Syllabus for Ling773/CMSC773/INST728C, Spring 2016

Syllabus for Ling773/CMSC773/INST728C, Spring 2016
Computational Linguistics II


What's the course about?

This is the second semester in our graduate sequence in computational linguistics, and it will provide foundations for advanced seminars or research in computational linguistics. Computational linguistics has two main areas: how to build technology that does useful things with human language (this area is usually referred to as "natural language processing", NLP, or sometimes "human language technology"), and how to improve our scientific understanding of how language works using computational methods and models. Our main focus will be on NLP, but we will also be devoting some thought to how the models and methods we study can be useful when studying language from a scientific perspective.

The topics we'll cover are intended to get students up to speed on necessary background in order to understand and perform cutting-edge research in natural language processing, which requires a strong grounding in statistical NLP models and methods. Some of the topics are in the same areas as in Computational Linguistics I, but we will go deeper. As always, the syllabus is subject to revision; however, it will follow Manning and Schuetze's textbook relatively closely at least in early parts of the course.

See the schedule of topics for class-by-class plans. In case of an emergency that closes the University for an extended period of time, see Piazza for announcements.


As prerequisites, students are expected to be able to know how to program (your choice as to language), and will exercise this ability regularly in homework assignments and/or projects; students are also assumed to have taken the the first semester computational linguistics course or equivalent. If you lack any relevant prerequisites you are expected to work hard and catch up on things you don't know on your own.

How will class be structured?

I tend to start each class with an opportunity for questions or discussion related to the previous class or assignment. Then it's typically a lecture format, although I strongly encourage interruptions for questions and I also pause for discussions; if the number of interruptions threatens to throw me off track, trust me, I'll make sure to keep things under control. Although there's no avoiding some detail work at the board in a course like this, I don't particularly like slogging through details at the front of a room -- I believe that detailed working-through is your job, either when you're doing the reading ahead of class (which you should make sure to do!), going through things afterwards (also a good idea!), or both. My job is to make sure you understand the ideas, and that you have what you need to work through those details and understand why you're doing it.

How will the course be graded?

Students will be evaluated on their ability to master the content of the material in the course and to think critically about ideas presented to them. That last part is important. My favorite kind of question on a homework or on an exam is one where you're asked to assess pros and cons or to apply something you've learned to a new situation.

I assign final course grades by sorting everyone's total grades, identifying gaps between groups of students, and assigning students within those gaps the same grade. Creating equivalence classes in this way helps to ensure that students who are only a small fraction apart get the same grade. (For example, if three students have course totals of 86.1%, 89.9%, and 90.1%, I believe that its logical and fair for the middle student to be grouped with the student above rather than the student below.) Allowing for that adjustment, in general letter grades tend to work out according to the usual numeric ranges (90+ A, 80+ B, etc.) with plus and minus grades introduced as needed to permit appropriately finer-grained equivalence classes. Components of the total grade are as follows:

These are graded on a high-pass (100%), low-pass (50%) or fail (0%) basis. Some of these are one-week assignments, and others might be a multi-week assignment or project; either way the amount of time given for the assignment is calibrated to the amount of work that should be involved and the amount of credit you'll get for the assignment; for example, a particular homework might be described as a two-week assignment, meaning that you'll have two weeks to do it and you'll receive two homeworks' worth of credit for it. Assignments may involve on-paper exercises (e.g. walking through algorithms or calculations), hands-on programming, or analysis of data.

I am comfortable with students working together on assignments in part or in whole, and in fact I encourage it; if you'd like to do that please talk with me in advance so that we can discuss how to make sure you stay on the right side of the university's policies on academic dishonesty.

25%Midterm exam
This will be a take-home exam, and it will not involve programming. We often have a mixture of students, some of whom are able to work most on weekdays, others who really have most of their time on weekends; therefore I typically will hand out the exam at the end of class on Wednesday, and have it due at midnight on Sunday. But this does not mean that you're supposed to spend four full days working on the exam. If have mastered the content and are able to think critically about what we have covered in class, it shouldn't take any more time than typical take-home exams in other classes. I'm just giving you more wall-clock time for your flexibility.
25%Final exam
This will be structured as a multi-week team project that will definitely involve programming. It typically involves an open research problem that I will give you. Grading is based on the writeup, so it is extremely important that you devote significant time and attention to quality when writing up the project; don't leave this to the last minute.
5%Class participation
I care enough about participation to make it part of the grade. It may be a small part, but it's definitely been known to tip the balance from a B+ grade to an A-, so please don't neglect it. Participation in class and on Piazza both count. This is necessarily subjective, because I am judging both the quantity and quality of your participation, but the calibration is pretty straightforward. It's a 5-point scale, and if you regularly ask relevant questions, volunteer answers (even if they're wrong!), and help make the class discussion interesting, you'll get 5 out of 5 points. If you show up to class prepared and contribute to the conversation every couple of classes, you'll get 3 out of 5 points. If you are regularly sitting in class but participating rarely or not at all, you'll get 1 point for showing up. If you don't show up consistently, you'll get zero.
(4%)Extra credit for attending talks
You can earn 0.25% extra credit, up to a cumulative cap of 4%, for attending a relevant talk and turning in a one-page discussion of the talk. (I'd prefer you to post these on Piazza so the whole class can benefit, but it's ok if you'd prefer not to.) Attending the Computational Linguistics Colloquium definitely qualifies, and if there are other talks for which you'd like to do this, e.g. NACS or Linguistics speakers that are relevant for the class, ask me ahead of time and I'm happy to consider it, along with other possibilities if you have a legitimate schedule conflict that prevents your attending the CLIP Colloquium.

