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XXII.6 November - December 2015
Page: 69
Digital Citation

Educating ourselves on HCI education


Authors:
Sukeshini Grandhi

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this new forum on HCI education. Human-computer interaction (HCI) as a field continually evolves to embrace the changing landscapes of technology and infrastructure, as well as the expanding capacities and contexts of technology use seen over the past several decades [1]. This evolution is, of course, reflected in the ways we teach and learn HCI. Educators have questioned what it means for HCI education in terms of multidisciplinary rigor [2], pedagogical transitions [3], and new paradigms [4]. This forum aims to provide a common platform for HCI educators, practitioners, researchers, and students to share their perspectives, reflections, and experiences related to HCI education. In that spirit, I hope it will help our community engage in an open dialogue about the perceptions of HCI education and its evolution into the future.

While the dialogue on HCI pedagogy has been active for several decades, the community as a whole has yet to come together on how HCI education is evolving across academic, geographic, economic, and social cultures. In response to the community’s desire to understand how HCI is perceived as a field today, the ACM SIGCHI executive committee sponsored a project (2011–2014 SIGCHI Project on HCI Education) to explore the philosophies and practices driving HCI education globally [5]. Early findings from this project indicate that while HCI as a field has kept abreast of the changing technological and socioeconomic environments, the HCI community continues to struggle in its understanding of the scope of the field, just as it did during its first initiative to create a blueprint of the HCI curriculum in 1992 [6]. The project also highlighted the community’s desire for shared understanding of the HCI curriculum is challenged by the competing tensions of standardized vs. flexible curricula, breadth vs. depth of interdisciplinary theories and methods covered, need for technical vs. nontechnical skills, theory practice in training, and career preparedness in academia vs. industry. These tensions are reflected in how HCI education is perceived and delivered by educators, researchers, and practitioners, who in turn are influenced by the institutional, organizational, cultural, and economic climates within which they operate. To this end, this forum aims to bring together practitioners, researchers, and educators referred to by Churchill et al. as “HCI progressionals,” who will uphold the intellectual and professional values and principles unique to the HCI field while continually adapting their approaches and methods to keep up with the sociotechnical changes.

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When the editors-in-chief asked me if I would like to edit this forum, I readily accepted, not because I think I have a sage point of view on HCI education and training but rather because I am a product of the challenges one faces in a field that is not only multidisciplinary but also inherently evolving in nature in response to the rapidly changing technological trends, user types, and use contexts. I moved across Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe pursuing my education. I received my Ph.D. from an information systems department in the U.S. while belonging to the SIGCHI research community; worked as an intern at Nielsen Norman Group under Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice while my peers interned at large corporations such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft; worked as a post doctoral research associate in Germany, collaborating with linguists and neuroscientists, in a new interdisciplinary group while my peers graduating in North America were typically working in well-established HCI labs in North American universities; and today I serve as a faculty member in the business administration department of a liberal arts university while those who graduated with me from other North American universities mostly work in research universities or industry labs.

Though my path as an HCI student and professional may seem non-traditional, it actually highlights the numerous permutations of education, training, research, and career choices one can pursue in this field. Furthermore, given the disappearing “job for life” attitude from both the employer and employee perspectives, as well as the increasing focus on making transformative advances in research and industry, one could argue that work experience and training in several diverse contexts are imperative for a successful career in HCI. Thus, imparting insights obtained from the academic and career choices that researchers, educators, and practitioners have made within the realm of their HCI education and training is a crucial step in training and guiding the next generation of HCI professionals to successfully navigate multiple contexts and settings.


Understanding the forces that drive changes in HCI education will help us shape contemporary curricula.


My thoughts on why the HCI education forum will bring immense value to the community resonate with some of Jonathan Grudin’s reasons for why we need to understand the history of HCI [1]. First, understanding how multidisciplinary aspects shape what we teach in contemporary HCI can help us identify ways to expand, contract, or shift the focus of HCI education. Second, celebrating the success stories of HCI education and training both in academia and industry not only builds a stronger community but also inspires innovative and progressive pedagogical ideas and paradigms. Third, while some elements of HCI curricula, education, and training have withstood the test of time, others have shifted focus—understanding the forces that drive changes in HCI education will help us shape contemporary curricula. Finally, understanding the past trajectories in the evolution of HCI education will help us anticipate its future.

Through this forum, I hope to create an environment in which you can communicate and express your views toward building a shared understanding of the issues relating to HCI education. Below are a few themes to guide you in framing your experiences, opinions, and reflections on HCI education for the forum. These themes are meant to be broad directions rather than confining boundaries.

HCI Curriculum

While the field of HCI is by nature interdisciplinary, we seldom focus on educating and training our students in all disciplines [1]. As a result, we could be inadvertently grooming our next generation of HCI professionals to become infamous “Reviewer 2s,” who provide misplaced negative reviews on research that uses methods and theories of a discipline about which they are insufficiently informed. This is an especially big concern for HCI, as the nonstop changes in technology and sociotechnical culture have further expanded this multidisciplinary field, bringing in more theories, models, frameworks, and practices from other disciplines. In addition, changing technological and economic landscapes mean certain application areas grow rapidly while others develop slowly, with the HCI perspectives on them remaining works in progress [1]—for example, rapid advances in the mobile space as compared with the lag in natural user interfaces (NUIs) or artificial intelligence (AI) space. Given this multitude of forces that shape how HCI evolves as a field, some questions we can pose include:

  • Can we as a community envision the idea of a core HCI curriculum while adapting to the changing technological, sociotechnical, cultural, and user landscapes?
  • How can we ensure that the HCI curriculum will provide a strong foundation in the field while encouraging deeper learning within a specialization—all without being closed to methods and theories outside this specialization?
  • How do we design an HCI curriculum to protect, celebrate, and appreciate the richness of its interdisciplinary nature within the structural and organizational constraints of academic degrees, courses, and programs?

