Human Factors from 30,000ft – Gime Feedback!

At Night from 30,000ft

I’m writing a final year undergraduate unit on Human Factors – it will be the first that that they have seen being that we are a hardcore engineering School – and I’d like your thoughts! Ignore the administrative stuff associated with work her in Manchester, but what about the unit content and the reading list (both at the bottom)? Any suggestions for units that have already proved effective will be greatly appreciated!

Human Factors from 30,000ft: Undergraduate Third Year Syllabus

Dr S Harper, School of Computer Science, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, UK

COMPxxxxx: Human Factors from 30,000ft


COMP23420: Software Engineering – or a demonstrable equivalence.


‘The human mind …operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.”

This idea, first proposed by Vannevar Bush in his 1945 Atlantic Monthly article ‘As We May Think’, is credited with being the inspiration, and precursor, for the modern World Wide Web. But for most of his article, Bush was not concerned with the technical aspects of his system. Instead, as with most computer visionaries, he was more focused on how the computer system and its interfaces could help humanity. He wanted us to understand that instead of fitting into the way a computer interacts and presents its data, the human cognitive and interactive processes should be paramount. In short, the computer should adapt itself to accommodate human needs; not the reverse.

Since the early days of computer science, with the move from punch cards to QWERTY keyboards, from Doug Englebart’s mouse and rudimentary hypertext systems, via work on graphical user interfaces at Xerox PARC, to the desire to share information between any computer (the World Wide Web), the human has been at the heart of the system. Human Factors – and more particularly Human Computer Interaction – has had a long history in terms of computer science, but is relatively young as a separate subject area. In some ways, its study is indivisible from that of the components which it helps to make usable, however, as we shall see in this unit, key scientific principles different from most other aspects of computer science, support and underlay the area.

‘Human Factors’ is not a simple subject to study for the Computer Scientist, it is an interdisciplinary subject which covers aspects of computer science, ergonomics, interface design, sociology and psychology. It is for this reason that human factors are often misunderstood, being classified by mainstream computer scientists as ‘soft’; a reference to their supposed lack of mathematical rigour. However, as we shall see, if human factors are to be understood and applied correctly an enormous amount of effort, mathematical knowledge, and understanding is required to both create new principles, and apply those principles in the real world. As with other human sciences, there are no 100% correct answers, everything is open to error because the human, and the environment they operate within, is incredibly complicated. It is difficult to isolate a single factor, and there are many extraneous hidden factors at work in any interaction scenario; in this case the luxury of a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is not available. The ‘up–side’ is that this level of complexity makes the study of human factors incredibly interesting and incredibly challenging if done correctly; if you are up to this challenge then this is the unit for you.


Human Factors is ’the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a computer system or
technology, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimise human well-being and overall system performance.’

This unit, therefore, covers interdisciplinary topics from HCI, Ergonomics and Human factors, to enable measurement and understanding of the computer, software, interfaces – and the human interactions associated with them – and the application of this understanding to improve its accessibility, usability, and systems dynamics. It introduces students to the factors which enable and affect the human aspects of the interface and provides an overview of the tools, techniques, and training for its study and modification.

Learning Outcomes

A2/A3/A5: Have an understanding of the domain, concepts, and important and upcoming aspects of Human Com- puter Interaction along with aspects of user interaction and cognition. In particular to have an understanding of the importance of Standards, Technologies, and Guidelines in the engineering process;

C1/C4: Have an understanding of the relevant research methods including experiment design, application, and the ethical issues surrounding such a design;

A1/D6: Have an understanding of, and be able to select and apply, the relevant descriptive and inferential statistical tests associated with Human Factors Engineering;

B1/C4: Be able to analyse and critique Human Factors research, experimental studies, and computer interfaces; and

B3/C4: Use analysis techniques associated with their knowledge of the domain to understand the problems associated with different designs, and suggests solutions for their resolution.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are variously assessed by Examination (1×50%), Laboratory Reports (2×10%), and Open Book Term Papers (6×5%):

A2/A3/A5: Examination;

A1/C1/C2/C4: Laboratory Report – in the form of a full ethical application (this will take the form of a graded ethical application based the students final year project – students will be assigned a faux project if their final year project is not suitable) – an understanding of research methods will also be tested via Examination;

B1/C4: Open Book Term Papers – papers and texts will serve as discussion topics which will give rise to concise 200 word essays analysing and/or critiquing the topic under discussion – an understanding of the most important topics which arise from these analysis will also be tested via Examination; and

B3/C2/C4/D6: Laboratory Report – a student will select a previous software engineering project, which they will critique from the new knowledge, understanding, and perspectives gaining in this unit.

