Four problems when teaching HCI in IT programmes for computer scientists

I think it is super difficult to teach human computer interaction in core computing programmes. I have tried different approaches and have tried to understand the problems for almost 20 years now. It feels like I fly over a landskapet of problems that i don’t really know how to address. I fly slowly with little possibility to really affect where I am going, like with the parachute in the blog post picture. Here are four of the problems that I have seen.

1) My experience is that students of IT programmes often come with a value system and interest closely connected to technology and the core programming area. With this I mean that they are more interested in the technology in itself, such as the specifics of databases, efficient coding and machine learning. They are less interested in how people use technology, how to introduce technology in organisations, or how technology affects the work environment. In short: Many of them are not particularly interested in the area that I work in and in my teaching. Still they need to take classes of human computer interaction in their programme, and these are really another kind of courses.

2) The problems that they have encountered so far in their education are often of the kind that there are many possible solutions, but there is a definite way of saying what is right and wrong with different solutions. This is also the kind of problems that you address in many Science research projects. In my courses, where I teach about how to deal with the management of numerous IT systems in an organisation, such as in the Complex IT systems in Organisations course, there is no correct answer. The problems I teach about are so called wicked problems and they are not used to these. This results in them not understanding me when I explore and reflect on different approaches to solve the problem. They think that I don’t really know what I talk about since I don’t give a definite answer.

3) The kind of Human Computer Interaction problems that I teach are very closely connected to student’s development of professional competencies. A professional competency can be seen as consisting of three different parts 1) theoretical knowledge about the problem 2) skills to deal with the problem in practice and 3) attitude or disposition to see the problem as important and interesting. The professional competency that I want the students to develop is however not easy to incorporate into traditional teaching.

4) One of the problems connected to all the other problems is that when students meet me in the classroom I am not perceived as a computer scientist. This is due to a combination of all the other problems with the area that I teach. But it is also due to me being one of the very few women they meet as teachers. Sometimes I am the first one they encounter in their university education, and I teach something that they don’t find interesting, don’t have the same kinds of problems and is based in a wider view of what they need to learn (professional competencies).

If you are interested reading more about this I have written a paper about students and unexpected behaviour in teaching. The paper is called Unexpected Student Behaviour and learning opportunites.

One thought on “Four problems when teaching HCI in IT programmes for computer scientists

  1. Robert Manriquez

    This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want?HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

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