We would like you to voice your opinions, reflections, and rationale for how and what topics should be included in an HCI curriculum.

HCI Pedagogy

Equally important to what we teach in HCI education is how we teach it. The increase in the number and size of HCI-related programs across the world has resulted in new teaching philosophies, methods, and tools used in classroom environments. While the majority of HCI courses are still conducted face-to-face, recent years have seen a rise in hybrid, online, and massive open online courses (MOOCs). In sharing information on how HCI is taught in these diverse classroom environments, some questions we can explore are:

  • How do teaching methods and techniques in HCI education vary across classroom environments? Which methods are unique to specific environments?
  • Are there skills in HCI education that need to be taught in a face-to-face/hands-on manner and don’t translate to distance learning? How can we compensate for these kinds of less translatable training skills to environments that aren’t face-to-face?
  • What can we learn from the success stories of new methods explored in HCI education, such as studio-based instruction and community outreach projects? How can these methods be replicated for successful implementation moving forward?

Currently, most conversations on such topics are informal, with professionals reaching out to peers and mentors on social media or in person at conferences. Although a few workshops have recently taken place at ACM SIGCHI conferences, it is important for us to more widely share and understand the rationale behind the methods and tools adopted in HCI teaching and training.

HCI Education Across Borders

Today HCI is taught across cultural lines, whether geographic, organizational, or university. Work from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and North America is routinely seen in SIGCHI conferences. However, the varying technological progress, social and economic conditions, as well as opportunities and needs of these regions, often influence the nature of research performed, which in turn influences training. This has spurred the creation of SIGCHI communities such as HCI4D, African HCI, and Latin American HCI, as well as the Community Square column in this magazine. The natural question that follows is How does HCI education and training emphasis vary across these regions?

Even within academia, the nature of the resources available for training and education differ across universities. School policies on teaching loads and tenure, availability of students for research in undergraduate institutions, as well as funding availability and opportunities for lab space, technology, and user studies have an impact on the nature of HCI training and course implementations. This has led to innovations in research methods such as the use of Amazon Mechanical Turk and other crowdsourcing platforms for user studies, prototype development, and even data analysis. Training and education needs also vary between industry and academia. Unlike universities, business enterprises seek HCI training in light of their business strategies, pressures of product releases, and the limited availability of dedicated training time (often only a few days or weeks). Sharing reflections on the consequences of such new approaches and innovations in training and educational methods under resource constraints, along with the do’s and don’ts, advantages, and disadvantages, will be of immense value to educators across environments. It is important for us to understand as a community how HCI education and training are adapted to meet educational or professional goals—introductory vs. advanced-level courses, students from high school undergraduate vs. master’s/Ph.D., researchers vs. practitioners. This forum will be an ideal place to bring together opinions, experiences, and thoughts on how educators and practitioners shape/design HCI curricula and pedagogy based on the opportunities and constraints of a particular geographic, organizational, and/or academic culture.

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To be able to meaningfully steer HCI education, it is key that we engage with these three broad streams of discussion. This forum is intended to be a place for a sustained and balanced dialogue on these educational issues in HCI with ongoing contributions from educators, students, practitioners, researchers, and employers alike. As a community, we collectively have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom on what has worked historically in HCI education, on where HCI education stands today, and on where we need or would like to see developments, as well as how we can manage and leverage the inherent multidisciplinary and evolutionary nature of the field. My hope is to make this forum a venue for everyone in the community to articulate their experiences and opinions toward developing a shared holistic understanding of HCI education today and for the future. Please join me in this endeavor and allow me the privilege of showcasing your thoughts around HCI education.

References

1. Grudin, J. A moving target: The evolution of human-computer interaction. In Human-Computer Interaction Handbook (3rd Edition). J. Jacko, ed. Taylor & Francis, Ltd., Boca Raton, FL, 2012.

2. Carroll, J.M. ed. HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks: Toward a Multidisciplinary Science. Morgan Kaufmann, Amsterdam, Boston, 2003.

3. Cockburn, A. and Bell, T. Extending HCI in the computer science curriculum. Proc. of the 3rd Australasian Conference on Computer Science Education. ACM, 1998, 113–120; http://doi.org/10.1145/289393.289411

4. Faiola, A. The design enterprise: Rethinking the HCI education paradigm. Design Issues 23, 3 (2007), 30–45.

5. Churchill, E.F., Bowser, A., and Preece, J. Teaching and learning human-computer interaction: Past, present, and future. Interactions 20, 2 (2013), 44–53; http://doi.org/10.1145/2427076.2427086

6. Hewett, T. et al. ACM Curricula for Human-Computer Interaction. 1992; http://old.sigchi.org/cdg/index.html

Author

Sukeshini Grandhi is an assistant professor in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Eastern Connecticut State University. Her research focuses on understanding user mental models, user needs and user behavior in HCI, computer-mediated communication, and social computing. grandhis@easternct.edu

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