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Syllabus for IST 521: HCI: The User and Technology

Fall 2018

Section 1: MW 4:00 PM - 5:15 PM, East 210 IST

3 credits

Frank Ritter
309 IST Building
University Park
College of IST

Office hours:    5:15-6pm M/W and by arrangement

updated 17 aug 18


1. Course Overview
2. Course Objectives
3. Course Organization
4. Evaluation
5. IST 521 Class Schedule/Syllabus
6. Labs
7. Course Conduct
Relevant University Policies

Feedback form

Please note, this is a live document. Changes announced in class and on the list server will be incorporated from time to time. Announcements in class and their mirror here are the definitive version.


This course provides students with theories, models, and analytic techniques regarding how users interact with information technology. Basic concepts of use, tied to how humans process information, are developed through readings, discussion, cases studies, examples, and projects.

We will explore these topics through in-class presentations, readings (from both text and on-line sources), discussion, exercises (done in groups assigned the first week), and exams.  


This course provides a balance between theory and practice, which are tightly intertwined in this area. Basic and more advanced readings will introduce the student to current thinking about facts, theories, and ways to gather new data. A small group project, drawing on the different backgrounds students bring to the program, will support integrating these various types of knowledge and applying them to an illustrative interface or system. The teaching philosophy includes working in groups and presentations.

There are three aspects to this topic, of users and technology, which will be developed in different ways.

1. Building interfaces. This could occur a using tools you already know.

2. Modeling the user, both with formal tools and in the designer's head. This will occur to the limit of our time and abilities.

3. Evaluating the fit of the interface to the user and to their tasks. Methodologies will be taught for doing this as examples of the wide range of methodologies for doing HCI.

At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand and apply the risk-driven spiral model of system design treating usability as a risk
  • Understand and be able to use several theoretical and software-based tools to assist in the design process
  • Have a general understanding of HCI and of the psychology of users related to HCI
  • Start a line of research related to this course, or received continued support from this course
  • Gain a deeper understanding about different types of research reports (e.g., book chapters, articles, conference papers)
  • Improve their writing a little bit, particularly as related to material in the course


3.1 The IST 521 Web Site. This course has an active web page that contains the syllabus, assignments, links to useful sites, and other valuable material (such as how to correctly prepare assignments, citation templates, and other academic and recreational information). This page can currently be found at, and will be available through Canvas.

3.2 The IST 521 Listserv. I think we will use an email list given the size of the course and the use of email filters. Please preface emails with "IST521". This will also help bring it to my attention.

3.3 Required Texts

Committee on Human-System Design Support for Changing Technology, & Richard W. Pew and Anne S. Mavor (Editors). (2007). Human-system integration in the system development process: A new look. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

(FDUCS) Foundations for designing user-centered systems: What system designers need to know about users. Ritter, F. E, Baxter, G. D., & Churchill, E. F. (2014). Available through the library as PDF, PDF chapters, or hardcopy for $25.

Studies should be run under IRB where possible to support later publication. You will need to be IRB qualified.

Papers and online references are available as supplements.

3.4 Required readings (handed out in class or available online)

Week 1,       20 & 22 Aug

Web of Science
[Lab 1 is to show you have used WoS and Google Scholar. Do citation counts in both on two faculty, and on Pew, and find two interesting papers and get pdfs. 1 point lab]

Week 2,     27 & 29 Aug

Boehm & Hansen, 2001

ABCS 1, 2

Slides on Pew & Mavor 1-3 [PPT] [PDF]

Week 3,     5 Sep

Slides on Pew & Mavor 4 [PPT] [PDF]

Rossen & Carroll chapter

ABCS 3, 4

IRB at PSU [certification] [forms]

Lab 2: RUI, including Kukreja, Stevenson, & Ritter, 2005, and Ritter, Kukreja, & St. Amant, 2007
[RUI Lab is to use RUI to record behavior of interest and analyse it, or to check RUI accuracy using stats or other recorder]

Week 4    10 & 12 Sep

Slides on Pew & Mavor 6, 7, 8 [PPT] [PDF] [be careful not to read 8 in detail, it is an overview]


Abstract 1 page on project

Ericsson & Simon 93 [read theory] and Appendix on how to run Ss

Week 5,     17 & 19 Sep

Slides on Pew & Mavor 9 [PPT] [PDF]

Short overview of Soar: Ritter 2003, Longer view of Soar: Psychological Soar Tutorial

ABCS 6, 7

Lab 3, 2-10 pages report, on 2 min. of protocol transcribed and analysed on your project. Due on 1 March.

