C SCI 4600 - First Day Handout
Welcome to C SCI 4600
The Human-Computer Interface
Spring Semester, 2002
Class Meets: Tue Fri 12:00-1:50 pm (LOW 3051)
Instructor: Ephraim P. Glinert
Office / Phone: Amos Eaton 127 / x-2657
I have 2 e-mail accounts!
For simple text use: firstname.lastname@example.org
For attachments use: email@example.com
Office hours: Tuesdays, 2:00-4:00 pm
Thursdays, 11:00 am-2:00 pm
My general policy is that you are welcome to phone my office
or to drop in ANY TIME. On rare occasions, I may ask you to
call back or return later if I'm busy.
Course TA: Arvind Venkatesan
Course overview. The objective of this course is to get you thinking
seriously about how people communicate with computers, both for input and
output, whether in general or for specific applications. In today's world,
human-computer interaction (HCI) is heavily influenced by the products
and de facto standards developed by Microsoft Corp. But things were not
always that way, and even in the Microsoft era there are other key factors
at work as well. The World Wide Web has become a dominant force. Small,
hand-held devices are playing an increasingly important role for many
tasks and applications. New algorithms and hardware are making it possible
to exploit multiple human sensory modalities in exciting ways. We will
review the rich history of HCI, see what today's state of the art is, and
imagine what tomorrow may hold. We will learn basic concepts, explore
design issues, and acquire practical experience in evaluating interfaces
of various kinds. Throughout the semester, the emphasis will be on
learning through watching and
doing, rather than on formal lectures.
Course text. The following excellent recent book is REQUIRED:
"Web Site Usability: A Designer's Guide"
by Jared M. Spool et al.
Morgan Kaufman Publishers, 1999 (ISBN 1-55860-569-X)
The following brand new book is RECOMMENDED as an outstanding reference
and modern overview of the field--worthy of inclusion in your personal
library--but it will not be required:
"Human-Computer Interaction in the New Millennium"
edited by John M. Carroll
ACM Press/Addison Wesley, 2002 (ISBN 0-201-70447-1)
In addition, we will make use of sources from the scientific literature
(especially conference proceedings), and numerous videos, as explained
What we will do in class. You will participate in several different
types of activities as part of this course. Lectures in the traditional
format just don't seem to me to make much sense for this type of material,
so we won't have any.
In-class exercises. There will be about half a dozen of these, as
time allows. They will provide us with a means for exploring important
issues in interface design in an interactive (human-human as well as
human-computer) setting. Some of these exercises may extend over more
than a single session. They will usually be conducted in small teams. At
the end of each in-class exercise, brief 3-5 minute oral presentations
by representatives of several teams, to be followed within 10 days by a
written report from each team which summarizes the lessons learned, will
be required. Here are examples of topics we may consider in this format:
Extrapolating where we might be in 10 years' time if the
plethora of current
hand-held devices converge.
Exploring alternatives in the design of a single interface
touch screen toggle button which can
be used to select or de-select an item.
Designing visualizations for both hierarchical and linear
information which allow
users to retain a sense of context
while moving among the various displays.
Using the "Game of Adumbration" to explore how little
screen real estate an
icon may require and still get its
intended message across.
How might a team of users exploit hand-held PDAs to
real tasks efficiently?
How can we design a "Personal Mobility Assistant" to
help visually impaired
people traverse uneven terrain
with confidence and security?
Presentations from the scientific literature. Becoming familiar with
the current scientific literature, particularly conference proceedings, is
an important skill which is sometimes overlooked in undergraduate courses.
During the second part of the term you will investigate some aspect of
HCI by reading one or more papers presented during the past two years at
major scientific conferences organized by the Association for Computing
Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
(IEEE). The specific selections will be determined in accordance with your
personal interests, in consultation with me, and will be drawn from sources
such as the following, all of which are available for perusal online in the
ACM and IEEE digital libraries to which Rensselaer subscribes, as well as
in traditional hardcopy format in my office:
ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI)
ACM User Interface Software and Technology (UIST)
ACM Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI)
ACM/SIGCAPH Assistive Technologies (ASSETS)
IEEE Wearable Computers (ISWC)
IEEE Visual Languages (VL), recently renamed Human-Centric
Languages and Environments (HCC)
After carefully and thoroughly digesting your readings, you will present
and evaluate what you've learned to the class. In your talk, which should
be timed to last approximately 25-30 minutes, your mission will be not
only to distill the important results from your paper(s), but also to
critique the research for positive and negative qualities, as may be
appropriate. For your talk, you are encouraged to use MS/PowerPoint on
your laptop or from the computer on the classroom podium; you may also
take advantage of the classroom VCR and overhead projector if you wish.
A one-page handout containing full citation information as well as an
abstract for your paper(s) will be required. More details will be
provided when the time comes.
Video labs. Each week, we will watch one or more scientific videos.
Some of these will allow you to hear guest lectures by renowned computer
scientists on relevant topics; others will explore important concepts in
ways which would not be possible using traditional media, or will enable
you to see systems in action which would be impossible using computer
equipment available on campus (either because they are one of a kind
research prototypes or because they are of historical interest). At the
conclusion of each video lab you will be expected to summarize in writing
what you've learned by completing a brief "lab report" on special forms
which will be provided. Here's a sample of some of the tapes we'll see:
- "All the Widgets." Scroll bars, menus, command and radio buttons,
etc. What are the components of the graphical human-computer interface?
This video, edited by Brad Myers of CMU, is an encyclopedic compendium of
the many ways in which they had been designed and implemented up to 1990
(before the era of Microsoft standardization).
