The impact of usability : integrating usability engineering into the computing curriculum
Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Usability Engineering (UE) are areas of
expertise that are still relatively new to computing and many HCI educationalists are
still wrestling with methods of teaching in an effective way, a diverse and difficult
subject. The teaching of HCI skills is not always undertaken by computing
departments; it may be carried out by departments of psychology, ergonomics,
business and perhaps even art based subject areas. This probably adds to the diversity
of approaches adopted by HCI academics who attempt to fit in with the ethos of their
In order to teach students to use effective HCI skills it is necessary to adopt somewhat
diverse teaching strategies. The traditional lecture and laboratory based sessions do
not lend themselves to providing a ripe environment for those wishing to develop
expertise in the area of HCI and related fields. Interpersonal skills and the ability to
work in a team are of prime importance to the development of suitable usability skills.
Usability experts frequently comment that their interpersonal skills are used not just
with users but with their colleagues as well. The Open Ended Group Project (OEGP)
is one such way can be used to impart and develop skills which will be useful to the
HCI student. The OEGP has no fixed solution and involves working in teams which
can and should be multidisciplinary. This provides students with the opportunity to
use their skills and the skills of others, and to develop their powers of communication.
The OEGP has been used in education for many years but it is comparatively recently
that computing education recognised how the OEGP could be adapted to its needs.
Usability engineering is a term used to cover a variety of activities. However, a
definition of the terms `usability', `usability evaluation' and `usability engineering' is
presented here and it is suggested that used in these ways the terms are more useful
This covering paper discusses the work carried out in the field of usability and the
teaching of HCI and human factors related courses. It concludes that the teaching of
HCI is not typical of the teaching for other computing subjects but that it can provide
a rich source of expertise for computing students. It discusses the impact of the
OEGP and looks at attempts to define usability engineering as a distinct activity from
usability evaluation and usability.