Week 6,     24 & 26 Sep

Slides on Pew & Mavor 10 [PPT] [PDF]

Ritter, Freed, Haskett, 2005, Byrne et al. 1999, as examples pick one


John & Kieras, 1996         Kieras' GOMS site

Lab 4 on Herbal to do TA, due 15 March          Herbal

Eclipse TA Lab          GOMS to ACT-R compiler journal   conference paper

Week 7,     1 & 3 Oct

Comments on Pew & Mavor

Ritter & Bibby, 2008 ; or 2001

Grant, 1962

ABCS 9, 12

Lab 5: Intro to SoarDiag (Soar) Lab, due 22 march

Week 9,     8 & 10 Oct

John's CogTool

Lab 6 on CogTool, due 29 march

Clark paper


Ivory & Hurst paper

Week 10,     15 & 18 Oct

Midterm, tentatively

Booher & Minneger, 2003

Bobby or equivalent, such as Cynthia Says, or WebAIM

ABCS 14, 17

Automatic Testing Lab, due 5 april
[Lab 6 Run Bobby-like tool on a web site, if a tool like Bobby ends up being available, report on what it found, what it could have found, and what it would mean to expand this tool, and how you would expand it]

Week 11,     22 & 24 Oct

Endsley paper


Campbell & Stanley, 1966

student paper 1

Week 12,     29 & 31 Oct

Vatrapu, R., & Pérez-Quiñones, M. A. (2006). Culture and usability evaluation: The effects of
culture in structured interviews. Journal of Usability Studies, 1(4), 156-170.

student papers 2, 3, 4

Week 13,     5 & 7 Nov

student papers, 5, 6, 7, or snow day (unless used earlier)

Week 14,     12 & 14 Nov

Project updates

Week 15,     26 & 28 Nov

Project updates

Week 16,    3 & 5 Dec

Project updates



3.5 Optional Texts and Interesting Resources

The Publication Manual of the APA as a guide to referencing, citing, and the formating of papers and manuscripts in general. Also see APA guide to online references, available online or interpreted here. Gopen's paper on the science of writing (password protected).

Agre on "Learning how to write"

The ACM HCI Special Interest Group (SIGCHI) is a good general site.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society web site

An HCI portal of sorts.

[formerly] Bobby ( a site that provides working demo of tool that assesses the utility of web pages for people with disabilities.

How to write an abstract by Mary-Claire Van Leunen (password protected)

Roediger on how to write better papers


You earn your grade but it will be assigned by me. The criteria for each assignment will be discussed in detail, as will the grading scheme. Each written assignment will be evaluated on how well it addresses the questions posed, the clarity of thinking, the organization and presentation of the material, the quality of writing, and its timeliness. 

Your grade will be based on 100 possible points. You earn points with each assignment (see below). As a maximum scale (i.e., cutoffs may be lowered): A: 100-94, A-: 93-90, B+ 89-87, B: 86-84, B-: 83-80, C+: 79-77, C: 76-70, D: 69-60, F: 59-0.  (The cutoffs for each grade is the lower number, without rounding.)

Your learning will be assessed in several ways. Please consult the schedule to see when papers / assignments are due and exams scheduled. You will receive more written instructions for each assignment well in advance of the due date. Here is a brief summary of each:



Due Date


Notes on writing and doing labs

Marking scheme


You will do a variety of labs. Each lab writeup is nominally 20 points (some are smaller). Some lesser number of points will be taken to be the maximum lab grade (i.e., you can miss some points and get a perfect score). This score may be modified/moderated/adjusted by self and team evaluations.

Two copies required, one for Teacher, one for peer comments on 20 point labs, 1 copy for 1 point labs.

Mondays, beginning of class

Paper quizes and paper presentations


1 point quiz on each paper, 40 points kept out of about 46, and you will present a paper per group you want us to read in weeks 10-12 (10 points).

Your group may find an additional resource that addresses or relies upon topics covered that week in class. In one page or less, you will comment on how that resource relates to the class.


Mid-Term Exam


In class, taken individually

November 2018


Comments on writing

Example template:



Final project

11 Dec 2018, midnight



Up to 10 errata in the readings can be reported for credit. These are worth 0.1 points each to the final grade.


5. IST 521 CLASS SCHEDULE (subject to revision)

Draft Schedule as pdf (not updated)

Allowed interfaces/web sites to analyse

Each semester each group does a useful project. They might as well have some impact. There should be the possibility that your report can have some impact, and most have had. Here are several examples of places that will have impact. My connection or interest is shown in ().


