Gesellschaft fuer Informatik e.V. ---- German Informatics Society

Recommendations for

Software Ergonomics Education

in Informatics Curricula at German Universities

Prepared by a working group of the the Special Interest Group on Software-Ergonomics:

Susanne Maaß (Chair), David Ackermann, Wolfgang Dzida, Peter Gorny, Horst Oberquelle, Karl-Heinz Rödiger, Walter Rupietta, Norbert Streitz

German version published in Informatik Spektrum 16(1993) no. 1, pp. 25-30.

Translation: Peter Gorny, 1994

Table of Contents

I. Initial Situation

II. Qualifications and Study Aims - The Work-Systems Area - The Software Products Area - The System Development and Introduction Area

III. Contents - Software-ergonomic design of human-computer systems - Theoretical Basics - Psychological Basics - Ergonomic Basics - Design of computer-supported work systems - Dialogue design - Input and output design - Ergonomics oriented system development - System introduction and use - System evaluation

IV. Teaching Procedures - Suggestions for Lectures and Seminars - Practical Tasks - Various Applications and User Groups

V. Organisational Aspects - Connection to Study and Examination Regulations - Requirements for the Lecturers

I. Initial Situation

In the last 10 years an interdisciplinary research area has established itself, under the term software ergonomics, concerned with the user oriented and task centered design of human-computer interaction. During this period it has been shown that questions of system development and design must be handled from both the perspective of informatics as well as psychology and ergonomics. In the area of informatics, software ergonomics extends to touch software engineering and computer graphics.

Students of informatics, as future software developers, acquire momentarily mostly technical know-how which encompasses a relatively wide variety of methods for technical specification and implementation of system concepts. Abilities and knowledge which are necessary for a suitable human/task requirements analysis and prospective work design are, however, imparted either not at all or to only limited extent. Informatics education which believes itself to be practice oriented is therefore challenged to face this shortcoming through the inclusion of societal and human science aspects and procedures, as attempted within the area of software ergonomics.

Within the GI , activities have taken place for several years in software ergonomics (e.g. the Technical Committee 2.3 on Ergonomics in Computing, the Special Interest Group 2.3.1 "Software Ergonomics" and neighbouring areas (e.g. the special interest group 2.1.2 "Interactive Systems" and 4.1.3 "Graphical User Interfaces"). At higher education institutions the courses in software ergonomics have been, and still are, based on the occasional initiative of interested lecturers. In order to remedy this defect, the special interest group "Software Ergonomics" has formed a working group to design a curriculum for the software ergonomics field as part of informatics studies at German universities. This initiative follows similar activities which, at present, take place within the scope of ACM (SIGCHI "Curriculum Development Committee") and the IFIP (WG 13.1 "Education in HCI and HCI Curriculum").

With this proposal at hand, a unified basis for teaching in this field shall be presented. The aims, contents and methods which seem necessary for a consolidated study of questions in software ergonomics will be described. The aim of this recommendation is to make the area of software ergonomics a solid part of informatics education and to stimulate the establishment of appropriate courses in all german universities offering informatics as a main subject.

The informatics subject catalogue (agreed by the "Fakultätentag Informatik" 1976), classifies courses in software ergonomics are to be classified in the areas (02) practical informatics (software development), (04) applications of informatics, and (06) societal aspects of informatics. According to the acquisition of general knowledge about work-related effects of technical information systems, as supported since 1986 in the GI section 8 publication "Recommendation for the Inclusion of Societal Aspects of Informatics in Informatics Education" (Informatik-Spektrum, Vol. 9, No. 1, Feb. 86, pp. 51­54), students of informatics should be able to obtain a detailed knowledge of analysis and design and thus gain the capability for interdisciplinary collaboration with specialists in ergonomics, psychology, and organisational sciences.

The software ergonomics curriculum is conceived as a part of informatics education and thus needs as a prerequisite the understanding of material from other informatics sub-fields. These include especially the areas of software engineering and computer graphics, the contents of which, it is not the task of this curriculum to specify. From the disciplines of psychology and ergonomics, the parts will be listed which are relevant in connection with human and task oriented system design. The fixation of priorities or of the allocated time for the various aspects seems to be untimely in view of today´s low expansion of software ergonomics experts among the teaching staff of German Universities.

