I'm a passionate advocate of HCI, whether it be forcing it into the curriculum, trying to get my computer science colleagues to mention relevant aspects of it in their software engineering, project management or distributed systems modules, or by championing specific HCI modules within a computing course. I also appear to be a failing passionate advocate.
In the UK, we have three-year degree courses, and we used to have a major HCI module in our second-year computer science course that was compulsory for all our studentsmajor or minorcombined with a third-year option, many HCI projects, and a mention of usability and design issues in the first year as well. Now we have just abolished the second-year major moduleit has been cut to a few weeks on Web design and information architecture as part of a software components coursewith only an optional third-year module for students to get their first understanding of HCI. And the reason? As the university has developed over time, modules have been introduced based more on staff interest than curriculum demands, and rationalizing this has become a priority for an institution that tries to become more efficient in its teaching. We all agree that we are teaching too much and must cut courseseveryone else's courses, of course. Our own are far too precious to be lost.
This is a genuine problemthere are more things to discuss now, with distributed computing and Web services and multiple layers of software architectures to get a grip onand that's without covering any of the products or systems or tools in common use. And whilst HCI affects all of these, and should be mentioned in all of these, it tends to be seen as the icing on the cakenice, popular, but optional and not the core of the particular subject.
We all realize that becoming reasonably good at HCI requires knowledge of a wide range of practical skills, requires some experience and practice, and needs critical appraisal and feedback to develop those skills. It requires a broad cross-subject understanding and empathy toward foreign disciplines, something not always found in our students. It therefore requires one of two thingseither much more HCI to be taught (impossible given curriculum constraints and the time available to myself and my HCI colleagues) or a wide understanding and appreciation of HCI from all my teaching colleagueswhich is not really there, since they are generally focused researchers with eyes only on the key issues in their specific, specialized domains.
So we're doomed, you might think. Squeezed from the mainstream curriculum by self-contained modules that have easily defined prerequisites and learning outcomes; missing from the implicit curriculum by highly focused researchers who have little interest in things outside their own area.
University of Birmingham
About the Author:
Russell Beale is chair of the British Computer Society's HCI special-interest group, leads the Advanced Interaction Group at the University of Birmingham, and is co-author of Human-Computer Interaction (Dix, Finlay, Abowd & Beale), one of the leading university textbooks on HCI.
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