Syllabus for IST 331:
Foundations of User-Centered Design

Fall 2016 [Press releases: '08, '12 (local copy), and '15]

Section 1: M/W 4 to 515 pm, 113/260 IST

3 credits
Frank Ritter
316g Building IST

Office hours: M/W 5:15-6 pm (outside 260 and 316g), F 3-4 pm (316g), and by appointment

Teaching Assistant: Mr. Jacob Oury
(, (260) 242-2287)
Office hours: Th 11-1 & 3-5 pm, Reese's Cafe;
and by appointment
Teaching Assistant: Ms. Jin Zhang
(, (814) 777-0616)
Office hours: T 12-1 & 430-530 pm 316c,
and by appointment
Grader: Ms. Ysabelle Coutu
Office hour: F 2-3 pm Reese's Cafe,
and by appointment

Last Updated 11 October 2016


  1. Course Overview
  2. Course Objectives
  3. Course Organization
  4. Evaluation
  5. IST 331 Class Schedule
  6. Labs
  7. Project
  8. Course Conduct
  9. Relevant University Policies

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.
Copyright 2016, Frank E. Ritter


This course provides students with data, theories, models, and analytic techniques regarding how users interact with information systems. It includes basic concepts of use, tied to how humans process information, that are developed through projects, cases studies, examples, reading, exercises, discussions, and exams. The course also covers aspects of how small groups process and share information, use information systems, and interact. The course serves as a focused introduction to the concept that people are important in technology systems and has become either a co-requisite or prerequisite to all other 300 and 400 level IST courses.


This course provides a balance between theory and practice, which are tightly intertwined in this area. Readings and lectures will introduce the student to current thinking about facts, theories, and ways to gather new data. The course objectives are:

A 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.

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


3.1 The IST 331 Website.

This page. This is the active web page of the course 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 The syllabus assumes you can use C-f in browsers to search, that you read the whole syllabus, that you bookmark the page, and you use your PSU email.

3.2 Mailing List.

Use this to contact class members or to send grouped emails.

Include "IST331" in the subject, as this will help filters bring your email to our attention.

3.3 Required Text.

(FDUCS) Ritter, Churchill, and Baxter (2014). The foundations of designing user-centered systems: What system designers need to know about people. 421 pages. Also see for a website to support the book. This book is available from the bookstore and through the Library (print on demand, for a good price), try this link, but the link seems to vary. New typos in the book (errata) are worth 0.1 on your final grade (up to 10 errata).

3.4 Required Readings (handed out in class or online)

The readings are linked below by class period. Some of these are password protected. The password will be sent out to the mailing list (save that email!), announced in class several times, and available from the instructor and TA.

The slides used in class mostly repeat what is covered in the book and readings, but sometimes include material that is newer or that reacts to issues that arise in class. They will be/are available on an "as-is basis" in the slides directory because:

**Research repeatedly shows that that reading the readings and creating slides lead to better learning than reading the slides.**

3.5 Optional Texts and Interesting Resources

Communities, professional organizations, and information portals:

Another interesting book that gathers basic concepts of psychology for designing:


You earn your grade but it will be assigned by me. Each 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.)

Class attendance is expected, or a valid justification for absence should be sent to the TA (cc to me) the day before. Points for attendance are noted below.

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 assessment:

Assessment Weight Explanation Due Date
Labs 30%

You will do labs in teams. Each lab writeup is worth 10 points, making a total of 40 points, the maximum lab grade, scaled to 30% of the course. The initial, 1 point, project report is also included here.

Extra credit can be earned in this category. An on time approved team contract is worth 1 point.

Becoming IRB qualified [1 pt.]. You will find the link and related information on the PSU ORP website. If you are already IRB qualified see me in the first month.

Doing a Plagiarism module [1 pt.], email results.

There will be extra credit points available for attending and writing about current events, such as talks. The total points will be at least 45. All extra credit is due by the last day class meets.

As below.
Mid-Term Exam 20% In class, taken individually
Second Exam 10% In class, taken individually
Project 30% Final website analysis, including a table of suggestions
Class participation 10% Based on attendance (up to 3 without excuse) (3%),

1 page reading summary for 10 readings (what did it say, do you believe it, any questions or implications, template) (3%), and

In-class quizzes (each worth 1%, typically 3 quizes).
Total 100%

5. IST331 CLASS SCHEDULE2 (subject to revision)

Class Number Date In Class Read/Prepare for this class Due
Part I: Why

Introduction to course, syllabus

Kegworth disaster, Asiana disaster
BBC on Kegworth [video]

syllabus quiz

sorting quiz

24/aug/16 In class review, group formation FDUCS-Preface & Foreword
Part II: Human information behavior

