XXV.5 September-October 2018
Page: 68
Digital Citation

The HCI living curriculum as a community of practice

Olivier St-Cyr, Andrea Jovanovic, Mark Chignell, Craig MacDonald, Elizabeth Churchill

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Over the course of four years, starting in 2011, the SIGCHI Executive Committee interviewed and surveyed HCI educators, professionals, and students to learn about emerging HCI initiatives and needs [1]. The project focused on documenting the current HCI landscape, inviting interviewees and survey participants to share what, from their perspectives, were the top priorities for HCI as a field, and, following from that, what should be the priorities going forward for teaching and training.

back to top  Insights


In addition to identifying key areas of focus (listed in [1]), HCI educators and mentors were concerned about the problems they encountered with keeping up to date with technological developments, and with generating new content to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology industry. There was also considerable excitement about lifelong learning—training for people throughout their careers.

Reviewing these insights, the authors of the SIGCHI report identified a need to amplify HCI teaching efforts as a community. The proposal was to create a "living curriculum" focused on community connection, resource sharing, case studies, and showcasing and developing HCI principles and approaches in emerging technology domains.

Development of such an HCI living curriculum requires active participation from both academics and practitioners in the HCI, user experience (UX), and design communities. In this article, we report on some initial research and progress concerning the requirements for an HCI living curriculum, and we summarize our current efforts to establish a community of practice for HCI education.

back to top  A Community of Practice

A community of practice (CoP) is a group "of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis" [2].

One concern with any CoP is sustainability. Community members must be able to see clear benefits from their participation that outweigh any associated costs. Perceived benefits that should enhance sustainability include extrinsic returns such as status, reciprocity, and reputation, and intrinsic returns such as enjoyment and social interaction with other community members. Another issue involves the intellectual property of authors in a teaching and learning community. In previous research, many authors were willing to share their resources with others because of the value they received from the feedback provided and the assistance they got from others in improving the quality of materials [3].

While much of the motivation for contribution to CoPs seems to be altruistic and intrinsic, feedback mechanisms have been proposed or developed for providing additional external motivation. Various forms of badges, awards, and recognitions have been used to reward and recognize contributions within a CoP. For instance, ResearchGate's RG Score is a composite metric taking into account social interactions and reputation alongside traditional publication-based metrics. Existing CoPs often have one or more people who act as community manager(s), who may do outreach and promote the community, and possibly perform moderation. For instance, in some communities (e.g., a Facebook group), a moderator may screen new members or moderate posts to ensure that the goals of members are consistent with the goals of the group and that content shared with the group is also consistent with the group's goals. Social tools include user-generated collaborative quality methods such as rating, and technological tools that automatically check for indicators of quality reflected in the interface [4].

back to top  Requirements for an HCI Living Curriculum COP

To investigate the requirements of an HCI living curriculum as a CoP, Andrea Jovanovic [5] developed a qualitative study consisting of a series of semi-structured interviews with 12 HCI practitioners and educators (nine from academia and three from industry) who were interested in the topic of HCI education. Interviews took place online using Skype, on the phone, and in person at the CHI 2017 Conference in Denver, May 6–11, 2017.

Interviews were constructed around the following questions:

  • How do you envision an HCI living curriculum?
  • What do you think are the requirements for an HCI living curriculum? What would participation look like? How should an HCI living curriculum behave?
  • Do you see any barriers to an HCI living curriculum? Do you have any concerns? Are there obstacles that would discourage you from contributing?

An affinity diagram was created to capture the most important themes expressed in the interviews [5]. Figure 1 shows a word cloud based on the terms listed in the affinity diagram. The overarching concept across the themes was collaboration/participation. For instance, the motivation theme encompassed participants' feelings toward and reasons for participating in or abstaining from the community; the contribution theme comprised comments about working together and communicating with others. A questionnaire was also constructed based on themes that emerged from interviewing the first six participants. Questions were related to the versatility of the CoP, the necessity of incentives, methods of evaluating quality, and feelings toward membership. There were seven questions in total (see [5] for the full questionnaire). Twenty-eight participants were contacted via an in-person announcement before HCI education-related sessions at the CHI 2017 conference. Analysis of the 28 sets of responses explored the extent to which respondents differed in their assessments of requirements for an HCI living curriculum.

ins02.gif Figure 1. A word cloud of the affinity diagram text.

