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You are here: Home 1997 Vol. 29 No. 3, July 1997 Columns Education: The SIGCHI Educational Resource Development Group
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Education: The SIGCHI Educational Resource Development Group

Andrew Sears, Julie A. Jacko, and Marilyn Mantei

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Introduction

Dynamic HCI curricula strike a balance between understanding concepts, knowledge of facts, and acquisition of skills in analysis, design, implementation, and communication. The interdisciplinary nature of HCI provides another dimension upon which to build exceptional curricula. Unfortunately, it has been difficult for HCI educators to achieve this balance while drawing upon interdisciplinary expertise. One reason is the lack of a central depository for the information and resources that are otherwise distributed both geographically and across disciplines.

In an attempt to foster exceptional HCI courses, degree programs, and HCI research in support of teaching, SIGCHI has provided support for a working group called the SIGCHI Educational Resource Development Group. This group is tasked with:

  • identifying resources that would empower educators to establish dynamic HCI curricula and degree programs; and
  • identifying mechanisms for the dissemination of such educational resources.

The group is particularly interested in helping educators introduce HCI into existing courses as well as aiding those interested in developing new courses, concentrations, and degrees. This group gathered in Atlanta, just prior to CHI 97, to discuss the results acquired thus far, and to develop a plan for future activities. This article summarizes the first meeting of the SIGCHI Educational Resource Development Group and concludes by describing several on-going efforts to address the working group's goals.

Participants

The meeting included attendees representing North America, the Pacific Rim, Europe, and Eastern Europe. Attendees represented large universities to small 2-year colleges. Some had years of experience teaching HCI while others were preparing to teach their first HCI course. The attendees were:

Andrew Sears, SIGCHI Educational Resource Development Group Chair, DePaul University, U.S.A.
Martin Barrett, East Tennessee State University, U.S.A.
Peter Gorny, University of Oldenburg, Germany
Don Hameluck, IBM Toronto Lab, Canada
Julie Jacko, Florida International University, U.S.A.
Debra Jusak, Western Washington University, U.S.A
Laurie Kovijanic, Regis College, U.S.A.
Marilyn Mantei, University of Toronto, Canada
Alexander Nikov, Technical University of Sofia, Bulgaria
Richard Thomas, University of Western Australia
Marla Weston, Camosun College, Canada

The Objectives

In anticipation of the CHI 97 working group meeting, attendees surveyed higher education units to assess the need for HCI resource development. Surveys were conducted in several countries and involved educators representing a variety of disciplines. Pedagogical support for HCI education was cited as a definite need by a large segment of the population. Many colleges and universities wanted to offer an HCI course or build a curriculum around HCI, but lacked the resources needed to do so.

In order to build upon the foundation established through the surveys, participants focused on the need for educational resources for teaching HCI. Participants addressed questions such as:

  • What resources are needed?
  • Who needs these resources?
  • What resources are available now?
  • How should a compendium of such resources be organized and presented?
  • How should such resources be disseminated?
  • How do we let people know that these resources exist?

The meeting also began addressing the issue of who is going to gather, organize and make these resources available.

The Process

The meeting began with introductions. Each participant expressed his or her perspective on, and experiences with, HCI education. In the morning session, attendees broke out into three groups. Each group was tasked with identifying resources that would be useful to educators teaching HCI. The resources were prioritized to help focus future efforts. In the afternoon session, attendees worked on solutions to the resource issue. Locations of existing resources were identified, mechanisms for obtaining the non-existing ones were discussed, and ways to make these resources available were suggested. Finally, various attendees volunteered to lead the efforts on certain tasks.

War stories flowed at breaks and lunch, and in the group of 11 people, course materials were distributed, web sites exchanged, and available books critiqued for what they offered and how students reacted to their content. The intensity and amount of the exchange in the microcosm of this meeting indicated that SIGCHI could provide a useful service in this arena.

The Results

Five major needs were identified:

  • Materials to support HCI courses
  • A central, accessible, depository for educational resources
  • An effective organization of the resources
  • An evaluation of the resources
  • Money

Materials to Support HCI Courses

Items in this category were the original concern of the working group. Of primary importance to educators were course outlines, example assignments and example exams. A strong emphasis was placed on having the assignments and exams come with proposed solutions. Tricks, tips, tools, and techniques used to teach various HCI topics, with an evaluation of what worked and why, were viewed as a valuable resources. Other materials that were much in demand included examples of successful HCI programs, descriptions of HCI curriculum, a list of the best papers on various HCI issues, videotapes which illustrate specific HCI issues, war stories to relate to classes (this received special emphasis), software tools, and example checklists of guidelines and user interface principles.

A Single Accessible Source

Attendees felt that the one of the biggest problems they faced was the scattered nature of the material currently available and its incompleteness. Although many instructors place course materials on the WWW, they are rarely complete and often do not provide a comprehensive picture about how to teach the course described. A single source with pointers to existing resources and comments on how they might be used was uniformly agreed upon as a very useful solution. It was felt that the mechanism that would best serve this purpose would be a SIGCHI web site for educational resources.