Contribution to Programme Learning Outcomes

A1, A2, A3, A5, B1, B3, C1, C2, C4, D2, D4, D5, D6.


The unit comprises twenty-two teaching sessions with one extra for the covering of revision topics. Students will be expect to devote further time for their own study, for report creation, and for the completion of the open book term papers – this is expected for all units and is detailed in the course / programme handbook.

Fifteen traditional lectures will be interspersed with seven discussion lectures in which the material for the term papers will be discussed. The majority of this material will be covered by directed reading followed by group discussion. Practical work will take the form of two laboratory reports based on the creation of an application for research ethics approval for the students third year project, along with a critique of the students previous Software Engineering HCI focused work. The unit will progress as follows:

1. What are Human Factors? Why are they Important? What is the Scientific Method? What does the Human Factors landscape look like?
2. Man-Computer Symbiosis, Licklider JCR, 1960.
3. People, Perception, Cognition, and Barriers; and
4. Society.?
5. Discussion Topic: The Information Capacity of the Human Motor System in Controlling the Amplitude of Movement, Fitts PM, 1954.

6. Requirements Elicitation & Analysis;
7. Modelling User Requirements: Use Cases, Scenarios, and Personas;
8. Discussion Topic: Evaluation of mouse, rate-controlled isometric joystick, step keys, and text keys for text selection on a CRT, Card, S. K, 1978.
9. Interface Design and Prototyping; and
10. Developing the Interface / Standards and Guidelines.11. Discussion Topic: Smith, D. C., E. F. Harslem, C. H. Irby, R. B. Kimball, and W. L. Verplank. ”Designing the Star User Interface.” Byte, April 1982.

12. Planning Experiments: formative and summative investigations, and research ethics;
13. Qualitative and Quantitative Methods;
14. Sampling, Participant selection and recruitment, Participant Homogeneity, Cross-Disciplinary Issues and ‘Hot- Spots’;
15. Discussion Topic: The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits On Our Capacity for Pro- cessing Information, Miller GA, 1956.
16. Laboratory, Naturalistic, and ‘In the Wild’ Studies; and
17. Human Factors for Real.
18. Discussion Topic: Voice loops as cooperative aids in space shuttle mission control, Watts, Jennifer C. and Woods, David D. and Corban, James M. and Patterson, Emily S. and Kerr, Ronald L. and Hicks, LaDessa C., 1996.

19. Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis Techniques;
20. Descriptive Statistics;
21. Inferential Statistics; and
22. Writing and Reporting.

Revision and Variance:
23. The Unit Revision Lecture; and
24. Variance: Just in case something goes wrong or we take longer than expected to cover the topics.

Reading List
There is no single book covering all material and there is no need for the students taking the course to buy any book, however, the following give a good introduction to the area:
1. Rosenberg, A. Philosophy of science: a contemporary introduction, 2nd ed ed. Routledge, New York, 2005.
2. Dix, A., Finlay, J., Abowd, G., and Beale, R. Human Computer Interaction, 2 ed. Prentice Hall, London, UK, 2002.
3. Nielsen, J., Weiss, S., Kearns, S., and Eberhardt, J. Understanding what users want. New Riders Publishing, Indianapolis, IN, 2001.
4. Raskin, J. The humane interface: new directions for designing interactive systems. Addison Wesley, Reading, Mass., 2000.
5. Shneiderman, B., and Plaisant, C. Designing the User Interface : Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction (4th Edition). Addison Wesley, 2004. ISBN – 0321197860.
6. Bryman, A. Social research methods, 3rd ed ed. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008. 7. Forshaw, M. Easy statistics in psychology: a BPS guide. Blackwell Pub., Malden, MA, 2007.


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