CS 5340 – Human-Computer Interaction


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Fall 2009

Meeting Mon 6-9pm

Location: 236 Forsyth

4 sem hrs


Prof. Timothy Bickmore


(617) 373-5477

Office: WVH 448

Office Hours: Wed 3:00-5:00pm






Office: TBD

Office Hours: TBD







This course provides an introduction to and overview of the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). HCI is an interdisciplinary field that integrates theories and methodologies from computer science, cognitive psychology, design, and many other areas. Course readings will span current theory and practice in interface specification, design and evaluation, as well as current and classic research papers in HCI. Students will work on both individual and team projects to design, implement and evaluate computer interfaces. The course is open to students from all disciplines, providing them with experience working in interdisciplinary design teams.


There are three major components to the course, treated in parallel during the semester. The central focus of the course is a semester-long team project, in which students will design, implement and evaluate a user interface. Teams will be incrementally led through the phases of ethnographic study and requirements analysis, scenario-based design, paper prototyping, computer prototyping, and several methods of usability analysis and evaluation. The second component of the course involves exposure to current research in HCI, in order to provide students with an understanding of the range of issues addressed in the field, to provide them with practice reading, presenting and critiquing HCI research, and to provide ideas for team projects. This component of the course will be implemented in a seminar style, with students presenting and critiquing short HCI research papers each week. The third component of the course involves an introduction to software architectures used in modern graphical user interfaces, including the implementation of a few simple interfaces using the Java Swing toolkit (alternate assignments are available for students with non-technical backgrounds).


A special focus of the course is on developing user interfaces for older adults. This user population presents special challenges given the diversity in cognitive, motor and perceptual abilities, and helps students realize that they must design for users who do not necessarily share their assumptions, knowledge and abilities. The team projects will involve developing health education interfaces for older adult users.




Significant experience using computers and GUI-based applications, and ability to create simple web pages.

CS, IS, Engineering Majors: Demonstrable programming skill in at least one high-level language.



Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Design, implement and evaluate effective and usable graphical computer interfaces.
  • Describe and apply core theories, models and methodologies from the field of HCI.
  • Describe and discuss current research in the field of HCI.
  • Implement simple graphical user interfaces using the Java Swing toolkit.
  • Describe special considerations in designing user interfaces for older adults.



Required: Human-Computer Interaction, Third Edition by Alan Dix et al, Prentice Hall (2004).


Optional: Substantial readings will be required from the following two texts. Copies have been put on reserve in the library.


Usability Engineering: Scenario-Based Development of Human-Computer Interaction by Rosson, M. and Carroll, J.


Usability Engineering  by Nielsen, J.


Additional readings will be provided online.


Course Requirements

This course requires a significant amount of work outside of the classroom. A typical week will consist of:

  • Reading approximately 100 pages from the textbooks and research papers.
  • Working on an individual homework assignment, encompassing ethnographic studies, evaluation of existing interfaces, and programming or design exercises, and writing a report on the results.
  • Working on part of a team project and writing a progress report.
  • Describing and discussing homework results in class.

In addition, at least once during the semester each student will present and critique a short research paper from the HCI literature in class, as well as participate in the presentation of their team project results both orally and in a final written report. 


Paper Presentations

At least once during the semester, each student will give a 15 minute presentation of a short HCI research paper. Student presentations should consist of:

  1. a short description of the paper (everyone will have read it) (3 minutes);
  2. demo (live software demo best, or video, or mock up of extension) (5 minutes);
  3. a critique, covering some or all of (a) novelty, (b) usefulness/impact, (c) soundness of approach, (d) evaluation (soundness of evaluation and significance of findings) (5 minutes);
  4. one or two ideas regarding how the work could be extended (3 minutes)

The instructor will model a paper presentation during the first class meeting.

Students who want to use the projector for visual aides should put their materials on the web for quick access via the instructor’s computer (a USB memory stick is a good backup).



In lieu of  exams, short quizzes will be given at the start of most class meetings.


Grades will be based on the following:

  • Quizzes (20%).
  • Class participation (15%), including in-class presentations.
  • Individual homework (25% divided equally among assignments).
  • Team project (40%, consisting of 30% project grade from the instructor, 5% self evaluation and 5% peer evaluation, with the 30% instructor grade divided equally among assignments except T6,T7,T8,T9 are each worth twice as much as the others).


Class Format

A typical three-hour class will consist of:

  1. Quiz
  2. Review of previous week’s assignments, including presentation and discussion by randomly selected students.
  3. Lecture on HCI practice topic.
  4. Discussion of next week’s assignments.
  5. Break
  6. Introduction to HCI research topic by instructor.
  7. HCI research paper presentations by students.


Course Rules

Academic Honesty. Individual homework assignments must be each student’s own work. Team projects must be the work of the students in the team. Plagiarism or cheating will result in official University disciplinary review.


Missed Exams. There are no makeup quizzes, but the lowest quiz grade will be dropped. Normally, failure to take a quiz results in a grade of 0. If the absence is excused due to exceptional circumstances, the student’s other course work will be used to determine a quiz grade.  


Due Dates. Work due in a given week must be posted online by the start of class for that week so that it can be reviewed in class. In addition, for SWING homework assignments, zip your source files and email them to cs5340@ccs.neu.edu (in case there are any authorship issues).


Late Assignments. Assignments (individual and team) that are turned in late are automatically lowered one grade. Assignments will not be accepted more than one week late.  Because the team project activities each week build on the prior weeks’ results, teams are strongly encouraged to turn in their work on time in whatever state it is in.


Etiquette. Please keep all cell phones, pagers, and other electronic devices (including laptops) turned OFF during class. If your activities during class are deemed disruptive, you will be asked to leave.