Back to school: HCI & higher education

XII.5 September + October 2005
Page: 34
Digital Citation

HCI education at the ICT&S Human-Computer Interaction as a cornerstone between technology and society


Authors:
Manfred Tscheligi, Regina Bernhaupt

Understanding, applying, and developing the field of human-computer interaction has specific relevance for the development of our society. Societal applications of any kind (like electronic governments or applications to support special needs) had, have, and will have an interface to users. Placing HCI education right at the center of a curriculum in information technologies and society (here the "and" has to be emphasized in particular) is a way to build it in.

The goal is to go further than the usual orientation of HCI as a multidisciplinary discipline. The context is within societal research, information theory, and transdisciplinarity. Thus students will get a variety of skills to apply in multidimensional problem solving. We see interdisciplinarity as major goal for the development of future practitioners to get the right skills to solve complex (interaction) problems.

The Context. Located in a completely reconstructed building from the 15th century, the ICT&S (Information and Communications Technology & Societies) center was initiated as a focus area of the University of Salzburg in a joint action between the department of computer science and the department of communication science. New trends from information and communications technologies meet knowledge from social sciences. The central goal is to do research on interdisciplinary issues and combine different disciplinary strands.

A three-year full-time doctoral program in ICT&S will be implemented in 2005 when the most advanced part of HCI education is embedded. It offers students the chance to be trained in areas like Internet & Society, Human-Computer Interaction, ePolicy and eSociety, and many others. Ten students every year will become experts in ICT&S.

Changes in society also influence the various aspects of HCI (e.g. User-Centered Design as major area within HCI). So it will be a fruitful synergy in the doctoral program to also focus on the developments in the Knowledge Society reflecting the shift to knowledge as a major issue, the Participatory Society reflecting new developments in human participation and democracy, and on the Ambient Intelligence Society reflecting a society with embedded intelligence everywhere.

The Philosophy. Our approach to HCI education can be described as: motivation to see it from the users perspective; learning the basics of the field; applying the basics; introduction to societal applications; learning to work as HCI person; becoming a problem-solver (the doctorate).

Each aspect is implemented by special courses on the baccalaureate and master level. The introductory course is very much oriented towards the motivation to think from the users perspective. The interpretation of HCI as a special philosophy to think about situations, contexts, products, and services has to be transferred to future experts at the very beginning. Another special course is dedicated to the interdisciplinary basics and methods from psychology, sociology, or communication science to develop a common interdisciplinary ground.

The basics of the field are tackled in two dimensions. A course on User Interface Design focuses on the qualitative aspects. A course on User Experience Engineering focuses on user-centered design and methods with a very comprehensive understanding of user experience (not just another word for usability).

The basics have to be applied in practical courses to get a first glimpse how HCI works. We have only one of these courses (university systems should allow much more flexibility to design the educational packages). Another course goes into the direction of societal applications like social interfaces or a first introduction to application fields like e-government (we select specific areas every year).

The last HCI course on the master level is intended to learn working as an "HCI person." (At the moment most students come from computer science but we intend to open it up much more to attract students with various backgrounds.) By HCI person we mean people doing something in the HCI area in the future, either at university, in labs, or in industry. Here HCI problems have to be solved very fast, most of them are built into ongoing research and project activities of the human-computer interaction unit.

Becoming an Interdisciplinary Problem Solver. The next step of HCI education is embedded in the above-mentioned doctoral program. This means that only some part of the students of this program have experience in HCI, some others come from other disciplines. Starting the doctorate at the ICT&S Center requires dropping all prejudices and getting comfortable with concepts from many disciplines. Education starts with "balancing and harmonizing" in special work groups to prepare the students to get along with different wordings, views, and perspectives. It takes some time until our students from computer science, psychology, communication science, and design will agree what information means from their perspective, what communication really is about, and if technology is simply about programming—but we think it’s the most interesting part within this multidisciplinary education. Students begin with a joint lecture in ICT&S that runs two semesters, followed by dedicated courses. The basic idea is to introduce students in the special understanding of ICT&S at the University of Salzburg and the different knowledge units at the ICT&S Center and of the ICT&S doctoral programs, as well as perspectives from other related disciplines throughout the university. How do representatives from, for example, geography, political science, philosophy, history, and law, conceptualize ICT&S? What are the common research questions and how can we improve research by applying theoretical models and methodologies from different research fields?

The doctoral program follows a "back to school" principle itself by coming from different backgrounds, bringing all the specific knowledge, and dedicated language. "Back to school" is also implemented for the HCI part of this program through a very advanced course on HCI fundamentals, theories, and approaches which helps make students capable of solving problems in the field. In addition, an advanced course on contextual interfaces teaches the innovative application of HCI to design innovative approaches in different contexts.

Getting the Right Problems. No one can solve problems without the right problems. There is a need to take the real world problems to schools for students to work on them. This is a call for all the companies with problems to solve (there are always enough things to do). Schools are waiting to include real, complex world problems into the different levels of education. If done properly, this could be an ideal vehicle to merge two often separated worlds. It gives one answer to what is the better education: schools or training on the job? Both.

Authors

Manfred Tscheligi
ICT&S, University of Salzburg
manfred.tscheligi@sbg.ac.at

Regina Bernhaupt
ICT&S, University of Salzburg
regina.bernhaupt@sbg.ac.at

About the Authors:

Manfred Tscheligi is professor of HCI & Usability at the Institute for Advanced Studies and Research in Information and Communication Technologies & Society, University of Salzburg, Austria. He has been engaged in the development of several HCI curricula (for universities, technical colleges, industries) and has been teaching HCI courses for several years.

Regina Bernhaupt is assistant professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies and Research in Information and Communication Technologies & Society, University of Salzburg, Austria. She has been engaged in HCI oriented courses for several years.

©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0900  $5.00

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