Back to school: HCI & higher education

XII.5 September + October 2005
Page: 27
Digital Citation

The University of Texas at Austin School of Information


Authors:
Randolph Bias

The School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin is well situated within the thriving yet bohemian Silicon Hills and urban beauty of south central Texas.

The School of Information has a rich tradition of training information professionals of all ilk: archivists, record managers, librarians, intelligence analysts, and conservators. It is within this context that the human-computer interaction (HCI)/information architecture (IA)/usability program has evolved, addressing the profusion of digital information and its impacts on users and communities.

In 2002 the School hired Andrew Dillon as Dean. Dillon is an immediate past director of the American Society of Information Science and Technology, editorial board member of journals such as IJHCS and Interacting with Computers, and is known for his research in human information processing (e.g., [2] and [3]). He brought an immediate focus on HCI and IA, and has striven to grow that area of expertise, while anchoring it in the context of the strong, historical education of librarians and attention to information studies.

The philosophy of our HCI/IA/usability curriculum in the School of Information is that this is a professional discipline, steeped in science and applied via well-established methods [1]. We have six assistant, associate, and full professors (among our 23) with degrees in cognitive psychology, information science, or computer science, all with real-world experience providing Usability support (big U-connoting attention to the full lifespan of user interfaces, from user-requirements gathering, through design and prototype testing, to field testing and maintenance). We offer a flexible curriculum for someone who wishes to become a professional in usability/IA/HCI design. Such a student would take core courses in Research Methods and Statistics, and in Understanding and Serving Users. Same student would likely take a six-course series of Intro and Advanced Information Architecture, Intro and Advanced Digital Media Design, and Intro and Advanced Usability. He or she would likely take another class in Human Information Processing, maybe one in Information Science and Knowledge Systems: Concepts in Information Retrieval. He or she would complete the master’s degree with a thesis, or maybe a capstone experience where he or she carried out some industrial-strength piece of work for a company or nonprofit or government entity. It’s not required, but many if not most of our students would experience an internship, at IBM or BMC Software, for example. Across the campus, we enjoy professional relationships to various degrees with the Schools of Engineering, Communications, and Fine Arts and the Departments of Psychology and Computer Science.

We have had much success placing our HCI master’s graduates, in arenas such as software development (e.g., Intuit) and other vertical domains (e.g., Wachovia, SBC, Hoover’s, Motorola), academic libraries (e.g., University of Southern California Law Library), and a variety of technical companies (e.g. Sematech, Iron Mountain)

The requirements for a doctoral student interested in HCI/IA/usability are, of course, much more extensive. Our doctoral program being fairly new, we expect to place our first graduates in the next two years. Areas of research our faculty are conducting, with the help of our doctoral (and masters) students, include:

  • the effect of improved font-rendering technology on performance in office computing tasks and programming (sponsored by Microsoft Research)
  • the UI design needs of ubiquitous computing (with the IBM-Austin Pervasive Computing lab)
  • the influence of distraction variables on the perceived length of an on-hold time segment
  • the design of appropriate media for users in a variety of information environments
  • computer-supported cooperative work
  • the role of attention and influence in technology-mediated group work

In their article entitled "Two psychologists in search of a School of Information: A personal journey," University of Michigan professors Gary and Judith Olson said that they "value being in a school where disciplinary heterogeneity is the norm rather than the exception . . . where people and their activities are at the center of the study of information systems" [4]. This represents our sentiments exactly. We are proud of the diversity of our students, of the heterogeneity of our approach, the success of our graduates, and our role in the definition of the discipline (the cross-discipline) as the new millennium, and our field, mature.

References

1. Bias, R. G. (2003). The dangers of amateur usability engineering. In S. Hirsch (chair), Usability in practice: Avoiding pitfalls and seizing opportunities. Annual meeting of the American Society of Information Science and Technology, October, Long Beach.

2. Dillon, A. (2001). Beyond usability: process, outcome and affect in human-computer interactions. Canadian Journal of Library and Information Science, 26 (4), 57-69.

3. Dillon, A., and Watson, C. (1996). User analysis in HCI: the historical lesson from individual differences research. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 45 (6), 619-637.

4. Olson G. M., and Olson J. S. (1998). Two psychologists in search of a School of Information: A personal journey. Library Hi Tech, 16 (2), 85-89.

Author

Randolph G. Bias
University of Texas at Austin
rbias@ischool.utexas.edu

About the Author:

Randolph Bias is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information. Randolph worked in industry for over 20 years as a usability engineer and manager, with stints with at Bell Labs, IBM, BMC Software, and an independent usability consultancy he co-founded. He has published over 50 technical and scientific articles, and co-edited Cost-Justifying Usability: An update for the Internet age, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.) Randolph is a vigorous advocate for designing technology to fit the user.

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