Course Handbook

This is the course handbook for the course The Human Factor.

Version: Semester 2, 2016/2017.


“If the user can’t use it, then it doesn’t work at all.” (Susan Dray) In this course, we will look at the art and craft of building technical systems that people can actually use successfully. To this end, we will draw on relevant results from anthropology, behavioural, cognitive and social psychology, and sociology.

The course will be taught using a flipped classroom – before class, you will work through materials; in class, we will work on activities designed to review the material and deepen your learning.

The course is different from the Informatics HCI course as it is currently taught in that it places far more emphasis on the people who use technology, and the context in which technology is used. Where the HCI course focuses on conducting studies in human-computer interaction, and on creating usable interfaces, this course will draw far more heavily on ergonomics, psychology and sociology.

The course differs from Design courses in that it is more theory oriented, and the main learning outcome is not to produce an artefact, but to understand how artefacts are used, and how designs enable or hinder meaningful use.

Learning Outcomes

The formal learning outcomes are:

  1. understand how anthropometric, perceptual, cognitive, and social factors affect the interaction between people and technical systems
  2. evaluate the usability of a human-computer interface

Informally, this means that I want to get you used to a different way of seeing that will allow you to spot potential usability problems, make informed judgements about potential causes, and make plausible suggestions for changes that might alleviate these usability problems. We will cover some methods for formally testing your assessments of usability.

Each week’s learning outcomes are structured into three groups, understand (concepts that you should be familiar with), remember (concepts that you should remember for quizzes and assignments), and apply (skills).

One of the main themes of the course is learning from errors. So please do ask questions, make suggestions, and let me know what is and isn’t working for you.


  • Case Study. Open for submission through Learn: Wednesday 2pm, Week 3. Submission closes: Tuesday 23:59, Week 4
  • Quiz 1. Topics: Weeks 1-4 Open through Learn: Wednesday 2pm, Week 5. Closes: Thursday 1.59pm, Week 5.
  • Quiz 2. Topics: Weeks 4-8 Open through Learn: Wednesday 2pm, Week 9. Closes: Thursday 1.59pm, Week 9.
  • Final Usability Report. Open for submission through Learn: Wednesday 2pm, Week 10. Submission closes: Monday, April 10, 23:59, Week 12

All assessments will be marked according to the Postgraduate Common Marking Scheme. For those of you that are used to other systems of marking, bear in mind that anything above 70% is great, and anything below 50% is not a pass at Master’s level. For all written assignments that are not quizzes and not marked pass/fail, I use a detailed grading scheme.

After completing a quiz or submitting an assignment, please take a screenshot of the confirmation screen so that you have independent proof should the technology not work as required.

General Rules

If you need an extension, tell me as soon as possible, and at least one working day before the deadline. Otherwise, 5 points will be deducted from your grade for each day you are late submitting.

Make sure that you submit any written assignments using your exam number only, and that you state the number of words in your assignment. Table of contents, figure captions, table captions, and references do not count towards your total number of words. You have some flexibility – you can go over the word count by 100 words in the Case Study, and 200 words in the Usability Report, but not more.

Make sure that you know how to cite, how to quote, and how to avoid plagiarism.

Case Study

For the case study, in around 500 words, describe a single, specific problem that could make a self-service till difficult to use, explain why it could be a problem, and for whom it could be a problem, and suggest how that problem could be addressed. This problem has to be an issue that you have observed yourself, and I expect you to state the location of the till, and the supermarket. The upper word limit for this assignment is 600 words. Use as many figures, tables, and pictures as you can.

Quiz Assessments

Before you attempt your first quiz, be sure that you have worked through the practice quiz on Learn and have carefully read the tips and tricks for taking quizzes on Learn. If your set up fails you while you are taking a quiz, please do let me know as soon as possible, so that I can

The quizzes are a mix of 12 multiple choice and true/false questions. Sometimes, there is more than one correct answer. The questions will be drawn from a pool of 48 questions, 12 per week. The sequence and choice of questions will be randomised, so that no two quizzes are the same.

Usability Report

Choose a web site, a piece of software, an app, or a small gadget of your choice, and choose what aspect of usability you want to focus on, and how you will measure it. Measure this aspect, discuss your findings, and suggest improvements. (If you need participants, asking two people will be sufficient)

Word Count: 2000, excluding references. Shorter submissions are fine, too, but do not go over the word count by more than 200 words. The word count excludes the front matter, captions, text in tables and figures, and references.

Delivery, Workload, and Feedback

This course is delivered using a flipped classroom. This means that you will be expected to read the required resources (typically textbook chapters) and to engage with some of the materials posted on the web site before class. You can expect to spend 5-7 hours doing that every week. While most flipped classroom teaching involves videos, I have decided to use written materials and podcasts instead. Videos take up more bandwidth and require you to watch; whereas you can download and listen to podcasts whenever you like. I will do my best to provide transcripts for all podcasts.

We will have nine face-to-face teaching sessions (Weeks 1-9) and two online sessions (Week 10 and 11). Each face-to-face session starts with a block where we discuss issues that have emerged from the week’s readings. We will then do group activities that relate to the week’s learning outcomes, and you will have an opportunity to check how well you understand each week’s key concepts and ask questions.

Each week, there will be two posts on the blog part of this web site, one to document what we discussed in class (live blog), and an open discussion post where you can ask questions in the comments. Even though this web site is public, comments are heavily moderated, so don’t worry about drive by trolling.

Skills and Equipment

You will need strong English language skills, as the course involves a lot of in-class debate and listening to others under noisy conditions. I speak with a Scottish-German accent, which may be difficult for you to understand if you’re mainly used to American accents. If you have trouble understanding me, and need me to speak more slowly and/or clearly, let me know.

Bring your own device! Laptops, tablets, and phones are welcome in class. I trust you to use them responsibly, and to keep your phones on silent. I also assume that if you’re physically present, you’re ready and prepared to take part actively in class activities.

I am happy for you to record course sessions using your own recording devices, but please make sure that you protect your classmates’ privacy. These recordings are only for your own use and study. As our sessions won’t be classical lectures, I won’t be using lecture recording technology.

You will need

  • stable Internet access, preferably through an Ethernet connection, to submit assignments and take part in quizzes
  • earphones and an Internet connection with sufficient capacity to watch videos and listen to podcasts
  • a device that you can take to class which allows you to submit answers to Top Hat questions. Top Hat allows you to answer questions by sending a text to a number that is charged at the normal rate, so all you need is a simple phone.


Most weeks are designed around specific chapters in the main text book, Ritter, Frank E.; Baxter, Gordon D; Churchill, Elizabeth F. (2014): Foundations for Designing User Centred Systems. Springer. Additional readings are given in specific weeks.

Contact Information

Dr Maria Wolters
Room 4.32A, Informatics Forum, 10 Crichton Street

Skype: mkwolters, Google Hangout: maria dot wolters at gmail

Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag
Course Materials “The Human Factor” von Maria Klara Wolters ist lizenziert unter einer Creative Commons Namensnennung-Nicht kommerziell 4.0 International Lizenz.