C SCI 4600 - In-Class Exercise No. 4
C SCI 4600 -- The Human-Computer Interface
Spring Semester, 2002

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

The Goal: To design a system intended for members of a special user community for whom an exciting application, careful choice of hardware, and innovative design of the interface are all critical to success.

The Scenario: The Liberty Science Center on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River (so named because of its proximity to the Statue of Liberty), and the San Francisco Exploratorium near Golden Gate Park, are two renowned hands-on children's science museums. The mission of these and similar institutions is to nurture interest in science and technology among children of all ages, by means of educational exhibits which are cleverly designed to be so compelling that young people patiently wait in line for their turn to interact with them--they want to have fun, to play--the educational objectives are almost hidden, or at least painless.

What To Do: In preparation for Tuesday's class, can you come up with a vision and preliminary ideas (e.g., mental images) of possible design(s) for a computer-based exhibit for a hands-on science museum, which will appeal to children at the elementary, junior high, and/or high school level? The choice of exhibit topic, hardware, and software platform are all up to you. Assume that cost is not a concern--be as creative as you want to be!

When you come to class on Tuesday, you will as usual divide up into small teams of 3-4 members, and rearrange seating as necessary to facilitate interaction. Each team member should try to "sell" his/her project idea to the team as a whole. After your team has agreed which project to pursue, you will try to develop specifics of the exhibit and its interfaces. Towards the end of the session, I will call for volunteers from a few teams to present the team's project design to the class, so as you work you should prepare a few overheads that convey an idea of your team's vision.

Are you up to the task? Can you be creative enough? If you're to succeed, you will have to grapple with a number of difficult issues. For starters, you need to come up with an exhibit design that avoids the mundane mouse/keyboard/CRT look of a PC. That's not easy to do, given the training you've been getting here at Rensselaer, as admirable as it may be in many ways. Projects of the sort you're accustomed to implementing in your engineering and Comp Sci courses just aren't going to cut it with your typical science museum visitor! Here are some things to think about:

If you do these things well, visitors will come away with a sense of enthusiasm and satisfaction, and will later tell their friends that your exhibit is not to be missed!

As usual, after the conclusion of the in-class part of the exercise your team should summarize its designs and the lessons learned in a written report which includes diagrams and illustrations as needed. Discuss what you perceive to be the advantages of your designs, and also possible problems. The report (one copy with all team member names listed) is due ten days after the in-class phase of the exercise is completed.