Paper

This course includes a final paper or project. As usual I’m very open as to what this could be. I want you to pick something that interests you and give it a good shot, presented as a pdf in ACL format, roughly 6-8 pages. I’ll ask you for proposals about halfway through the class.

Possibilities include:

  • Book review - read a book in this area (I’ll provide some suggestions or you can propose your own) and write a critical commentary.
  • Interactional data collection - given COVID and all, I don’t expect this will be in person, but you could imagine collecting a dataset of naturally-occurring interactions from the web, or setting up a data-collection task via crowdsourcing or other methods.
  • Literature review - dive deeper into an area we covered, or another area of your interest related to computation and interaction that we didn’t get to.
  • Replication - replicate an existing interactional paper from the literature. See if you can find any ways to go beyond the original analysis. Document the challenges you encountered along the way.
  • Propose future work - develop a research question and design a methodology by which it could plausibly be solved.
  • Your own idea!


Not a fan of grades, to be honest. Research has shown that traditional numerical/letter grades decrease intrinsic motivation and joy for learning, can undermine performance, and are potentially riddled with implicit bias. For more reading on this topic:

Therefore, grades in this course are based predominantly upon midterm and final self-evaluations. The core evaluation metric I will ask you to consider is engagement. Did you keep up with readings and other work for the course? Did you put energy and effort into learning about this topic and engaging with both the material and your fellow students? Did you follow through on the agreements we set out at the first class?

Course Agreements

Here are my proposals for some agreements on how we conduct ourselves. I am very open to adding more, or editing these, or even removing them.

Listening and Mutual Respect

Hopefully this goes mostly without saying, but I propose we agree to strive to treat everyone else in the class with kindness and respect, including in particular an attentiveness to the value of each person’s contributions to our discussions. Assume your colleagues have interesting and useful things to say, because they almost certainly do!

A space of intellectual discussion will inevitably lead to disagreements and conflicting ideas. I propose we agree to be open to such disagreement and welcome its possible presence.

Non-Anonymity and Presence

I propose that we stand behind our contributions to this course and engage directly and presently. For me that means at least posting on Ed non-anonymously, and having your video on when on Zoom when possible.

Reasonable Confidentiality

A flipside of this is if we are to have a trusted and trusting environment, I propose that we agree to have discretion in what is shared beyond the confines of the class. A seminar is ultimately about generating public-facing research, so we can’t have true confidentiality, but I also think we should encourage this to be a space where people feel free and open to share both their intellectual contributions and potentially personal experiences if relevant. The idea: shared personal experiences are confidential; research-based content is not. You can share ideas generated in the course, but not necessarily the motivations (personal, story-based).


It is very easy to be distracted in our modern age. I am deeply guilty of giving into distractions more than I would like. I propose that during the brief window of the seminar, we take active steps to preserve our attention for one another. Beyond an agreement to simply commit our attention, the first thing that jumps out to me would be an agreement to not check email during class, or to do anything on your computer/phone unrelated to the class. This is especially difficult during Zoom times, I know. On the flipside, I propose that especially during Zoom times we do not consider e.g. food and drink to be distractions, I think having your coffee with you or whatever can actually help focus. As a part of this we will also have a break midway through every class.

Inclusion Statement

I am committed to creating an inclusive environment that actively values the diversity of backgrounds, identities, and experiences of everyone in the classroom. I welcome you to talk with me if you have any feedback or if there's anything I can do to better support you. If you'd prefer to contact me anonymously you can do so using the form at the bottom of my faculty webpage.

University-Requested Syllabus Inclusions

Academic Integrity Statement

Students in this course are required to comply with the policies found in the booklet, "Academic Integrity at Northwestern University: A Basic Guide". All papers submitted for credit in this course must be submitted electronically unless otherwise instructed by the professor. Your written work may be tested for plagiarized content. For details regarding academic integrity at Northwestern or to download the guide, visit:

Accessibility Statement

Northwestern University is committed to providing the most accessible learning environment as possible for students with disabilities. Should you anticipate or experience disability-related barriers in the academic setting, please contact AccessibleNU to move forward with the university’s established accommodation process (e:; p: 847-467-5530). If you already have established accommodations with AccessibleNU, please let me know as soon as possible, preferably within the first two weeks of the term, so we can work together to implement your disability accommodations. Disability information, including academic accommodations, is confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

COVID-19 Classroom Expectations Statement

Students, faculty, and staff must comply with University expectations regarding appropriate classroom behavior, including those outlined below and in the COVID-19 Code of Conduct. With respect to classroom procedures, this includes:

  • Policies regarding masking and social distancing evolve as the public health situation changes. Students are responsible for understanding and complying with current masking, testing, Symptom Tracking, and social distancing requirements.
  • In some classes, masking and/or social distancing may be required as a result of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADAccommodation for the instructor or a student in the class even when not generally required on campus. In such cases, the instructor will notify the class.
  • No food is allowed inside classrooms. Drinks are permitted, but please keep your face covering on and use a straw.
  • Faculty may assign seats in some classes to help facilitate contact tracing in the event that a student tests positive for COVID-19. Students must sit in their assigned seats.

If a student fails to comply with the COVID-19 Code of Conduct or other University expectations related to COVID-19, the instructor may ask the student to leave the class. The instructor is asked to report the incident to the Office of Community Standards for additional follow-up.

COVID-19 Testing Compliance Statement

To protect the health of our community, Northwestern University requires unvaccinated students who are in on-campus programs to be tested for COVID-19 twice per week.

Students who fail to comply with current or future COVID-19 testing protocols will be referred to the Office of Community standards to face disciplinary action, including escalation up to restriction from campus and suspension.

Exceptions to Class Modality

Class sessions for this course will occur in person. Individual students will not be granted permission to attend remotely except as the result of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation as determined by AccessibleNU.

Maintaining the health of the community remains our priority. If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID do not attend class and update your Symptom Tracker application right away to connect with Northwestern’s Case Management Team for guidance on next steps. Also contact the instructor as soon as possible to arrange to complete coursework.

Students who experience a personal emergency should contact the instructor as soon as possible to arrange to complete coursework.

Should public health recommendations prevent in person class from being held on a given day, the instructor or the university will notify students.

Prohibition of Recording of Class Sessions by Students

Unauthorized student recording of classroom or other academic activities (including advising sessions or office hours) is prohibited. Unauthorized recording is unethical and may also be a violation of University policy and state law. Students requesting the use of assistive technology as an accommodation should contact AccessibleNU. Unauthorized use of classroom recordings – including distributing or posting them – is also prohibited. Under the University’s Copyright Policy, faculty own the copyright to instructional materials – including those resources created specifically for the purposes of instruction, such as syllabi, lectures and lecture notes, and presentations. Students cannot copy, reproduce, display, or distribute these materials. Students who engage in unauthorized recording, unauthorized use of a recording, or unauthorized distribution of instructional materials will be referred to the appropriate University office for follow-up.

Support for Wellness and Mental Health

Northwestern University is committed to supporting the wellness of our students. Student Affairs has multiple resources to support student wellness and mental health. If you are feeling distressed or overwhelmed, please reach out for help. Students can access confidential resources through the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) and the Center for Awareness, Response and Education (CARE). Additional information on all of the resources mentioned above can be found here: