Friday, 09:00-11:50F, LIB 329

Please note: there is no class on 5 May; please attend Convergence.

The blog page link will be here

The schedule of topics and readings is here.

Voice interfaces are an emergent technology for interacting with computational routines and databases. This course is a seminar in designing, scripting, strategizing, developing, and learning this new style of interface, drawing largely on what is known about natural human/human verbal interaction, and on the computer-mediated tasks the interfaces will front.

This is a seminar course. Seminar comes (via German) from the Latin seminarium, for a "breeding ground" or "plant nursery," and we will take this etymology seriously. There will be lots of reading (the soil) in this course, and lots of talking (the sun and the rain), and lots of collaborating (the breeding and cross-pollinating). If you don't like intellectual horticulture, this may not be the course for you.

Randy Harris
Hagey Hall 247, x5362
Office Hours: Tuesdays, 8:00 - 9:00; Thursdays, 1:00 - 2:00
Home phone (Milton): (905) 876-3972

Nass, Clifford, and Scott Brave. 2006. Wired for Speech: How Voice Activates and Advances the Human-Computer Relationship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Harris, Randy. 2005. Voice Interaction Design: Crafting the New Conversational Speech Systems. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

Hutchby, Ian. 2001. Conversation and Technology: From the Telephone to the Internet. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Group Project, 50% (due 28 July)

Course participation, 25%

Class discussion, 15 %
Blogs, 10% (as below)
Small assignments, 25%


Collaboratively design a voice interface.

This may 'only' be a paper prototype, depending on the skill set of the class members, though a working VoxML prototype would be nice. It will involve

Please do not miss this: everybody in the group must submit an assessment memo assigning a (percentage) grade for their contributions to every one else in the group, along with at least one hundred words justifying that grade.

Your grade will be a simple 50/50 function of (1) my appraisal the group's design and report, and (2) the average of your group members' assessments of your contributions. If you do not submit the assessment memo, you will get 32% for the project.

Course Participation

Please keep in mind that this is a seminar: you are expected to take an active role in the development of the course. Come to class prepared, contribute to discussions, participate in our collective growth in understanding language, design and computer/human interaction. In particular, think reflectively about all the readings and assignments, and think publicly.

I will use a merit/demerit policy to evaluate your participation. Merit will be awarded primarily on the quality of participation: asking relevant questions; making relevant observations; complementing or advancing someone else's contribution; and generally being a constructive rhetor and interlocutor. Quantity of participation is a positive factor to the extent that more quality contributions are preferable to fewer quality contributions, but talking for the sake of talking is not generally a good idea.

Demerit will be assessed reluctantly, and only on the basis of repeated instances. The grounds for the demerit system are: absenteeism (you can't participate if you're not there); whispering or chatting while other people are talking; and/or making lengthy, unfocused comments that draw away from the general thread of discussion (verbal wanking).

You also get credit for blogging, according to the following scheme:

15 % of your participation mark will come from your active engagement with the issues in the class.

10% of your participation mark will come from your blogs (which will not be graded: you will get 10% for doing them all, on time, 5% if you miss one deadline, 0% if you miss more than one--yep, you read that correctly: 0%). 


The blogs should be 300-to-500-word opinionated responses to the week's readings and/or assignments, inter-larded with some evaluation of their cogency, relevance, and value. They should be submitted by 6:00 PM on the Wednesday before the class, beginning 10 May. Everyone is expected to read all the blogs before coming to class.

The blogs are your chance to (briefly) go off half cocked about anything you like that relates to the three themes of machines, conversation, and interface design, keyed to the readings.

Again, these assignments will not be graded, simply collected and tallied, though I will always read them with interest, and may occasionally write responses to them.

Small assignments

We will have quasi-regular small assignments, in which students take responsibility for some of the readings, or report on a specific voice interface, or investigate a pertinent technology, or explore an aspect of a relevant theory, and so on.

Draconian principles

No late assignments will be accepted, no extensions will be granted, and no incompletes will be awarded, without very strong reasons.

Press 8 for natural language

VUIs v. GUIs