Overview of the areas

Project step I - choice [1 pt]

FDUCS 1, 2 (14)

ยง5.2.3 (PQ4R)

Lego exercise

Intro to Information seeking behaviour

Start IS lab in class [10 pt]


Example report, Example 2, Project Report Form, Example RTF template

Barnes et al. 1996



7/sep/16 Further information behaviour,
comments on writing
Byrne et al, 1999 Project Step I due BoC
Part III: Individual Behavior
12/sep/16 Anthropometrics FDUCS 3

Learning Lab [10 pt]

background paper [Optional]
Ethics of running participants
Online stopwatch

FDUCS 5.4 IS Lab due BoC

Perception and motivation

Colour wheel (local copy)

Change blindness
More on change blindness and vision

Elderly kits


Popout applet

21/sep/16 Cog: Memory, attention, and learning FDUCS 5
26/sep/16 Cog: Mental rep, PSing, and Decision making


Learning Lab due BoC

Perceptual Interaction Lab [10 pt]

Using this tool or Tellab similar approach

Example report

FDUCS 4.1-4.5

3/oct/16 Cog: Human-computer Communication FDUCS 7
5/oct/16 Cog: Errors FDUCS 10

Review for exam, 2016 [pdf]

Review for exam, 2005 or so [html]

Perceptual Interaction Lab due BoC
12/oct/16 Task analysis - Intro FDUCS 11

** In Class Midterm Exam **

Example midterms

Group feedback due, handed out with exam


More on task analysis

Start in class Project II - draft plan [5 pt]



Start Task analysis lab in class

RUI keystroke logger

KLM paper

Example lab report

26/oct/16 Yet more on Task analysis

GOMS (GOMS slides)

GOMS papers

Local GOMS Guide

Example full analysis

2/nov/16 Non-goal-driven activities (ActivityTheory.pdf)
Part IV: Group behavior
7/nov/16 In class do Group Lab Agre on networking Task analysis Lab due BoC



Group behavior

FDUCS 8 Project plan due BoC
14/nov/16 Group Behavior FDUCS 9
16/nov/16 Social Media
Thanksgiving break

Interface evaluation post-hoc

Project - Presentations


Project - Presentations

In class project presentations


Introduction to HCI and Risk-driven design

Review session for exam [pdf]

Office hours, 316G BIST, 4-5 pm

FDUCS 12, 14

** In class exam: Social & task analysis **
(all readings and material since Midterm)

Example S&TA exams

Preflight available on class project reports:

12 dec 2-5 pm, office hours, Ritter plus other times by appointment and with teaching team at regular times

Project reports due
13 dec 2016 (Tues)
17:00, email or paper

Project report form

Example RTF template

6. Labs for IST 331

The labs in IST 331 provides students with the chance to become familiar with using the concepts and data about how people behave with respect to computers. They are very useful 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, for example, it leads to clearer writing and presumably clearer thinking [Murphy, 2000]. 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. Having other groups proofread your project is encouraged.

The best way is to start work on the lab in class and then meet to discuss and proofread the report. The worst way is to have each member of the group do (and thus learn) only 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.

Each lab needs an abstract, an introduction, the method, the results, and a discussion/conclusions. There should be at least 2 relevant references per report (examples in the book). Reports must include authors & contact details, group, page numbers, and date. Figures and tables should be prepared correctly but be inline. It is useful to read and follow APA guidelines. Examples on the website are approximate, representing previous good but not necessarily excellent work. Sections must identify the author(s). Individual scores on a lab may be modified/moderated/adjusted by Ritter with advice from the TA based on team evaluations.

One paper copy is required for each lab. Print them before coming to class. Each report section must have an author or authors.

Each lab/project needs this form included or a team contract on file, or both. [Notes on generating a contract]

Comments on writing up labs, and More comments on writing up labs

7. Project

Each group does a useful project. There must be the possibility that your report can have impact, and most reports will (see the examples). Here are several examples of places that can have impact. My connection or interest is (shown). You should do a project on this list or a better project. Local social clubs usually will not have enough impact, PSU clubs have enough but you can usually do better. You are expected to share your results with the target site in compensation for your interactions with them.

Example/Allowed interfaces/websites to analyse

Previous Example projects (around 60 of them, many password protected) are available, and 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. Later published as: Ritter, F. E., Freed, A., & Haskett, O. (2005). User information needs: The case of university department websites. ACM interactions.12 (5). 19-27.

Project and Lab Marking Scheme

8. Course Conduct

9. Relevant University Policies