  • The CREATE student team system, joint PSU/CMU project (colleague)
  • ITS systems at Penn State: International Office (user, faculty member), Vice President for Research (user, faculty member), etc.
  • Apple iPhone Application development Kit Build an application for the iPhone, using the iPhone emulator if you don't have an iPhone. Or the Android.
  • new site for the PSU Vice President of Research and/or App
  • Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health
  • LionPath: System for notifying teachers when students drop a PSU course (so teams can be informed, previous report can be built upon) (teacher, frustrated user)
  • 25Live, scheduling system used by PSU
  • App for Director of Career Services, Penn State Altoona
  • app for brain cancer support foundation
  • Other project you find or wish to develop


A larger example of this type of work is available in the following report:

Ritter, F. E., Freed, A. R., & Haskett, O. L. (2002). Discovering user information needs: The case of university department websites (Tech. Report No. 2002-3). Applied Cognitive Science Lab, School of Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State.
    Published as: Ritter, F. E., Freed, A., & Haskett, O. (2005). User information needs: The case of university department web sites. ACM interactions. 12(5). 19-27.

Published papers that have arisen from class projects are:

Yeh, K.-C., Gregory, J. P., & Ritter, F. E. (2010). One Laptop per Child: Polishing up the XO Laptop user experience. Ergonomics in Design. 18(3).  8-13. [as submitted, local version]

Stark, R. F., & Kokini, C. (2010). Reducing risk in system design through human-systems integration. Ergonomics in Design, 18(2), 18-22.




6. Labs for IST 521

The laboratory portion of IST 521 provides students with the chance to become familiar with using the concepts and data about how people behave with respect to computers. It is essential for understanding the material and will be useful for passing the exams.

You have been put into small groups to do your labs because we believe this generally leads to better learning. That means that you must turn in one lab report per group, that in this case conferring within your group is not a violation of academic policy or of ethics on the lab section of this course, and that conferring with other groups *is* a violation of academic policy and ethics if it results in reports that are noticeably similar without citation.

The best way is to work on the lab and then meet to discuss and proofread the report. The worst way is to have each member of the group do (and thus learn) one of the sections. This will result in a noticeably inferior product. We suggest that you trade who leads the preparation of each write-up.

As we explore these topics, we will also practice skills in working together, analytical skills, and information problem-solving approaches. 


  • Classes will start on time and end as scheduled. Please take your seat prior to the start of class.
  • You should attend each class and actively participate in the discussions during class. University policy on class attendance is applied.
  • If you are uncomfortable with public speaking, or if English is not your native language, we must meet in the first two weeks of school to establish ways to make you more comfortable in speaking and interacting with your peers. I am happy to do this; I have been there myself (e.g., in Germany on sabbatical).
  • For every hour of lecture, I anticipate that you will need to budget about 3 hours of out-of-class time. This implies that you need to budget about 140 hours of out-of-class time over the course of the semester. This time estimate is a guide and you may need to budget more or less. For example, if the material is new to you or difficult to comprehend, it will require more of your time. 
  • You are responsible for all the readings, even if the material is not explicitly covered in class. You should read the class materials prior to class and be prepared to discuss and ask questions about the readings and assignments. You should also re-read the material after class as not every topic will be covered during class time. Many passages in the text may need to be read several times to gain clarity. Also, taking notes on the material you are reading and reflecting on the reading and these notes will help you better understand the issues, concepts and techniques that are being presented.
  • All work must be completed and turned in at the start of class on the assigned date. No late work will be accepted. Late means after the class has begun. Note that a computer's failure is not an excuse (it represents poor planning on your part). If you miss a deadline, a written explanation of a university recognized excuse and written request must be handed to me at the end of a lecture.
    Assignments that are simply late are very welcome to be turned in for feedback but 0 marks.
  • All assignment should be double-spaced (or 1.5 spaced where appropriate), on 8.5"x 11" or A4 paper. All pages should have 1" margins. Papers should be stapled and collated. Please do not use report covers; they will not be returned. Your group number and names should be on the cover, as well as an abstract (where appropriate).
  • Proofread your work. Mistakes include spelling, grammatical errors, and other typos. You should assume that your reader is about as smart as you, not smarter. You must also show your work, even if you just note 'by inspection'. The marker will want to know that you know how to get the answer.
  • I expect individual work should be just that -- it should be done by you, alone. For more help, see this site and university policy.
  • I expect group work should be just that -- from all of the group. If I become aware that you are not contributing to your group equally, I will intervene.
  • Students who participate in University-sanctioned events (such as athletics) must make prior arrangements and give ample notice, but will be supported.

8. Relevant University Policies