SYMSYS 130: Research Methods in the Cognitive and Information Sciences
Picture of a tool box
              with high tech tools in it
2012-2013 Spring Quarter, Stanford University
3 units
Grading: Ltr-CR/NC
Mon, Wed 3:45 PM - 5:05 PM in 460-127B (in the Linguistics Department office cluster)
Instructor: Todd Davies
Instructor email address: davies at
Course website:
Course blog: The Research Thinker

[This version: June 20, 2013 - added link to Final - Instructor's Responses]

Course Description:

Understanding the different methodological approaches used in disciplines that study cognition and information. Philosophical/analytical, formal/mathematical, empirical, and computational thinking styles, with some attention to others as well. Scientific methods and foundational techniques will be emphasized. What assumptions underlie these methods? How can they be combined? How do practitioners of each discipline think differently about problems, and what are the challenges involved in studying or working across them?

Intended Population:

Students looking for a broad introduction to interdisciplinary research and methods in the cognitive and information sciences, as preparation for individual research or more advanced coursework. The course has no prerequisites.

This course fulfills the following concentration requirements for Symbolic Systems undergraduate majors.

The course is intended to complement, not to substitute for, courses in statistics, logic, formal modeling, and other techniques of research. Although we will discuss these topics, it will be at a conceptual level. My aim is to make the course appropriate both for students who have not yet taken more technical courses, and for those who have taken such courses but who want to learn more about the big picture: how methods fit together, why and how they differ, and how they can be used wisely.


In-class sessions will consist of interactive lectures and discussion. This will be the first time I have taught the course, so it will be somewhat experimental. There will be three homework assignments and a take-home final, all in short-essay format. The goal of the homeworks and final is to get students thinking critically and creatively about research and its methods. Readings for each session will be posted at least one week before the session, and will all be available electronically. The homeworks will each cover about 1/4 of the course. The final will be comprehensive, but weighted toward the last 1/4 of the course.

There is no TA for the course, but I will be available both in office hours and on the class email list to answer questions about class sessions, the readings, and the assignments.


Grades will be assigned based on the following factors.
60% Homework assignments (20% each x 3)
30% Take-home final
10% Attendance and participation
Tentative Schedule:

Mon. 4/1
Symbolic Systems and Its Cognate Fields
blog entry

Wed. 4/3
The Big 4 Methods
(Philosophical, Formal, Empirical, and Computational)
blog entry
Mon. 4/8
blog entry
Wed. 4/10
blog entry
Mon. 4/15
blog entry Homework 1 distributed
Wed. 4/17
Scientific Explanation
blog entry
Mon. 4/22
blog entry HOMEWORK 1 DUE
Wed. 4/24
Measurement and Meaning
blog entry
Mon. 4/29
Populations and Sampling
blog entry
Wed. 5/1
Testing and Surveying
  • Gerianne de Klerk, "Classical Test Theory (CTT)", In M. Born, C.D. Foxcroft & R. Butter (Eds.), Online Readings in Testing and Assessment, International Test Commission, 2008
  • Jon A. Krosnick, "Survey Research", Annual Review of Psychology 50:537-567, 1999
blog entry Homework 1 returned

Homework 2 distributed
Mon. 5/6
blog entry
Wed. 5/8
blog entry HOMEWORK 2 DUE
Mon. 5/13
Data Analysis
blog entry
Wed. 5/15
Modeling and Simulation
blog entry Homework 3 distributed
Mon. 5/20
Problem Solving
blog entry Homework 2 returned
Wed. 5/22
Design Thinking
blog entry
Fri. 5/24, 5pm

Wed. 5/29
Research Ethics
blog entry
Mon. 6/3
Communicating Research
blog entry
Wed. 6/5
Current Debates (with a guest appearance by Tom Wasow)
blog entry Homework 3 returned

Take-home final distributed
Mon. 6/10, 3:15pm

Thurs. 6/20, 4:30 pm

Take-home final returned