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Day 1 topics (HCI teaching workshop)

by Steve Draper

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This workshop is about how we do teach HCI and how we should teach it. The general plan is bottom up rather than top down in two dimensions of scale and abstraction: from small pieces of a course (e.g. what small student exercises do we use) to the structure of whole degrees, and from the specific experiences of our teaching so far by induction to abstract principles. We hope to go away with some general ideas that might direct new practice in future, but we think it will make it more "real" to start by grounding that in sharing what we really do and what we have actually experienced. Having said that, a leavening of suggestions from those who haven't yet designed HCI courses may be useful. Plans without experience of the practical problems may be open to many criticisms, but it is also true (at least of me) that too much bruising from practical problems can lead to doing some things without believing in them because it seems to difficult to fight them. An interplay of principles and experience of problems should be fruitful.

Topics for day 1

While a provisional timetable is available on another page, here the discussion topics are discussed in detail. It would definitely help discussions if you prepared and brought a brief description of your own under each of the following headings. If you put them on the web in advance and send me the URL, I will link them in. If you don't have something to describe under a heading, bring questions or proposals for how you would do that activity, or reasons why you wouldn't want to.

Share details of large scale central exercises

Many HCI courses have a large exercise as a central feature involving implementing, testing, and revising a user interface. Do you do this? If so, what are the details of how you do it? For instance, I discovered recently that another teacher requires students to submit two sets of code (from before and after user testing and revision), while I only require them to describe problems found and changes made. Details like this affect how students pace themselves in a large exercise, and hence the resulting quality. I for instance have learned to demand an early report on initial work, just to make them start work in time. Other important background details are who the students are, especially their level of programming skill, and what language or environment they use for this exercise. What do people do for non-programming students? (I am considering a minimal manual exercise, which involves the same prototyping cycle, but for text rather than code.)


  • My own exercise is "ExA" in the table this link goes to.
  • See also Terry Anderson's answers to all this.

    Share details of other, smaller exercises

    What other exercises do people use, and how useful do they find them? For instance, I have an exercise for teaching non-psychologists basic questionnaire and interview techniques. Work by Phil and others on the MANTCHI project has developed some exercises on design notations like UAN and statecharts.


  • Pointer to all my exercises.
  • UAN (User Action Notation)
  • Statecharts
  • See also Terry Anderson's answers to all this.

    Articulate the chief aims for the central exercise

    Currently in many universities we are asked to provide learning aims and objectives for courses and for lectures but not for exercises. But what do we hope to achieve in providing exercises?

    My own best current attempt at my rationale for the central prototyping exercise I put on is: "To give them the experience of trying to do a good interface design, and then see users fail on it; and furthermore, to find that making changes to improve the interface in the light of this is fairly easy." This is not really "to give them practice in a technique", but more of trying to change their attitudes through an experience. If taken seriously it also leads to problems in assessment, since I don't care about the quality of their design but in whether they identified with it and then witnessed it failing. A student with above average intuitions could fail to have this experience through being too good at design: would produce good "work" here yet go out believing that user testing wasn't important -- a fatal error.

    What are your aims for such a central prototyping exercise, if you run one? (Or: what are your reasons for not having one?)

    Articulate the important aims for an HCI course

    Currently conventional requirements on teachers are to produce a set of testable learning objectives for a course, indeed for each lecture.

    In addition, and easily consistent with that, are feelings that:

    But what do we each think really matters in HCI? In my view, it is something like an attitude change that is the one important thing I would like to achieve for each student: something that could be described as "user-centered", but which is nothing to do with mouthing such a slogan, nor even being able to debate the good and bad senses of the slogan, but to do with their reaction to any given design problem.

    What in your view is the most fundamental aim of an HCI course?
    (My own current compromise over these conflicting issues is in the official description of my HCI module.)

    Can we justify each topic we teach?

    A related question is to ask, for each topic we teach in HCI, whether it is actually useful to students:

    Much HCI "theory" fails this test, even though it interests us and is straightforward to teach and examine.

    Explore collaborative HCI teaching at a distance

    The MANTCHI project (for links, see below) is exploring collaborative HCI teaching at a distance, with some exercises developed and offered by a remote expert. A feature is that this is done reciprocally: teachers exchange these. The question is, does this save enough work to be worthwhile? Are there other compensatory advantages? The problem is that some work always has to be done by the local teacher, and even more than expository material exercises need adapting to local conditions. Still, that is true of using a textbook or any material at all. In favour is the basic fact of university organisation: experts (specialised researchers) are scattered round the country, but have to teach "complete" HCI courses not just their speciality. Most of us know of topics we think would be good for students, but would like someone more experienced to do, or at least to design for us. As communications get radically better (faster internet, WWW, video conferencing), personal involvement of the remote expert also becomes possible without travel (and the uneconomic time penalties that involves).

    What do you think about this? Is it likely that HCI teaching could become much more collaborative, with units authored in rotation round many sites; and your teaching duties being partly local management of these imported units plus offering one of your own to a number of remote sites?

    Some links to MANTCHI


    Which books do you use, and why? and how? We hope to assemble mini-reviews that will together constitute advice on what to buy/use, how to use them (i.e. which bits are valuable in teaching and in what way), and more generally what it is that textbook users need and want.

    Other, newer media resources

    In addition to textbooks, journal articles and other print-based material, many of us use a variety of other teaching and learning resources, including video courses and video-delivered demonstrations of systems), multimedia courses, web-delivered lectures and seminars, web-based course materials, etc. Are these sorts of resource especially important for HCI teaching, as opposed to other topics? How do you exploit these resources? Are there resources which you don't now use which you would like to use? If so, what are they and what is preventing you using them now? Are there new sorts of teaching/learning resources in HCI which you anticipate becoming relevant to your teaching in the near future?

    What you have to do to prepare

    We ask you to prepare for the workshop to make the discussions go better.

    1. Please email me ( stating your degree of experience in teaching HCI.

      Example 1: I have taught HCI for 10 years, running a whole course; but apart from a very few guest lectures and industrial courses, it has always been to the same audience (a conversion MSc).

      Example 2: Phil Gray has taught HCI for about 10 years, but at 5 levels (4 undergraduate, and MSc level), although only to computer science students, plus industrial courses.

      (On the first day, much of the time will be spent in small group discussions, and my experience is that these will be most interesting if we mix people as much as possible, so that their past experience is as different as possible.)

    2. We shall produce a report from this workshop (see here). Please come prepared to volunteer to write a short report on a session.

    3. The topics for the first day are described above. Please come ready to summarise your practice or view on each of these eight topics to other participants.

    4. (The second day, coordinated by Chris Johnson, will consist of "debate" type discussions suggested by your position papers. They will be started by individuals who have agreed to this in advance.)

    Terry Anderson's answers to all this.

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