The curriculum framework is structured as follows:

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II. Qualifications and Study Aims

In the following, nine desired qualifications are named. They ensue from formulating the qualifications with regard to analysis, structure and evaluation in the areas of work-systems, software products and system development/introduction. No meaning is attached to the order in which the qualifications are presented. Each qualification will be operationalised by study aims.

The Work-Systems Area

Qualification 1: Understanding of software development as a part of work and organisation design.

Study Objective 1.1: Students know concepts of work design and their consequences on work and personality, and can apply these in software development.

Study Objective 1.2: Students know concepts of work organisation and can characterise the interaction between work organisation and computer use.

Qualification 2: The ability to recognise the requirements of work situations and to take these into account in system design.

Study Objective 2.1: Students can analyse and evaluate demands in view of associated pressures which result from various modalities in information processing (e.g. visual, auditory and tactile).

Study Objective 2.2: Students can distinguish simple and complex dialogue situations with regard to their demands on human thoughts and acts.

Study Objective 2.3: Students can judge the advantages and disadvantages of learning situations such as "learning by doing", "learning via a course", "learning with a user handbook" and "learning via a computer tutorial".

Study Objective 2.4: Students can describe the communication and cooperation within a workgroup, and judge organisational and technical support measures.

Qualification 3: The ability to analyse and describe work and tasks.

Study Objective 3.1: Students know analysis methods, can interpret typical results and derive design requirements from them.

Study Objective 3.2: Students can adequately describe task structures and procedures in organisation units.

The Software Products Area

Qualification 4: The ability to determine an appropriate human-computer functional separation.

Study Objective 4.1: Students can differentiate various task types according to psychological and ergonomics criteria.

Study Objective 4.2: Students can break down tasks into separate subtasks.

Study Objective 4.3: Students can relate activities to functional roles (human or computer), bearing in mind general technical conditions, while taking various work concepts into account.

Qualification 5: The ability to design human-computer interaction.

Study Objective 5.1: Students can design various forms of input and output.

Study Objective 5.2: Students can application specifically design control, adaptation and application dialogues.

Study Objective 5.3: Students can design the support functions of a system (error messages, help and documentation).

Study Objective 5.4 Students can select and apply tools and aids for the development of user interfaces.

Qualification 6: The ability to judge software products with respect to their functionality for task-adequate functionality and user-adequate handling.

Study Objective 6.1: Students can name and differentiate software ergonomic quality characteristics and apply them in the evaluation of products.

Study Objective 6.2: Students know methods for evaluating user interfaces and can apply them appropriately.

Study Objective 6.3: Students can apply ergonomics standards and rules when judging the usability of software.

The System Development and Introduction Area

Qualification 7: The ability to organise the system development process while taking user requirements into account.

Study Objective 7.1: Students can describe system development "from the outside to the inside" as well as explain the advantagesand difficulties.

Study Objective 7.2: Students can characterise iterative and evolutionary development models by using an example and can name the respective advantages and disadvantages.

Study Objective 7.3: Students can explain and give reasons for the point of time user's requirements need to take part into the system development process.

Study Objective 7.4: Students can illustrate and give reasons for the suitability of tools and aids with respect to process form and people involved.

Study Objective 7.5: Students know prototyping methods and can characterise their value and suitability in the system development process.

Qualification 8: The ability to organise the cooperation process between users and developers (user involvement).

Study Objective 8.1: Students can explain the prospects and problems of user involvement in system development.

Study Objective 8.2: Students can describe general conditions, forms and aids for the cooperation with users as well as compare their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Study Objective 8.3: Students can illustrate and give reasons for the different interests of those involved in the development process.

Qualification 9: The ability to introduce systems in such a way that hindrances or pressures for those affected are kept to a minimum and that no-ones rights are reduced.

Study Objective 9.1: Students can apply the appropriate legal regulations to an example of system development and introduction.

Study Objective 9.2: Students can describe qualification measures which have to take place before and during system introduction, by using an example.

Study Objective 9.3: Students can explain, using an example, the organisational measures which are necessary during the introduction of a new system.

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III. Contents

The curriculum recommendation offers at this point a structured collection of educational contents for courses on the subject of software ergonomics. There will be no judgement made about the importance of single aspects. As long as specific contents are not fixed by obligatory study or examination regulations, the teacher is free to choose the material and set emphasis according to personal qualifications and interests.


