Forum: connections

XIV.5 September + October 2007
Page: 20
Digital Citation

SwissCHI’s HCI education

Lothar Mueller

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How It Started. In some Swiss universities, courses related to HCI are offered as part of a specific curriculum, e.g., design, computer science, or psychology. While it is good for students to come into contact with HCI themes, these courses have some inherent drawbacks: First, they usually look at HCI from the perspective of a specific curriculum, e.g., in psychology one covers mainly psychological aspects of HCI. Second, they are accessible only if you study psychology or design or computer science.

SwissCHI has long been aware that we need an interdisciplinary program of continuous education. In the fall of 2004, SwissCHI initiated a working group to define such an education. Switzerland is a small country, and the size of its HCI community is equally small—everyone is a member of SwissCHI, therefore everyone knows each other—the working group could have had a broad footing. It included all disciplines: design, CS, and psychology, each represented by academia as well as HCI practitioners. After defining the course content, in the summer of 2005 the working group handed over responsibility for the curriculum to three universities: University of Basel, University of Applied Science Rapperswil, and Academy of Art and Design Basel. The first course started in April 2006.

Course Content. The course is spread over three years, the first two years with 250 hours of contact teaching each and an equal amount of individual studies, the third with a master thesis of 300 hours. The first two years are focused on a topic: User-centered Requirements Engineering in the first, User-centered Interaction Design in the second. People interested in only one of these topics can attend that year and finish with a certificate instead of a master's degree.

The two years are structured into two parts: 1) convergence and foundations, covering the relevant fundamental themes from the fields of psychology, design, and computer science; and 2) competences, containing HCI topics like process models, HCI techniques, evaluation methods, interaction design and social competences. Both years end with an interdisciplinary project, where participants apply their new knowledge to a real-life problem.

The accompanying figure shows the modules of the course; the size of the blocks reflects the size of the modules. Module descriptions can be found on our Web site, The course is offered in German.

SwissCHI is also active in the course implementation: Most teachers are practitioners, and the majority are SwissCHI members.

Course Target Participants. The course targets participants with educational backgrounds in psychology, design, CS, or whatever brings one into working in HCI. Work experience is required; the course cannot be taken immediately after completion of a B.S. or B.A.

As its contents show, the course widens the fundamental knowledge in all relevant fields and builds a broad spectrum of HCI topics on top of this. So participants coming from different backgrounds get in contact, learn to understand each other, and work together, forming a basis for future interdisciplinary understanding and collaboration.

Status. The first Requirements Engineering (RE) course started in April 2006 with 24 students. Of these, 22 continued in April 2007 into the Interaction Design course, joined by nine new entries interested only in this course. We were surprised by the high demand, and had to start a RE course in parallel with 18 students. The next courses will start in April 2008.

The students come from all targeted disciplines, though not equally distributed, which may reflect the unequal distribution of disciplines within companies, or our inability to reach all target groups equally well.

Currently most students are from Switzerland, but since our offer is quite unique within the German-speaking countries, we would like to also attract people from Germany and Austria.

A Model? Could this be a model for other local SIGCHI chapters? We believe so. If there is a need for HCI education and if the local SIGCHI is well developed within the professional and academic community of the country, this could be a road to success, as our example shows. In Switzerland we now have an education geared to the needs of the HCI community, and it meets a need in the market for continuous education, as shown by the number of participants.

So, go ahead and start your own HCI education all over the world, and share your experiences.

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Lothar Mueller
HSR University of Applied Science Rapperswil

About The Author

Lothar Müller is a professor at the HSR University of Applied Science in Rapperswil, Switzerland. His research and teaching areas are software engineering and user interfaces. He is also director of studies of the MAS HCI Design,

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