Syllabus for IST 331: The User

(Full title: Organization and Design of Information Systems: User and System Principles)
Fall 2015 [Press releases: '08, '12 [local copy], & '15]

Section 1: M/W 230 pm to 345 pm, 260/113 IST

3 credits
Frank Ritter
316g Building IST

Office hours: M/W 1545-1615 (outside 260 and 316g), F 1500-1600 (316g), and by appointment

Teaching Assistant: Mr. Zachary Beard
(, (412) 953-6680)
Office hours: M 5-6 pm 208 / Th 3-5 pm, 321d IST, and by appointment

Learning Assistant: Ms. Eunsun (Ashley) Jeong
(, (814) 424-1555)
Office hours: T 6-7 pm and W 11-12, Reese's Cafe, and by appointment

Learning Assistant: Mr. Matt M. Cheung
(, (301) 456-4585)
Office hours: T 430-630 pm Reese's Cafe, and by appointment

Updated 8dec15


1. Course Overview
2. Course Objectives
3. Course Organization
4. Evaluation
5. IST 331 Class Schedule
6. Labs
7. Course Conduct
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.


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. Basic and more advanced readings 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 web site. 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 web site 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).

3.4 Required readings (handed out in class or 0nline). 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 shows that that reading the readings and creating slides lead to better learning than reading the slides.

3.5 Optional texts and interesting resources, about writing, for reports and web sites because writing is most of most web sites:

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:




Due Date



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.
Additional points can be earned in this category. The initial, 1 point, project report is included here. An on time approved team contract is worth 1 point.

Becoming IRB qualified is worth 1 point. 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.]

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 of class.

As below






Once, varies by group

Mid-Term Exam


In class, taken individually


Second Exam


In class, taken individually




Final web site analysis, including a table of suggestions


Class participation 10% Based on attendance (up to 3 unexcused) and in-class quizzes (each worth 1%).


Total 100%    


5. IST331 CLASS SCHEDULE2 (subject to revision)


In Class

Read/Prepare for this class


Part I: Why



Introduction to course, syllabus

  Kegworth disaster, Asiana disaster
  BBC on Kegworth   [video]


syllabus quiz

sorting quiz



In class review, group formation

& Foreword

Part II: Human information behavior



Overview of the areas

  Project step I - choice [1 pt]

FDUCS 1, 2 (14)

5.2.3 (PQ4R)

Lego exercise



Intro to Information seeking behaviour

  Start IS lab in class [10 pt]


  Example report, Example 2
  Example RTF template

Barnes et al. 1996





Further information behaviour,
comments on writing

Byrne et al, 1999

Project Step I due BoC

Part III: Individual behavior







Learning Lab [10 pt]

  background paper
  Ethics of running participants
  Online stopwatch


IS Lab due BoC



Perception and motivation

Colour wheel (local copy)

  Change blindness

  More on change blindness and vision

  Elderly kits


Popout applet



Cog: Memory, attention, and learning





Cog: Mental rep, PSing, and Decision making


Learning Lab due BoC



Perceptual Interaction Lab [10 pt]

  Using this tool or similar approach

  Example report


FDUCS 4.1-4.5




Cog: Human-computer Communication



13  7/oct/15 Cog: Errors FDUCS 10  



Review for exam, 2014 [pdf]

Review for exam, 2005 or so [html]


Perceptual Interaction Lab due BoC



Task analysis - Intro




** 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





Yet more on Task analysis




GOMS (GOMS slides)

GOMS papers

Local GOMS Guide

Example full analysis




Non-goal-driven activities (ActivityTheory.pdf)





Part IV: Group behavior




In class do Group Lab

Agre on networking

Task analysis Lab due BoC



Group behavior


Project plan due BoC



Group Behavior





Social Media



    Thanksgiving break    
25 30/nov/15

Interface evaluation post-hoc

Project - Presentations

FDUCS 13  
26 2/dec/15

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  
28 9/dec/15

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

Example S&TA exams



Preflight available on class projects:

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

Project reports due
15 dec 2015 (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. It is 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.

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

Two paper copies are 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      More comments on writing up labs

7. Project

Each semester 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 will have impact but have not been done or could be done again. 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 interations with them.

Example/Allowed interfaces/web sites to analyse

ITS systems at Penn State: International Office (user, faculty member)

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.

*Evaluate iPhone app for The Lion, 90.7, student radio station, that was built by students in 331.

"Dashboard" for accounts in the College of IST (user) (a web site for research papers on ACT-R, user)

Numbering of rooms in the IST building

eLion: System for notifying teachers when students drop a PSU course (so teams can be informed, previous report can be built upon) (teacher), and when classes can be added (previous report can be built upon)

Online tool for running psychology/usability experiments (former PSU student)

Navy reading (potential user)

Ottawa industrial park (friend)

App for Director of Career Services, Penn State Altoona (friend) (former IST professor)

Previous Example projects (around 50 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 web sites. ACM interactions. 12(5). 19-27.

Project and Lab Marking Scheme



8. Relevant University Policies