- "Creating a Well-Designed User Interface." Tandy Trower,
director of the Advanced User Interface Design Group at Microsoft,
discusses his experiences and shares his perspectives on creating
practical applications for consumers.
- "Doing with Images makes Symbols: Communicating with Computers."
This talk, recorded over a decade ago, features Alan Kay. Now an Apple
Fellow, he envisaged the laptop more than a decade before there even were
personal computers! Perhaps we can learn something from how he and his
colleagues kept a keen eye on the every-day world to help them conduct
their pioneering research.
- "Visual Programming in Data Flow Environments." Craig Upson of
Silicon Graphics explores novel ways in which programmers might interact
with the computer, and discusses some of the underlying technical issues.
- "Automatic Speech Recognition." Kai-Fu Lee from Apple Computer
recorded this talk in 1993, discussing what was then the state of the art
and speculating on what might be possible in 10 years. Let's see if he got
We will also view a number of research collections from major conferences
such as ACM's CHI and UIST.
The homework projects. Your grade for the course will be determined,
in part, by the classroom activities outlined above. The remainder of the
grade will derive from 3-4 homework projects, as time allows, all of which
will relate to design, implementation and/or evaluation of web and/or
interface resources. The first of these assignments may be found at
the end of this handout.
Tests. None will be given.
The course letter grade. Your grade will be computed according to
the following simple algorithm:
Note that PARTICIPATION IN CLASS ACTIVITIES THROUGHOUT THE SEMESTER is key
to success! I will be delighted if you all earn 4 points, and thereby get
a grade of "A" in the course. But should circumstances arise which you
feel warrant special consideration in determining your final grade, please
do not hesitate to come discuss them with me. In particular, if you
know you will need to miss a class, please let me know in advance!
- You get ONE POINT for doing each of the following:
So you can get up to FOUR POINTS IN TOTAL.
Participating in the in-class exercises,
missing no more than one at most.
Participating in the video labs,
missing no more than two at most.
Presenting a talk from the scientific literature, and attending the
presentations by your classmates, missing no more than one
session at most.
Satisfactorily completing all homework assignments in a timely
- Your letter grade will then be calculated as follows:
Approximate course syllabus. The following is intended to give you
a good idea of what we will do, especially during the first part of the
semester; I will try my best to adhere to the schedule shown, but some
deviation may be unavoidable.
Tue, Jan 15: Introduction and Course Overview.
Fri, Jan 19: Video Lab. "The Machine that Changed
the World--Part I" (PBS/ACM). This remarkable documentary chronicles the
development of the computer, and affords you a rare opportunity to see and
hear some of the people involved talk about the marvelous devices they
invented. Pay particular attention to the human-computer interface!
Tue, Jan 22: In-class Exercise I.
Fri, Jan 25: Video Lab. "The Machine that Changed
the World--Part II" (PBS/ACM). The continuation of this documentary
chronicles the developments in the computer industry through the end of the
1960's and explains the tie-ins to the space program.
Tue, Jan 29:
Tue, Feb 05:
Tue, Feb 12:
Tue, Feb 26:
Tue, Mar 05: In-class Exercises II-VI
NOTE: No class on Tue, Feb 19, as this has been declared a
Monday for scheduling purposes.
Tue, Mar 12 and Fri, Mar 15: SPRING BREAK!
Tue, Mar 19:
Tue, Mar 26:
Tue, Apr 02:
Tue, Apr 09:
Tue, Apr 16:
Fri, Apr 19: Student Presentations from the
Scientific Literature. Talks which should have been on Tue, Apr 23 will
instead be given on the preceding Fri, Apr 19, to avoid a scheduling
Fri, Feb 01:
Fri, Feb 08:
Fri, Feb 15:
Fri, Feb 22:
Fri, Mar 01:
Fri, Mar 08:
Fri, Mar 22:
Fri, Apr 05:
Fri, Apr 12:
Tue, Apr 23:
Fri, Apr 26: Video Labs NOTE: No
class on Fri, Mar 29 due to Passover. The video lab on Fri, Apr 19 has
been moved to the following Tue, Apr 23, due to a scheduling conflict.
Tue, Apr 30 Course Wrap-Up.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT #1
Due: Friday, March 1
Read the text by Spool et al. in its entirety. We want to apply the
ideas in the text to the evaluation of two airline web sites, with respect
to three tasks which people might reasonably want to perform:
You choose the two airlines whose web sites you want to check out, subject
to the constraint that one must be a major United States carrier (such as
American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, United, US Airways,
etc), whereas the other must be an international carrier (such as Air
France, Alitalia, British Airways, El Al, Japan Airlines, Virgin Atlantic,
etc). Try to perform each of the three tasks enumerated above in turn, for
both sites. Keep records of how long it takes you to complete the tasks
(e.g., how many links you have to follow), of what difficulties you
encounter (e.g., blind alley from which you need to backtrack), and other
relevant information in accordance with the criteria for good web site
design discussed in the text. DO NOT ACTUALLY BUY ANY TICKETS, PLEASE!
- Price a roundtrip ticket between points A and B for given dates.
- Price a roundtrip ticket between points A and B for the lowest possible
fare, when the travel dates are somewhat flexible.
- Price a ticket for a "triangular" (three segment) trip from point A
to point B to point C returning to point A.
When done, prepare a written report in which you:
Use MS/Word and other Office tools as needed to prepare your report,
then e-mail the report to me by the due date. CAUTION: Be sure to
use the correct address when sending me attachments!
Summarize your findings for the three tasks posed above.
Critique the two web sites you explored with respect to the textbook's
Discuss whether the criteria in the text are incomplete or inappropriate
in some way for today's web--the book was written about 3 years ago--and
if so what would you change?