OMSCS | Part IV, Course Review 1 (HCI)

The OMSCS series covers my personal experience going through Georgia Tech's Online Master's in Computer Science. Part I can be found here. My hope is that this guide will be useful as a reference for current and prospective students. Part IV covers my experience in Human Computer Interaction.

Human Computer Interaction (Course Review)

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) was my first course in OMSCS and a nice casual onramp to the program. Georgia Tech strongly encouraged students to limit themselves to one course their first semester. In my opinion, learning how-to-learn through an online evening program is a sort of second course itself. So I'm glad I listened.

Final Grade: A

Average Time Spent: ~ 7 hours / week.

What was the course like?

What it covers: I would describe HCI as a structured approach to interface design. It's often too easy to say that a product is awesome because it "just works". HCI gets at the fundamental principles that make interfaces usable and enjoyable. You should definitely take it if Product Management and/or UX Design is something you might be interested in.

How it's structured: HCI is a go-at-your-own-pace course. All assignments and projects are released from Day 1, making it easy to work ahead. Assignments are short papers that alternate between Principles (P) and Methods (M) each week, with two exams (midterm & final), and a final project. There is quite a bit of reading of academic papers and foundational HCI texts, most of which I found interesting. There is also a participation grade for the class based on peer feedback (on the assignments), survey completion, and forum participation. I thought it was generally a good way to meet classmates and get feedback on your work.

How it's paced: The M assignments were more time-consuming for me, making the workload on M assignment weeks feel heavier. The final project was akin to putting all the M assignments together into a single paper.

What did you do?

The P assignments were straightforward short answer questions.

For the M assignments, I looked at improving Facebook Marketplace’s P2P reputation system (reviews and ratings). Reputation systems are one way to create trust in online marketplaces (think of a 5-star Uber driver or an Airbnb Superhost). As Airbnb Experience Design Lead Charlie Aufmann put it: “We’re not talking about when a company behaves in a trustworthy way so their customers trust them or their product. Of course this is important, but the trust that makes Airbnb possible is when hosts and guests trust each other.” My research was based on the fact that Facebook Marketplace (in 2020) treated profile reputation as an afterthought rather than a central feature, making for an experience more akin to Craigslist than Ebay. I conducted needfinding through user surveys to identify what Marketplace buyers/sellers needed in their transactions, prototyped a UI that improved the flow for reviewing Marketplace buyers and sellers, and evaluated user impressions of my UI.

For my final research project, I went through a similar process (needfinding, prototyping, evaluation) as I did for Facebook Marketplace in redesigning Piazza's interface.

What went well?

  • Professor Joyner's lectures were well put together and top notch.
  • The readings were interesting and relevant. I particularly enjoyed the ACM-SIGCHI research papers.
  • The curriculum was useful. I think the fundamental principles learned in this course have given me a better language to communicate the user journey, and to evaluate specific designs.

What didn't go well?

  • Honestly I don't have much critical feedback to offer this class because of how much I enjoyed it.
  • The pace of the class was quite fast, particularly during M weeks between peer feedback, lectures, assignments, and readings. I think on these weeks I spent closer to 12 hours/week whereas I spent closer to 5 hours/week during P assignments.

Tips

  • A good PDF reading software will make for an easier time in this course. Since the course's exams are open book, this also makes it easier to find the answers in the text. I used PDF Reader Pro Lite. My workflow was:

    • Highlight/annotate readings
    • Export annotations as a summary
    • Review summaries prior to exams and to cite in assignments
  • Spend a little extra time crafting surveys that enable good feedback. I made extensive use of peersurvey's image upload feature to show visuals of my interface design and used short response text inputs to get feedback beyond simple multiple choice questions. At the end, I would often include meta questions asking how the respondent's experience taking the survey was. The open response feedback gave me much more confidence in my prototypes and methodology than multiple choice or ranked choice questions ever would have.
  • Reciprocity goes a long way in this course. Giving good feedback helps to get good feedback. In all my surveys I included a place for respondents' to link me their surveys so I could complete theirs as well.

Tags:

  • OMSCS