CPSC 481 - Course Description

Contact information Prof. Saul Greenberg
Office hours
  • one hour before class
  • by appointment, arranged via email or telephone
  • by drop-in for short queries if you really need some fast action (but no guarantees on this one)!
Calendar description Fundamental theory and practice of the design, implementation, and evaluation of human­computer interfaces. Topics include:
  • principles of design;
  • methods for evaluating interfaces with or without user involvement;
  • techniques for prototyping and implementing graphical user interfaces.
Prerequisite Computer Science 333 Foundations of Software Engineering.
Purpose Human computer interaction stresses the importance of good interfaces and the relationship of interface design to effective human interaction with computers. On completion of the course you will:
  • have a theoretical knowledge and practical experiences in the fundamental aspects of designing, implementing and evaluating interfaces.
  • know what is meant good design, and you will have experiences designing systems that are usable by people.
  • know contemporary techniques for implementing interfaces, and you will have experienced building applications through prototyping tools, window-based systems, and toolkits.
  • know and have practiced a variety of simple methods for evaluating the quality of an interface.
Structure The course will unfold by examining design, implementation, and evaluation. Theoretical class lectures will be augmented by case studies of interface successes and failures; you will be expected to provide examples of problems you have had with computers and contribute to class discussion. You will also apply the theoretical knowledge learned to series of assignments that brings you through selected portions of a design, implementation, and evaluation cycle. The course will also introduce you to novel interfaces that go beyond what we normally see in today's graphical user interfaces.
The student If you are enrolled in this course, you are probably an undergraduate student in Computer Science at the University of Calgary. You are probably in the third or last year of your degree program. You should already have basic computer science skills (programming, data structures, software engineering). You will be especially well prepared if you have taken an introductory psychology course as one of your options.
Required text Lecture notes
  • We will make copies of the lecture notes and handouts available as both paper booklets you can buy at cost and through the web as topics on the CPSC 481 home page.
Optional text Readings in Human Computer Interaction: Towards the Year 2000 (2nd Edition) Baecker, R., Grudin, J., Buxton, W., and Greenberg, S. (1995) , 950 pages, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers Inc, California. ISBN 1-55860-246-1, Dewey Catalog QA76.9.H85R43.
  • Back-cover description
  • While you do not need this book to pass the course, reading the relevant chapters will give you greater knowledge and depth of the material discussed in class. Chapters and excerpts relevant to the class are noted along with the topic descriptions in each topic page. In general, this book contains a huge amount of material related to HCI, much which goes far beyond this course. It contains over 70 important papers written by HCI researchers, structured into 14 chapters. Each chapter introduces and briefly surveys its particular topic, and includes many references to other literature as well as appropriate technical videos. 

Visual Basic on-line tutorial or book
of your choice
  • Choose one to help you learn Visual Basic, which is used for your final assignment.
  • Because there are now so many good books available, no specific book is recommended here.
  • You can also use the on-line MSDN tutorial to Visual Basic
Assessment You must achieve a passing grade in both the exam component and the assignment component to pass the course!
  • Exams (50%)
    • Mid-term: 20%
    • Registrar's final: 30%
  • Assignments (50%)
    • Assignment 1: 13%
    • Assignment 2: 12%
    • Assignment 3: 25%

Exams will be a mix of short and long answers, and multiple choice questions. Questions will test your knowledge about facts you have learnt in the course, your interface design abilities, and your ability to link and apply the concepts presented in the course. This includes both in-class work and text readings. The exams will also test your ability to communicate your knowledge to us: brain-dumps and knowing an odd phrase or two don't count for much with us. If you don't communicate your answer, you don't get any marks.

In the assignments, you will apply the knowledge you learnt in class.

  • Some assignments are pen and paper exercises. Reports that are poorly written or presented will be heavily penalized or rejected, no matter how good the content!
  • Other assignments have a programming component. They will require you to learn particular interface implementation tools outside of class. All programs must be demonstrated to myself or the TA. Non-working programs get an F. We are not prepared to go through your code to try and figure out how your system should have looked. However, code should be well structured and well documented. You will lose marks if it is isn't.
  • Assignments will be handed out in class and further elaborated upon in the labs. Assignment deadlines are strictly enforced. Late assignments will be heavily penalized or not accepted. No extensions will be given without medical documentation.
  • Do not fall into the trap of spending weeks programming an assignment , but studying for only hours on an exam worth 25% of your grade!
Tutorials (Labs) Labs will be used to guide you through your assignments. You will:
  • receive assignment details and expectations;
  • learn specific skills necessary to successfully complete your assignment;
    e.g. evaluation methodology, details of programming window systems and interface toolkits;
  • participated in class discussions of intermediate results of your assignments;
  • receive feedback on project milestones by the teaching assistant and the class.