Cluster analysis (K-means partitioning) was used to identify different groupings of respondents as a step toward the future development of personas that could guide further development of an HCI living curriculum CoP. A two-group clustering (with 16 and 12 participants, respectively, in the two clusters) was chosen as the most interpretable grouping. The 16 people in Cluster 1 reported a lower need for incentives to participate in an HCI living curriculum, and a lower need for evaluation (e.g., peer review) prior to content being shared in the CoP. However, the 12 respondents in Cluster 2 were less open and willing to participate in a CoP, expressing an increased need for incentives, and a desire for increased rigor/scrutiny before content could be shared. These results suggest that a significant fraction of potential users of an HCI living curriculum may not be willing to share all their materials with the general public. Figures 2 and 3 show the questions that distinguished between the two types of respondent in the survey.

ins03.gif Figure 2. Question (2) asking about the need for incentives.
ins04.gif Figure 3. Question (3) asking about evaluation methods (quality control).

Qualitative analysis of the clusters was performed based on the textual responses to question 5, regarding goals of an HCI living curriculum, and question 6, regarding obstacles preventing participation in an HCI living curriculum. Table 1 summarizes the response frequencies across the two clusters.

ins05.gif Table 1. Response frequencies for questions 5 and 6 across the two clusters.

More responses to question 5 related to community from Cluster 1 than Cluster 2. These responses were classified by the use of words such as community, share, sharing, and relations. Additionally, more responses to question 5 related to education from Cluster 1 than Cluster 2. These responses were classified by the use of words such as education, educate, curricula, and teaching.

For question 6, more responses related to concern about sharing personal materials from Cluster 2 than Cluster 1. Examples of responses include: "Desire to keep to oneself the stuff I have developed that sets me apart," "It should be clear who is using my material," "Concerns about uncredited reuse of my materials," and "Some of my work is not publicly shareable."

The first conceptualization of the HCI living curriculum assumed that educators would create a CoP where materials would be shared liberally, and best practices would emerge that could be promoted by the community at large. However, the findings obtained in the questionnaire raise concerns about how willing a significant fraction (around 40 percent, in our sample) of potential participants will be to share their content. The issue of differences in expectations about quality control seems even more problematic. If there was a rating system, for instance, how would people feel about having their work rated as poor, or less influential? When faced with a conundrum like this, it is probably best to see how similar problems have been dealt with in other venues. For instance, on some social media sites, content is "voted up." In one possible approach, any content could be posted in the HCI living curriculum CoP, but only well-regarded and well-reviewed content would be posted in the most prominent and easy-to-find locations.

This survey collected general attitudes toward incentives and quality-control issues, but it did not explore attitudes toward various methods for dealing with these issues. Thus, more detailed research is needed where academics and practitioners with interests in HCI education can meet and discuss a range of approaches to managing incentives and quality when building the material for the HCI living curriculum through the CoP.

back to top  Next Steps: Building the HCI Living Curriculum COP

The CoP that will serve and promote HCI education would likely involve a large group of people, and their work would be critical to the health of the discipline. Thus, we propose that the CoP that surrounds and supports the HCI living curriculum should be professionally managed to ensure that quality is maintained using both technological and social approaches. This proposal could be implemented by establishing administrative leads who are elected and who are possibly paid to take the task on in a professional role.

This year marks 35 years since the first CHI conference in 1983 and 30 years since the launch of the SIGCHI Curriculum Development Group (CDG), who led the development of the foundational ACM SIGCHI Curricula for Human-Computer Interaction [6]. Published in 1992, the first curriculum development effort included a working definition of HCI and examples of individual courses and course sequences for undergraduate computer science and information systems programs [6]. This effort was vital to the establishment and growth of HCI education programs, but its authors never expected it to remain unchanged; rather, it was meant to be the "first iteration in the design of a product intended to have a long course of future iterative refinement and development."

