Adonis Diaries

New semester, new approach

Posted on: October 28, 2008

Article #42  (April 6, 2006)

 “New semester, new approach to teaching the HF course”

This semester ten students enrolled for my class; only one is a computer engineer finishing his degree and the remaining are industrial engineers.  As a reminder, this course is required for IE and the other engineering disciplines managed to open up new elective courses and were trying to market them at the expense of the wishes of many students who wanted to take my course and their petitions were denied.

With a class, one fourth its usual number, I had to capitalize on the advantages of smaller classes, once the shock is under control.  This semester, methods applied in human factors engineering are the focus and the reduction to half the previous semester of body of knowledge in the course materials might encourage my class to appreciate the efforts and time invested by the pool of human factors researchers and professionals to make available practical design guidelines for the other engineering professions.

Whereas in the previous semesters I shun away from exposing my class to new methods, except teaching them explicitly the concept of controlled experimentations, the differences among dependent, independent and controlled variables and correcting their misunderstanding, thinking that there was an abundance of knowledge to assimilate for a meager semester, I boldly changed direction in my teaching approach by investing more time on exposing and explaining the various methods that human factors might be applying in their profession.  The first assignment was using excel to compare 40 methods used in human factors, industrial engineering, industrial psychology, and designers of intelligent machines.  This assignment was a version of article #14, about the taxonomy of methods, from 20 articles that I wrote the previous years and offered them as an introduction to the course, in addition to the course materials. The students were supposed to select five categories from more than the dozen ways to classifying methods such as definition, purpose, applications, inputs, processes, procedures, output/product, mathematical requirements, disciplines teaching them, advantages, disadvantages, sources/links, connections with other methods, and comments.

I expected that, as engineers, they would logically select for columns applications, input, procedure, output, and comments because they are what define a method but somehow they opted for applications, procedures, advantages, disadvantages, and comments mainly because it is how the internet offer information.  After 3 students submitted their assignment on time I handed them over 40 summary sheets for the 16 methods used to analyzing a system or a mission, at least 2 sheets for each of 16 methods, one sheet on the purpose, input, procedure, and output/product of the method and the other sheets as examples of what the output is expected to look for presentation. I then asked the less performing students to concentrate on only the 16 methods for their assignment and most of them did not submit this assignment even two months later.

So far I used up six sessions for methods or related topics such as the methods applied in the process of analyzing systems’ performance, psychophysical procedures, the fundamentals of controlled experimentation methods, human factors performance criteria, and what human factors measure in their experiments. 

As for the body of knowledge I extract a few facts from experiments and asked them to participate in providing me with the rationales or processes that might explain these facts. For example, if data show that females on average are two third the strength of males then what could be the underlying causes for that discovery?  Could that fact be explained by the length of the muscles, the cross section thickness of the muscles, the number of muscle fibers, or the length of the corresponding bones?

Facts are entertaining but I figured that they are big boys to be constantly entertained while shovelful of money is being spent for their university education. Facts are entertaining but there have to come a time when these big boys stop and wonder at the brain power, Herculean patience, and hard work behind these amusing sessions.

The next assignment was to observe the business of the family’s bread earner, note down the minute tasks of his typical day work, learn about the business by attempting to generate detailed answers from a questionnaire they have to develop based on a set of investigative query and problems related to human factors performance criteria in the assignment sheet, and to report back what are the routine and daily tasks that enabled the students to join a university.  Three students worked with their fathers’ in summer times and enjoyed the assignment; the remaining students could not shake off their 8th grade habits, wrote the questionnaire, mailed it, and waited for the answers.  I was expecting that the students would apply the methodology they learned in analyzing systems such as activity, decision, and task analyses but the good stuff was not forthcoming. To encourage them to cater to the business that they might inherit, I assigned them a lecture project that would generate the requisite analyses with a clear objective of focusing on near-accidents, foreseeable errors, safety of the workers and heath conditions in the work place.

So far, the products of the two quizzes were complete failures; although most of the questions in the second quiz were from the same chapter sources as the first quiz, it is amazing how ill prepared are the students for assimilating or focusing on the essential ideas, concepts, and methods. So far, with a third of the semester over, I can points to only two students who are delivering serious investment in time, hard work, and excitement and are shooting for a deserved grade of A.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2008
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