The discussion should contain two sections: (A) Summary: what the talk was about, and (B) Comments: discussion that shows you actually gave the talk some attention and thought, e.g. your opinions, how the talk relates to material in the class, possible applications of what you heard, etc. Writeups that just list what the speaker talked about ("The speaker talked about X. Then she talked about Y.") will receive no credit.

Going to relevant talks is a ridiculously easy way to boost your grade and see what's currently going on in the field, so I really encourage it.

ECExtra credit assignments
There will also probably be some extra credit offered, either within assignments or as extra assignments.

CS MS comps. MS comp grades for all students are the same as their final course grade. You really need to pay attention to this, because for CS there is a huge difference between a B+ and an A-.

Policy for Incomplete Work

Other important notes

Academic integrity policy. The Honor Code and Honor Pledge prohibits students from cheating on exams, plagiarizing papers, submitting the same paper for credit in two courses without authorization, buying papers, submitting fraudulent documents, and forging signatures. On the midterm and final, you will be expected to write and sign the following pledge: I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this examination (or assignment).

Cheating. What you represent as your own work must be your own work. However, talking with one another to understand the material better is strongly encouraged. Recognizing the distinction between cheating and cooperation is very important. If you simply copy someone else's solution, you are cheating. If you let someone else copy your solution, you are cheating. If someone dictates a solution to you, you are cheating. Everything you hand in must be in your own words, and based on your own understanding of the solution. If someone helps you understand the problem during a high-level discussion, you are not cheating. If you work collaboratively with explicit permission from the instructor, you are not cheating. We strongly encourage students to help one another understand the material presented in class, in the readings, and general issues relevant to the assignments. Any student who is caught cheating will be given an F in the course and referred to the University Student Behavior Committee. Please don't take that chance - if you're having trouble understanding the material, or if you need some help clarifying what is ok to do and what is not, please let us know and we will be more than happy to help.

Special needs. Any student eligible for and requesting reasonable academic accommodations due to a disability is requested to provide to the instructor a letter of accommodation from the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) within the first two weeks of the semester. You may reach them at 301-314-7682 or by visiting Susquehanna Hall on the 4th Floor.

Mental health issues. Let's face it: grad school can be really hard. Sometimes students don't know that they need help, or they somehow know they're in trouble but they don't know what to do about it. What's really important for you to know is that at a big university like this one, you don't need to cope with it alone. There are many people on this campus who know how to help students in all kinds of circumstances. It's their job. Some resources you can take advantage of include the Counseling Center, in the Shoemaker Building, 301-314-7651, and Mental Health Services, in the Health Center, 301-314-8106; the Office of Student Affairs, 301-314-8430, is another place you can connect with to find help of various kinds.

If you are concerned about the behavior of another student, and in particular if you are worried that they might pose a threat to themselves or others, see this page for students concerned about another student.

Anti-Harassment. The open exchange of ideas, the freedom of thought and expression, and respectful scientific debate are central to the aims and goals of a this course. These require a community and an environment that recognizes the inherent worth of every person and group, that fosters dignity, understanding, and mutual respect, and that embraces diversity. Harassment and hostile behavior are unwelcome in any part of this course. This includes: speech or behavior that intimidates, creates discomfort, or interferes with a person’s participation or opportunity for participation in the conference. We aim for this course to be an environment where harassment in any form does not happen, including but not limited to: harassment based on race, gender, religion, age, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Harassment includes degrading verbal comments, deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Please contact an instructor or staff member if you have questions or if you feel you are the victim of harassment (or otherwise witness harassment of others), or see for pointers to relevant resources.

Religious holidays. please send the instructor a list of all holidays you observe during the semester by the end of the first week of classes, so they can be taken into account in the course schedule.

Course evaluations. We welcome your suggestions for improving this class, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with the instructor or the TA during the semester! You will also be asked to give feedback using the CourseEvalUM system at the end of the semester. Your feedback will help us make the course better.

Right to change information. Although every effort has been made to be complete and accurate, unforeseen circumstances arising during the semester could require the adjustment of any material given here. Consequently, given due notice to students, the instructor reserves the right to change any information on this syllabus or in other course materials.

Philip Resnik, Professor
Department of Linguistics and Institute for Advanced Computer Studies

Department of Linguistics
1401 Marie Mount Hall            UMIACS phone: (301) 405-6760       
University of Maryland           Linguistics phone: (301) 405-8903
College Park, MD 20742 USA	   Fax: (301) 314-2644 / (301) 405-7104	   E-mail: resnik AT umd _DOT.GOES.HERE_ edu