From its inception, the WSU Human Factors doctoral program was designed to include an emphasis on basic methodology intrinsic to the behavioral sciences, along with a strong foundation in areas fundamental to psychology. In many ways the early stages of our training are modeled on traditional programs in experimental psychology, but this is only the foundation on which the academic curriculum, research practice, and realistic experience are constructed. These educational experiences provide the student with the knowledge and skills required to succeed in the workplace.
Our curriculum includes the requirement that each student be actively involved in research throughout his or her training. The goal is to provide students with enough research experience to give them the skills needed to address questions of theoretical importance and develop an understanding of the pertinent principles they will need as a practitioner in the workplace. In short, we try to train our students as behavioral scientists who focus on applied problems and possess the basic research skills necessary for success on the job.
We are dedicated to helping our students gain understanding of the work environment they will experience after graduation. Working in our Software Usability Research Lab (SURL) gives them real-world experience with Web site design and usability testing. In addition, our required internship program allows students to earn about 6 months of experience in an industrial or research setting. If students plan an academic career, we encourage them to seek an internship or predoctoral training experience.
Working in our HCI laboratory and SURL provides practical experience to students preparing for careers in user interface design, usability testing, and applied HCI research. SURL operates as a consulting business to companies worldwide and offers design, usability testing, and research services. Students learn firsthand what it is like to work with industry professionals under aggressive time schedules.
SURL follows a traditional process for user interface design projects. Initial scoping, user analysis and requirements gathering, paper and online prototyping, and usability testing are all required activities of the process, regardless of the type of interface. Activities such as card sorting, analogy building, and other forms of prototyping are used to enhance the design process. The most critical activity of the design process is maintaining high end-user involvement, iterative design, and frequent usability testing. We also make an effort to ensure that students working in these labs learn basic skills such as HTML programming using tools such as Microsoft FrontPage® and Microsoft Visual Basic®. We also use our department Web site and network to give the students insight into problems inherent in maintaining a Web server or providing security for users in a shared work environment.
One recent project completed by SURL is the design of a Web site for a local elementary school offering a bilingual curriculum serving kindergarten through second grade. The school received a grant to begin a two-way bilingual program to (1) promote high achievement of oral language proficiency, literacy, and writing in both English and Spanish and (2) establish a strong academic-based curriculum in two languages. The school is one of 56 elementary schools in the Wichita public school system and the only dual-language program in Sedgwick County. The design goals of the Web site were to provide an easy-to-use, fun, and informational site for students, parents, prospective parents, and members of the community, many of whom spoke either Spanish or English, but rarely both languages. Making the site effortlessly accessible in both languages was critical to the success of the site.
A six-person design team, composed of doctoral students with various levels of Web design experience, was assembled for the project. Less experienced students were paired with experienced mentors to achieve optimal learning. The team worked as a whole to discuss and brainstorm overall design ideas and then broke into smaller groups to tackle individual components such as graphic design, textual content, translation and dual-site maintenance, and overall navigation. Children and adults tested the site for usability throughout the process.
SURL designers, staff, and teachers from the school gathered requirements in nine content areas: (1) monthly notes from the principal, (2) description of the dual-language academic program, (3) school history, (4) parent and community involvement opportunities, (5) classroom and staff information, (6) school calendar and menu, (7) photo gallery of school events, (8) description of technology applications, and (9) a kid's corner targeted toward the students.
Graduate students, mentored by the SURL director, did the work on this project. Not only did the project produce an attractive and functional Web presence for the school, it also provided our students with a practical learning experience relevant to their career goal. (The site can be viewed at http://irving.usd259.org.)
Professor and Coordinator
Human Factors Psychology
Research Professor and Director
Software Usability Research Laboratory
Wichita State University
Wichita, KS 67260-0034
Work: +1 (316) 978-3170
Fax: +1 (316) 978-3086
Chuck Halcomb is professor of psychology and coordinator of the Human Factors Psychology graduate program at Wichita State University (WSU). He is the founder and director of the Human-Computer Interaction laboratory, the focal point of HCI research in the department. For more than 25 years previously he served as director of graduate programs in experimental psychology at Texas Tech University. He has served as the principal professor and dissertation chair for more than 60 doctoral students, most of whom are actively involved in human factors work. His current focus is methodology and the application of technology to teaching.
Barbara S. Chaparro is director of the WSU's Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL), the applied research component of the Human-Computer Interaction laboratory. She specializes in Web site design, usability testing, and related applied research (published in the semiannual Usability News, at www.usabilitynews.org). Before founding SURL at Wichita State, Barbara worked at IBM and Cambridge Technology Partners as a human factors engineer and user interface design specialist. Her current research interests are the usability of e-commerce sites, measuring users' satisfaction with Web sites, and usability of handheld devices.
Figure 1. We wanted to convey a fun, child-friendly,
dual-language environment on the home page. Users can click on
the bird in the tree to switch between English and Spanish text
and use the mouse to animate the characters. Clicking on the
school windows displays corresponding school information.
The graduate program in human factors psychology at Wichita State University leads to the doctorate in psychology. Although not a terminal degree, a master of arts in general experimental psychology is earned as part of the doctoral program.
- Seminar in Human Factors Psychology
- Psychological Principles of Human Factors
- Seminar in Software Psychology
- Foundations in Research Methods
- Seminar in Motor and Sensory Processes
- Seminar in Perception
- Electives in Industrial Engineering, MIS, Marketing, Decision Science
Number of students per year: 35
Student career paths & goals
Current specializations in our program include human-computer interaction, perception and performance, motor behavior, technology and education, aging, and aviation psychology. The majority of recent graduates have been employed in the software industry, telecommunications, medical technology centers, aerospace companies, and private consulting. Several are employed in academic positions.
- Hackos, J. and Redish, J. User and Task Analysis for Interface Design. John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1999.
- Nielsen, J. Designing Web Usability. New Riders Publishing, Indianapolis, 2000.
- Shneiderman, B. Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction, Third Edition. Addison Wesley Longman, Berkeley, CA, 1998.
Microsoft Visual Basic®, FrontPage®, and PowerPoint®; ergoBrowser® (usability test logging tool); Adobe Photoshop®
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