An Effective Organization

A major complaint by the participants was the insurmountable problem of sifting through the resources that are currently available. A single source would help, but an effective organization was seen as a critical component. A decision tree was suggested for the web page which would allow a newcomer to specify the type of material in which they were interested. Different organizing structures were suggested which included the following:

  • by discipline (e.g., computer science, engineering, human computer interaction, psychology)
  • by type of program (e.g., 2-year vs. 4-year, small college vs. large university)
  • by level in program (e.g., introductory, 3rd-4th year undergraduate, graduate course)
  • by type of material presented (i.e., degree, concentration, or single course)
  • by length of material (e.g., quarter vs. semester, no. of weeks in course, lecture hours/week)
  • by language (e.g., material in English, German, Japanese)

A Resource Evaluation

There was general agreement that many resources already exist. The problem is often not knowing what resources to use. An evaluation of how and when various resources could most effectively be used. This was particularly true about HCI textbooks and papers. Attendees expressed a very strong interest in knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each book and in having a list of what people considered the seminal papers in the field. There was also a desire to have various curricula discussed with a candid description of what succeeded and what failed for each. This need was translated to courses.

Money

Attendees lamented the lack of money to provide good HCI education. This translated primarily into a lack of time. With the demands of today's educational institutions, educators find themselves caught in the teaching trenches. They need release time to learn about HCI material and to develop courses and curricula that match their institution's needs. Money can buy release time.

Money is also required for resources needed to develop HCI labs. Such labs are expensive to set up and maintain. Teaching assistants and lab managers are hard to support financially with today's tight budgets. A solution is to make available inexpensive approaches used successfully by others for conveying HCI concepts and giving students hands-on experiences. Another resource that would contribute to program success is a list of successful methods that others have used for obtaining financial support for HCI education.

Other Results

Participants identified many other items that would be beneficial:

  • Lists of job skills that are needed for various HCI positions
  • Translation of existing resources into other languages
  • Establishment of regional birds-of-a-feather (special interest) groups
  • Job listings and internships for students
  • Mechanisms for getting students more involved in CHI and SIGCHI
  • Tips for solving difficult department/faculty/university political problems associated with introducing an HCI course or curriculum
  • Education for the educators giving pointers on the underlying theory and understanding of topics that fall out of an educator's primary discipline

It is important to reiterate that many of these resources already exist. For example, several groups have identified the skills and knowledge needed by HCI professionals and there are efforts underway to get more students involved with SIGCHI via the SIGCHI Kits for Students project. However, this meeting confirmed that many of these resources are not adequately publicized. Alerting HCI educators to the resources that already exist will go a long way to solving some of these problems.

The Plan of Attack

The group brainstormed ways in which educational resources could be gathered and disseminated to the meet the needs of the community. A number of specific tasks were identified. Volunteers agreed to start work on the first four tasks listed below. The meeting adjourned with an intent to meet again and plan ways to tackle the remaining tasks:

  • Development of a web site
  • Survey of the HCI community for a top 10 paper list
  • Soliciting tricks, tips, tools, and techniques HCI instructors use to convey various ideas
  • Use of the SIGCHI Bulletin as a publication source
  • Building a CDROM for dissemination of HCI video material and graphic images
  • Presentations at regional education conferences such as the Small College Computing Conference (SCCC) and the regional meetings on Computer Science Education (CSE)
  • Encouragement for authors to provide course materials with books
  • Dissemination of pointers to resources via media and international educational units, e.g., attracting the attention of CNN and the UN
  • Development and coordination of a visitor list so that small colleges and universities could have access to experienced HCI educators who are visiting their region

The Web Site

A web site pointed to by the SIGCHI web site was viewed as a primary mechanism for delivering educational resources. Several volunteers agreed to lead this effort. The goal is to organize and evaluate both existing and newly developed resources.

Survey Collecting Top Paper Information

Although collections of papers exist already, they are quickly dated. Furthermore, HCI educators often do not know the literature in fields beyond the HCI topics they focus on and newcomers to the field are often left without any idea of where to start. To provide a broad-based overview of HCI, it is useful to know which papers are considered seminal by each of the respective sub-communities in CHI. Therefore, volunteers were solicited to conduct a survey asking community members to pinpoint the best papers in their research or practice area. The topic areas will be selected from the CHI call for papers. The top papers in each area will be gleaned from this survey.

Collecting Tricks, Tips, Tools, and Techniques

Every educator has their favorite methods of teaching a variety of topics. Every time educators gather and begin discussing the techniques they use, someone leaves with something new to try in their classes. Gathering a collection of these tricks, tips, tools, and techniques and describing how they are used and why they work would be extremely valuable, especially to someone developing new courses. These may be as simple as a short classroom exercise, a small Java applet that demonstrates a fundamental concept from HCI, or a small assignment that highlights an important idea.

Use of the SIGCHI Bulletin to Attract and Publish Resources

The SIGCHI Bulletin was identified as a tool for gathering education resources that are needed but have not been developed and for advertising existing resources. Future articles will continue to encourage educators to contribute to these efforts, either with their time or resources.

Conclusion

The meeting generated approximately two years of volunteer work plus a continuing task of keeping the various resources up-to-date. The attendees were overwhelmed with the needs of the educational community and the length of their to-do lists. Perhaps the most important item not listed on the above to-do list is the solicitation of the many educators already involved in HCI who have forged ahead and built their courses and curriculum to help with this task both by providing us their materials and volunteering to help with the unclaimed tasks. Since this work will extend beyond CHI 98 and CHI 99, the group plans to meet for many years to come.

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