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Education: Forums for Improving HCI Education

Andrew Sears

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Introduction

As HCI continues to mature as a discipline, educators face a challenging task. HCI educators need to keep up with the changing definition of HCI, understand what industry is experiencing, and where research is heading. To do this, HCI educators must continue to discuss the discipline and how they teach it.

For many years, HCI education has had a presence at the annual CHI conferences in the form of workshops and occasionally as a SIG session, poster, or panel. As a result, CHI offers opportunities to discuss pedagogy, contact HCI professionals working in industry, and explore the latest directions in HCI research. CHI can be the perfect opportunity to satisfy all three of these needs: discussing pedagogy, contact with industry, and hearing about research.

Unfortunately, many educators do not attend CHI. The reasons vary, but cost and timing seem to be two of the more common reasons. Many educators are at smaller universities and have limited access to travel funds. Since CHI can be expensive and is usually held in the middle of the academic calendar, many of these educators rarely attend CHI.

This raises the questions: What is the right forum for discussing HCI education? Does CHI provide the necessary environment? Can on-line discussions suffice? Is a new event needed? How can educators most effectively discuss educational issues and keep up with industry and research?

Where Should HCI Education Be Discussed?

Two things are clear: opportunities to study human-computer interaction are becoming more prevalent and HCI is still maturing as a discipline. Educators must help students acquire the skills, knowledge, and experiences that provide a foundation they can build on. As the number of courses, concentrations, and degrees grows, it is increasingly important for HCI educators to have a forum where they can share their thoughts, successes, concerns, and resources.

The CHI Conferences

Educational issues have been discussed at CHI for over 10 years. The first event was probably a workshop at CHI '85 (Mantei, 1985). With the publication of the ACM SIGCHI Curricula for Human-Computer Interaction, a series of workshops began that continued through 1996 (Hewett et al., 1992). Educational issues have been discussed in a variety of formats including Posters (CHI '94, CHI 96), the Research Symposium (CHI '95), SIG/Birds-of-a-Feather Sessions (CHI '91, CHI '94, CHI 97), Workshops (CHI '85, CHI'92, CHI '93, CHI '94, CHI '95, CHI 96), and Panels (CHI '94, CHI'95, CHI 97). This is not a complete list of education-oriented activities, but it does demonstrate that HCI education always has a presence at CHI. Reports on these activities can be found in the CHI Proceedings and the CHI Conference Companions. Additional write-ups can be found in past issues of the Bulletin. More information about the CHI 97 events will appear in the October 1997 issue of the Bulletin.

As evidenced by the past, education plays an important role at the annual CHI conferences. Tutorials provide opportunities for HCI professionals to update their skills and knowledge. Panels and Posters provide opportunities to share educational issues with the HCI community in general. Workshops and Birds-of-a-Feather sessions provide opportunities to discuss educational issues. Currently, workshops are probably the best venue for educational issues at CHI.

Even if HCI education continues to be represented by only one or two official events each year, CHI is still a valuable opportunity for HCI educators. CHI always provides some opportunities to discuss pedagogy as well as interaction with industry representatives and an overview of recent HCI research. If you are interested in HCI education and have not attended CHI, you should try. It is not cheap and the timing may be difficult, but the experience will be worth it. If it is your first time at CHI, the workshops and tutorials before the conference provide good opportunities to meet people and there is always something relevant to an HCI educator.

What If Attending CHI is not Possible?

Since attending CHI is not possible for everyone, especially some of the educators that are most interested in expanding the opportunities students have to study HCI, alternative forums need to be explored. Even if everyone could attend CHI, the conference cannot satisfy every need, so other forums are necessary. SIGCHI is addressing this issue in several ways. SIGCHI regularly sponsors working groups, workshops, and other activities that focus on educational issues. Currently, SIGCHI is sponsoring at least two working groups that deal with HCI education. One focuses on continuing education (contact Marian Williams, williams@cs.uml.edu) while the other is trying to identify resources that can make it easier for HCI education to expand (contact Andrew Sears, sears@cs.depaul.edu). In addition to sponsoring these activities, SIGCHI has added an education section to its web site

http://www.acm.org/sigchi/education/. I encourage anyone with material they consider useful to send email to: infodir_sigchi@acm.org. SIGCHI is interested in advancing HCI education, so we can expect to see additional events and activities in the future.

While working groups, web sites, and email lists are valuable, they cannot replace face-to-face communication. Events at CHI are important, but CHI is not accessible to everyone that would benefit the most. So, as we search for the best way to educate future HCI professionals we must also search for the most effective ways to share our ideas. Perhaps this is an opportunity for a new event that focuses primarily on educational issues related to HCI. Distance learning is becoming more common, perhaps CHI Workshops could explore this technology so more people could attend. Which solutions will be the most effective is not clear, but what is clear is that the time is right for HCI educators to work together to expand educational opportunities, share their knowledge and experience, and improve HCI education.

A Few Final Words (Again)

As always, if you have resources to share or time to dedicate to improving the status of HCI education, please let me know. A number of projects are under way to address these and other issues related to HCI education and more energy is always welcome. If you are trying to expand the HCI offerings at your institution and have questions without answers, let me know. I'll do my best to provide answers or to put you in touch with someone else who might be able to. Finally, if you have issues you would like to see discussed in the Bulletin, please contact me. Contact information can be found inside of the front cover of the Bulletin.

Acknowledgments

I want to thank my pool of informal reviewers for helping me shape these ideas and put them down on paper. In particular, I want to thank Mary Czerwinski and Julie Jacko for providing comments on earlier drafts. Mary's thoughtful comments took a bunch of thoughts and turned them into an article with a purpose thanks!

References

Hewett, T., Baecker, R., Card, S., Carey, T., Gasen, J., Mantei, M., Perlman, G., Strong G., and Verplank, W. (1992). ACM SIGCHI Curricula for Human-Computer Interaction. Report of the ACM SIGCHI Curriculum Development Group, ACM. (available at ftp://archive.cis.ohio-state.edu/pub/hci/CDG)

Mantei, M. (1985). "Recommendations of the SIGCHI curriculum workshop", SIGCHI Bulletin 17, 2, p. 1719.

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Vol.29 No.2, April 1997
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