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Syllabus for IST 521HCI: The User and Technology

This syllabus is to be used only under Penn State Policy G-10-grade-mediation-adjudication by non-students.

Fall 2020

Section 1: M 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM, IST South Lawn (when we can, 6-7pm) and Zoom
new icon== New!

All Penn State regulations apply to this course

3 credits

Frank Ritter
309E West IST Building
University Park
College of IST

Office hours:    6-7 pm Wed and by arrangement

updated 24 dec 20.


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

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 second week), and an exam.  


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 the project's needs, and 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:

  1. Understand and apply the risk-driven spiral model of system design treating usability as a risk
  2. Understand and be able to use several theoretical and software-based tools to assist in the design process
  3. Have a general understanding of HCI and of the psychology of users related to HCI
  4. Start a line of potentially publishable research related to this course, or received support from this course in their existing research
  5. Gain a deeper understanding about different types of research reports (e.g., book chapters, articles, conference papers)
  6. Improve their ability to create written reports, 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 in some capacity through Canvas. This web page is what I use.

3.2 The IST 521 Listserv. We will use an email list given the size of the course and the use of email filters. You need to preface email subjects lines with "IST521". This will help bring it to my attention. Emails may come from Canvas, from my mailer, or a PSU mailing list.

3.3 Required Texts

(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 (theoretically, you have to do it on campus or under the LIAS VPN).

Lazar is Lazar, J., Feng, J. H., & Hochheiser, H. (2010). Research methods in human-computer interaction. Chichester, UK: Wiley. Available through the library as a PDF, or used.

Studies should be run under IRB where possible to support later publication. You will become IRB qualified as part of your project.

Papers and online references are available as supplements, in the papers directory.

The course will reference this book. It is optional reading:
       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. [online free, can be purchased]

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

Week 1,       24 Aug 20

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 Dick Pew (6 counts total), and find two interesting papers and get PDFs. 1 point lab, 1 page write up]

Read for next week: FDUCS 1, 2, 14

Week 2,     31 Aug 20, Labor day

IRB at PSU [certification]

Prezzi on Pew and Mavor, risk-driven spiral model

Boehm & Hansen, 2001

Pew 08

Week 3,     7 Sep 20

FDUCS  1    2    3

Axure lab

Week 4,    14 Sep 20

IRB certificate due

Dow 11

Rossen & Carroll chapter on evaluation

Lab 2: RUI, including Kukreja, Stevenson, & Ritter, 2006, and Morgan et al. 13 new icon
[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 5,     21 Sep 20

FDUCS 4, 5, 6

MacKenzie 13, Ch. 8

Theories of managing data and analyses: Good enough practices, Wilson, Bryan, Cranston, Kitzes, Nederbragt, & Teal, or Pragmatic Programmer

Project title due

Week 6,     28 Sep 20

Kegworth video (there are others, e.g., United 232, comments have some further gems)

FDUCS appendix

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

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

Week 7,    5 Oct 21


Lazar5, and copy in the PSU libraries but link may be fragile]

Ritter & Schooler 01

Grant, 1962

Ritter & Bibby, 2008 ; or 2001

Week 8,     12 Oct 20


Ritter, Kim, & Morgan, 09 / Ritter, Kim, Morgan, and Carlson 13 (pick one)

Abstract 1 page on project

Week 9,     19 Oct 20

Ritter, Freed, Haskett, 2005, Byrne et al. 1999, as example task analyses pick one

Endsley paper

Rosson & Carrol 02 on scenarios

TA Lab starts

Week 10,     26 Oct 20

Paik et al. paper

Tehranchi & Ritter 18

Ivory & Hurst paper 01

Booher & Minneger, 03

Automatic Testing (Bobby) Lab new icon[now commercial, appears to be not available] or equivalent, such as Cynthia Says, or WebAIM

Week 11,     2 Nov 20

Lazar 4

Clark73 paper

student found papers 1, 2

Stats HWK handout

Week 12,     9 Nov 20

student found papers, 3, 4, exam review

Week 13,     16 Nov 20

Exam review and exam

See:   Dunlosky et al.'s paper on how to study
          Example exam new icon

Week 14,     23 Nov 20

Thanksgiving week!

Week 15,     0 Dec 20

Project presentations

Week 16,    7 Dec 20

Project presentations and course review and final charge

Week 17,    15 Dec 20

Project report due, 5 pm, postmarked by email



3.5 Detailed schedule as PDF

Draft Detailed Schedule as PDF new icon<- Detailed due dates are in here.


3.6 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 online or interpreted by the OWL project. You will essentially have to know this style for HCI writing.

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.

How to write an abstract by Mary-Claire Van Leunen (password protected)
Subjects vs. Participants by Roediger

Online book on typography, and Word, and how they interact for usability by Butterick


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.)

Labs and projects may be done in groups of 1 or 2. 2 is preferred.

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

Writing mistakes that I hate

Marking scheme


You will do a variety of labs. Each lab writeup is nominally 20 points (some are smaller). A lesser number of points (60) 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.

Due date, beginning of class

Paper comments and paper presentations


1 point comment paper on each reading new icon[template for comments], 24 points kept out of about ~35, and you will present a paper per super-group you want us to read in weeks 11-12.

Due 30 min. before class

Mid-Term Exam


In class (same time, probably not space), taken individually


Comments on writing

Example template:



Final project, made up of: IRB certified 1, title 1, abstract 3, report 25, study IRB approved+3 points.

Best project will get the Fred Loomis Outreach Prize, $100, from an anonymous icon

2019 Fall winners, Cai & Chen

2020 Fall winners, Guo & Li,  and
                          González-Vargas & Cole

Further example projects

15 Dec 2020, 5pm

Use this form with submission




5. IST 521 CLASS Projects (subject to revision)

Allowed interfaces/web sites to analyse

Each semester each group does a useful project. They might as well have some impact. There must 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 (). Getting your study IRB approved is worth extra points.

  • The CREATE student team system, joint PSU/CMU project (colleague)
  • (user) MathPsych/ICCM conference web site (user) 
  • 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.
  • Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health (collaborator)
  • LionPath: System for notifying teachers when students drop a PSU course (so teams can be informed, previous report can be built upon) (teacher, long, long-time frustrated user)
  • App for Director of Career Services, Penn State Altoona
  • App for brain cancer support foundation (friend had cancer)
  • website for Temple gymnastics club (met at a gym meet)
  • Parking planner, David Dorfman (user)
  • Other project you find or wish to develop with instructor approval


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.

Morgan, J. H., Cheng, C.-Y., Pike, C., & Ritter, F. E. (2013). A design, tests, and considerations for improving keystroke and mouse loggers. Interacting with Computers, 25(3), 242-258.

Please note: The ideas you write about, and to some extent the literature you include in the report on your IST 501/521/530 projects can overlap. But the actual text - paragraph by paragraph, research questions, and so on - should be distinct, guided by the topics covered in the course. new icon

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 will be 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. Getting feedback is completely fairplay and encouraged.

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 or go to the zoom room 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 (this may be relaxed this Fall 2020 semester). 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 at Indiana on plagiarism and PSU university policy on plaigirism.
  • 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

See GURU and other PSU sites.

Also see local, old, cached copy of some Relevant University Policies