1. Software-ergonomic design of human-computer systems


2. Theoretical Basics

3. Psychological Basics

3.1 Perception

3.2 Thinking and problem solving

3.3 Learning

3.4 Action

3.5 Communication and cooperation

4. Ergonomic Basics

4.1 Aspects of Work Psychology

4.2 Aspects of Work Organisation


5. Design of computer-supported work systems

6. Dialogue design

7. Input and output design

8. Ergonomics oriented system development

9. System introduction and use

10. System evaluation

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IV. Teaching Procedures

In the specialist area of software ergonomics, the teaching of practical skills is an essential educational aim. These should reach from abstract design consideration to concrete system implementations. It is for this reason that pure theoretical courses in software ergonomics should be an exception. Furthermore, in lectures and seminars, which are suitable primarily for the teaching of theoretical material, practical references are possible and desirable. Section 11 contains suggestions for procedures in such courses. For the teaching of practical skills, course forms such as exercise classes, projects, and practicals are well suited. It is particularly motivating and effective when students are allowed to create concrete products themselves, be it the development of a new system or the critical judgement of an existing system and the elaboration of suggestions for improvement. In such cases the teaching should not so much be focused on what is "right" or "wrong", but more on an assessment of what is "better" or "worse" in relation to various aspects. The sections 12 and13 contain suggestions for procedures in practically oriented courses.

11. Suggestions for Lectures and Seminars

12. Practical Tasks

13. Various Applications and User Groups

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V. Organisational Aspects

Connection to Study and Examination Regulations ­ Course Offerings

Software systems are nowadays predominantly interactive systems. Aspects of user friendliness and easy learnability therefore hold the same significance in software design as functionality and efficiency. The one without the other makes little sense if appropriate means for the tasks to be solved must be designed. Since this is not a temporary fashionable phenomenon, likely to soon become obsolete through further research and development, but rather a long term problem area, it is recommended that the specialist field of software ergonomics be included in the informatics study and examination regulations.

It would be desirable to already present aspects of software ergonomics in the compulsory courses of basic informatics studies. Self-contained software ergonomics courses should be offered early to more advanced students (from the 5th semester on). One possibility to teach this discipline is to merge it with the central informatics subjects, e.g. to enrich courses on software engineering with questions from software ergonomics. An analogue procedure is also possible, for examples, in courses on computer graphics.

However, the intercession of software ergonomic knowledge in all subjects concerned with user interfaces, cannot be a substitute for a standalone and, when possible, self-contained teachable subject. Naturally no informatics department can be obliged to offer software ergonmics courses as long as there is no qualified teaching staff. The exact structure of the course must be adapted to the local conditions.

Depending on the organisation of the subject areas it is possible for software ergonomics to be assigned to the examination areas of practical informatics or applied informatics. According to the conception of the relevant examination regulations, software ergonomics can be an optional subject, compulsory choice subject or a specialised in-depth subject. In any case, the subject area should be relevant for examinations and the accompanying classes should allow for coursework to be accredited, for example, via accompanying exercises, practicals, seminar papers or homework. Questions from software ergonomics should be subjects for diploma dissertations.

Requirements for the Lecturers

The field of software ergonomics, as presented earlier in the study aims and contents, places considerable extra demands on informatics teachers. The ideal candidate would have multiple qualifications in informatics and ergonomics or psychology. This has until now probably only rarely applied.

In order for an informatics specialist to responsibly teach the subject, a minimum requirement is a basic understanding of work psychology and cognitive psychology as well as ergonomics . This, in particular, makes possible the very desirable collaboration of informatics specialists with the respective specialists from other subjects. If the local conditions allow, such a collaboration can involve, for example, that teachers of informatics and the software ergonomics related disciplines together offer an introductory course. However, this requires that the other subject specialists have a basic knowledge of informatics and the resulting problems. Such a cooperation can lead to a course over several semesters where the semesters contents can alternate between informatics, ergonomics and psychology.

Since even the outlined minimum qualifications are difficult to realise, appropriate courses should also be offered to teachers. Such offers can consist of written material, seminars and tutorials and organised exchange of experience. Within the framework of the GI, a platform should be created in the form of a working group which serves for the exchange of experience and materials. It should, if necessary, further detail the contents of this curriculum, develop teaching sequences, exercises and practicals as well as work out literature recommendations.

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