Back to school: HCI & higher education

XII.5 September + October 2005
Page: 31
Digital Citation

The HCI program at the School of Information at the University of Michigan

Judith Olson

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Human Computer Interaction is one of the specialties in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. The school is entirely user centered. All our work begins with understanding what the user needs and wants (where the user is either an individual, a group, a family unit, an organization, a market, or a society). Building on the service and human rights philosophy of traditional librarianship and the user-centered design of those in HCI, we developed a school that strives to both research fundamental issues in the digital world and get involved in developing or designing for that world. Thus we have many projects that are both changing the world (e.g., experimenting with auction mechanisms on eBay so that it is fair for both the seller and the buyer; developing communication tools so that AIDS researchers in Southern Africa communicate well with those in Oxford and Harvard) and developing fundamental knowledge about that world (e.g. Furnas' MoRAS; the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work (CREW) research on what makes remote work successful).

The School of Information has a large master's program (about 120 students admitted each year) for its two-year program, with nearly half the students majoring in HCI. Additional majors include Information Economics, Management and Policy; Library and Information Studies, Archives and Records Management, and a tailored degree that a student and mentor can co-develop. HCI students are required to take five courses in HCI in addition to the school-wide four required foundations courses, one of which is basically contextual inquiry (user needs analysis). HCI students are required to have two semesters of programming by the time they graduate (which may be fulfilled by previous coursework) and a course in statistics. Since the degree requires 48 credits, this allows students to get a broad background beyond HCI, getting grounding in information economics, pricing, policy and ethics, as well as courses in other schools like psychology, anthropology, and organizational behavior. The employers of our graduates mention how well grounded our students are and how well they work in project teams. Working in project teams and in the real world, through Practical Engagement courses and activities, is a hallmark of SI.

The school also has a strong PhD program. PhD graduates are employed by academic departments such as Psychology, Information Science, and Information Systems and by industrial and government labs.

The HCI program at the School of Information was formed in 1995. However, HCI has had a distinguished history back to the early 1980s at Michigan, including such people as Judy Olson, David Kieras, Gary Olson, Dan Atkins, and others. In 1995, the School of Information was created, an educational program that incorporated all aspects of the new digital revolution centered on real people doing real things. Dan Atkins was offered the deanship of the Library and Information School with the understanding that he would transform it into a new school with this. Founding HCI members of the school included Judy Olson, Gary Olson, and Dan Atkins. George Furnas from Bell Labs was hired into the transforming school. The school was developed with an eye to combining necessary threads from computer science, information science, psychology, policy, economics, and history to better understand and design the new digital world. The Regents approved the re-chartering and renaming in March of 1995.

The HCI faculty in the School of Information, include these founding members: Judy Olson—known for her studies of distributed work both in the field and the lab; Gary Olson—known for his work on Collaboratories, field work of distributed work in science; George Furnas—known for his work on fish-eye views, latent semantic analysis, and other key contributions in HCI; and, Dan Atkins—known for his work on Cyberinfrastructure.

George Furnas, Judy Olson, and Gary Olson are all members of the CHI Academy, which recognizes researchers for their lasting contributions to the field.

Since its inception, we have amassed additional very strong HCI faculty. The SI HCI faculty also includes: Mark Ackerman (information access, CSCW, privacy, ubiquitous computing); Paul Resnick (reputation systems, social capital, community systems); Suresh Bhavnani (strategy-based instruction, search portals); Soo Young Rieh (cognitive authority, information access); Tom Finholt (collaboratories, CSCW); Stephanie Teasley (collaboratories, learning); Elliot Soloway (educational applications for hand-helds); and, Dragomir Radev (natural language processing, text summarization)

In addition, David Kieras and Paul Green teach courses in Engineering than many of our students take as cognates. Additional Michigan strengths in HCI-related fields include the Institute for Social Research, Operations and Industrial Engineering, Bioengineering, and Educational Technologies.

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Judith S. Olson
The University of Michigan

About the Author:

Judith S. Olson is a Richard W. Pew Collegiate Professor of Human Computer Interaction at the University of Michigan, a professor in the School of Information, a professor in the Michigan Business School, and a professor in the Department of Psychology. Prior to joining the Michigan Business School, she served as a technical supervisor for human factors in systems engineering at Bell Laboratories. Olson serves on the editorial boards of the many ACM publications and in April 2001, Olson was inducted as one of seven charter members of the CHI Academy.

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