Teaching Notes - Teaching about spelling and grammar correction

This post is a continuation from my previous post on teaching a 100-level undergraduate course called Language and Computers. As mentioned earlier, it is a very diverse class, and I use this textbook: Language and Computers by Marcus Dickinson, Chris Brew and Detmar Meurers. This post is about Chapter 2 of that book, called Writers’ Aids. The chapter primarily dealt with the intuitions behind spelling and grammar checkers.

What should be included for a class of diverse undergrad students, some of whom are just there to meet humanities credits? - is the question I spent a lot of time thinking while preparing and teaching for this topic.

For spelling correction, the textbook had detailed explanation of edit distance, which I thought was a little too much. While edit distance is a generic concept (IMO) for CS students and may be seen in other contexts as well, it is largely immaterial to, say, someone from advertising. So, what I did was this:

  • I discussed Soundex in detail, talking about its problems and positives.
  • I discussed edit distance only at the conceptual level. I did mention dynamic programming, but did not go out solving the problem in detail. I stopped at giving an intuition part.

For grammatical error correction, there was a lot of material on phrase structure grammars, which again felt like an overkill if the class is not exclusively consisting of CS or Linguistics students. So, I ignored most of the in depth discussion about grammar, but talked about error patterns, the idea of getting probabilities from number of occurrences of n-grams in a large corpus, and how to use that for grammar correction.

After finishing the topic, while sitting and re-thinking about it, it occurred to me I should perhaps do a class completely with questions. I am not sure if we can survive a full class with questions, but I thought of doing that in the next class - asking questions on this topic, and leading into the next topic (Language Tutoring Systems) also through a series of questions. I started teaching directly with graduate students after my PhD (even if the courses ranged from basics to advanced stuff). So, teaching a 100-level course is definitely a new experience.

Written on September 10, 2017