Syllabus for IST 331:
Foundations of User-Centered Design

Fall 2017 [Press releases: '08, '12 (local copy), '15, '17, '18]

Section 1: M/W 4 to 515 pm, 201 West Eastgate Building (The Cybertorium)

3 credits
Frank Ritter
309 East IST WestGate / 316g IST Building
(814) 865-4453

Office hours: M/W 5:15-6:00 pm (outside Cybertorium and 316g), F 3-4 pm (316g), and by appointment

Teaching Assistant:
Mr. Jacob Oury

(, (260) 242-2287)
Office hours: Tu/Th 12-2 pm, E302;
and by appointment
Leaning Assistant:
Ms. Natalie Becerra

(, (215) 983-6504)
Office hour: F 1210-110 pm, E302,
and by appointment

Last Updated 16 apr 2018

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 2017, 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:

  • Provide an introduction to the idea that people are a core component in technical systems, introducing Human-Centered Design (HCD) for information systems.
  • Provide real, descriptive information about those aspects of human behavior that influence the development, use, and accidents that will arise in such systems due to having people as part of the system.
  • Understand a bit more about design and how to modify design to support users.
  • Understand how to situate this work within an organization.
  • Develop a little taste about information literacy, telling the difference between books, journals, conference papers, tech reports, etc.

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:

  • Define in a qualitative and quantitative way some of the most relevant aspects of user's behavior.
  • Describe some common theories, problems, and terms in the area of human-computer interaction (HCI).
  • Gather data in several ways to explore how people individually and as a group use an interface.
  • Prepare a report assessing a website or other system providing concrete, objective support for good and bad aspects of the system, suggesting theory- or data-based changes to the design (not just opinion).


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 (existing typos) are worth a bonus of 0.1 on your final grade (up to 10 typos).

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, TA, and LA.

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 and unequivably 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:

  • Norman, D. (1988/2013). The psychology of everyday things (PoETs). NY: Basic Books. (also available as The design of everyday things).


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):

        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. An Excel spreadsheet is available to explain this scheme, to help compute your grade, and to do sensitivity analyses.

Assessment Weight Explanation 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.

The initial, 1 point, project report is also included here.

Extra credit can be earned in this category. The total points will be at least 45. All extra credit is due by the last day class meets.

(a) An on time approved team contract [1 pt.].

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

(c) Doing a Plagiarism module [1 pt.], email TA results.

(d) There will be extra credit points available for attending and writing about current events, such as talks.

As below
Mid-Term Exam
In class, taken individually
Second Exam
In class, taken individually
Final website analysis, including a table of suggestions
Class participation
Based on attendance (up to 3 without excuse) (5%), and

In-class quizzes (total 5%, typically 5 quizes).

5. IST331 CLASS SCHEDULE2 (subject to revision)


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

28/aug/17 In class review, group formation

Watch video on Kegworth

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 RTF template
Example reports



11/sep/17 Further information behaviour,
comments on writing
Byrne et al, 1999 Project Step I due BoC
Part III: Individual Behavior
13/sep/17 Anthropometrics FDUCS 3

Learning Lab [10 pt]

Ethics of running participants
Online stopwatch Expertise paper [Optional]

Example reports

FDUCS 5.4 IS Lab due BoC

Perception and motivation

Colour wheel (local copy)

Change blindness
More on change blindness and vision

Visual illusions

Popout applet

Elderly kits


25/sep/17 Cog: Memory, attention, and learning FDUCS 5
27/sep/17 Cog: Mental rep, PSing, and Decision making


Learning Lab due BoC

Perceptual Interaction Lab [10 pt]

Using Tellab or similar approach

Example reports

FDUCS 4.1-4.5

4/oct/17 Cog: Human-computer Communication FDUCS 7
9/oct/17 Cog: Errors FDUCS 10.1, 10.2 & 10.5

Review for exam, 2016 [pdf]

Review for exam, 2005 or so [html]

Bring 1 question per group Perceptual Interaction Lab due BoC
16/oct/17 Task analysis - Intro FDUCS 11

** In Class Midterm Exam **

Example midterms

Group feedback due, handed out with exam


Paperwork day



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 reports


Yet more on Task analysis


GOMS (GOMS slides)

GOMS papers

Local GOMS Guide

Example full analysis

Part IV: Group behavior
6/nov/17 Non-goal-driven activities (ActivityTheory.pdf)    



Applied networking

Agre on networking Task analysis Lab due BoC
13/nov/17 Group behavior FDUCS 8 Project plan due BoC
15/nov/17 Group Behavior FDUCS 9
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]


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

Example S&TA exams

Preflight available on class project reports:

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

Project reports due
12 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 (example references and style 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 otherwise 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 and LA 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 [And further example 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.

The best project will receive a $100 award provided by an anonymous donor in honor of Dr. Fred Loomis, the first director of the IST Solutions Institute, which was created to do outreach.

Example/Allowed interfaces/websites to analyse

  • 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)
  • HaveNWant AI simulation tool (potential collaborator)
  • 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
  • IST Website WRT math requirements (professor in college)
  • Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health
  • (user)
  • Numbering of rooms in the IST building (frustrated and scared user)
  • 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
  • State College Community Land Trust
  • App for Director of Career Services, Penn State Altoona
  • (former IST professor)
  • app for brain cancer support foundation
  • OrderUp!s

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

  • Classes will start on time and end as scheduled. Please take your seat with your group 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, as I have been not a native speaker myself.
  • For every hour of lecture, I anticipate that you will need to budget about 2.5 hours of out-of-class time. This implies that you need to budget about 120 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. Some 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. Late work will be accepted but with a penalty. 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 with the work.
    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, names, and date 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. The marker will want to know that you know how to get the answer.
  • 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. I expect individual work should be just that—it should be done by you, alone. For more help, see this site and university policy.
  • Students who participate in University-sanctioned events (such as drama, clubs, athletics, interviews) must make prior arrangements and give ample written or email notice, but will be supported with enthusiasm.
  • The official language of this course is English (e.g., you cannot turn the homework in here in translation for advanced language courses).
  • Requests for regrading must be turned in with this form.

9. Relevant University Policies