Course: Running online experiments in linguistics

Times: 1:30 - 5pm

Dates: Monday and Tuesday, 2 - 3 December 2019

Instructors:  Associate Professor Perfors, The University of Melbourne

Registration: Please register here for Summer School 2019



Linguistic research increasingly requires behavioural experiments, whether they involve teaching people artificial languages, crowdsourcing linguistic judgments, generating linguistic stimuli, or any of a huge number of potential applications. Online participant pools such as Prolific Academic or Amazon Mechanical Turk have made it possible to run such experiments extremely rapidly and reasonably cost-effectively. However, using these platforms requires researchers to be able to put their experiments online, which is not always straightforward – especially if the experiments are any more complicated than a simple survey. This course is designed to fill that gap.

In this course, Dr Perfors will be focusing on giving you the basic skills you need so that you can bootstrap yourself the rest of the way up to designing, implementing and hosting your own custom behavioural experiments. As such, it is focused on technical skills and will not focus on linguistic content (except in the examples). The skills that will be taught are those that are most important for people aiming to design linguistic experiments.

Assumed knowledge

Very little. You should know how to use a computer and will need your own laptop because this is a hands-on course.

Background knowledge

If you have any programming experience in anything other than JavaScript (e.g., R or Python) then you can be assured that you have sufficient background knowledge for this. If you haven’t, you’re probably still okay, but since Dr Perfors will be presenting a lot of information in a compressed amount of time, you might benefit from  a basic introduction to the fundamental concepts, like this Introduction to Javascript.


Before the course you will need to install some things on your computer so we can dive right into using them on the day (primarily backend stuff for Google AppEngine, where you’ll host your experiment). Dr Perfors will send out detailed instructions for how to do so before the course begins.


The first day of the course will involve putting experiments on a server using Google AppEngine, which is nice because it works from anywhere in the world (i.e., you aren’t chained to the server at whatever institution you’re at, which means that you can still use these skills if you move), it handles large amounts of traffic well, and it’s free.

The second day involves using JavaScript to implement a behavioural experiment. The goal is to provide enough information and background that you can teach yourself the rest using available online resources and examples.The course is designed to be entirely interactive, so you definitely need your own laptop,  and need to come prepared to actually do this stuff and ask lots of questions! (Enrolment is limited to 20 participants). 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University