We now ask the HCI community to heed this call by contributing to the development of a new, improved product: an HCI living curriculum [1]. We are facing a constant barrage of novel technologies, topics, and techniques, each with the potential to reshape the ways we practice and teach HCI. Thus, it cannot be the responsibility of a handful of educators to ensure that the curriculum remains up to date and reflective of the many areas within this exciting and constantly changing field. Only a committed group of HCI educators, working together as a CoP, can keep the HCI curriculum focused and relevant. Initial work to begin building this CoP is ongoing, with a cross-section of HCI educators from a wide range of disciplines, geographical areas, and institutions already engaged in active discussions and activities in support of the HCI living curriculum. We have formed three working groups to focus on specific challenges related to the creation and sustenance of the living curriculum: implementation and funding, design and platform development, and content creation.

For a list of working group participants, plus additional background information about this project, please visit the website of the CHI 2018 workshop, "Developing a Community of Practice to Support Global HCI Education" (April 22, Montréal, Canada) at Workshop position papers and a preliminary report on the workshop's outcomes are also available on the website.

If you are interested in contributing to one of these working groups, please contact us at You may also join the HCI Education Facebook group ( and follow us on Twitter (@HCI_Education), where we will be announcing additional ways of contributing to the HCI living curriculum and participating in the CoP. As HCI continues to head toward newer and brighter horizons, the task of educating future scholars and practitioners is more important and more challenging than ever before. Please join us in this effort.

back to top  References

1. Churchill, E.F., Bowser, A., and Preece, J. The future of HCI education: A flexible, global, living curriculum. Interactions 23, 2 (Mar.–Apr. 2016), 70–73. DOI:

2. Wenger, E., McDermott, R., and Snyder, W.M. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 2002.

3. Bates, M., Loddington, S., Manuel, S., and Oppenheim, C. Attitudes to the rights and rewards for author contributions to repositories for teaching and learning. Research in Learning Technology 15, 1 (Mar. 2007), 67–82. DOI:

4. Clements, K., Pawlowski, J., and Manouselis, N. Open educational resources repositories literature review: Towards a comprehensive quality approaches framework. Computers in Human Behavior 51, PB (Oct. 2015), 1098–1106. DOI:

5. Jovanovic, A. Designing the HCI Living Curriculum. Masters of Applied Science Thesis. Nov. 2018. Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. University of Toronto, Canada;

6. Hewett, T.T., Baecker, R., Card, S., Carey, T., Gasen, J., Mantei, M., Perlman, G., Strong, G., and Verplank, W. ACM SIGCHI Curricula for Human-Computer Interaction. ACM, New York, 1992. DOI:

back to top  Authors

Olivier St-Cyr is an assistant professor, teaching stream, in the Faculty of Information - iSchool at the University of Toronto. He is the liaison for the iSchool user experience design (UXD) concentration. His research interests lie in the areas of HCI education and HCI curriculum development.

Andrea Jovanovic is a human factors specialist at Healthcare Human Factors at the University Health Network in Toronto, Canada. Her work focuses on the design and evaluation of medical devices. She worked on the HCI Living Curriculum project while completing her MASc in industrial engineering at the University of Toronto.

Mark Chignell is a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Toronto. He carries out research in human factors and user interface design, with particular interest in healthcare, aging, telecommunications, and driving applications.

Craig M. MacDonald is an associate professor in the School of Information at Pratt Institute, where he developed and coordinates the master of science in information experience design and user experience advanced certificate. His research interests are in understanding UX practices in different domains, improving HCI/UX evaluation methodologies, and HCI/UX education.

Elizabeth F. Churchill is a director of user experience at Google. A Distinguished Scientist of the ACM, she has been a scholar and research manager focused on human-computer interaction for over 20 years. Her current work focuses on HCI aspects of the social Web and the emerging Internet of Things.

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