# “What kind of methods will I have to manipulate in Human Factors?”

Posted on: May 24, 2009

Article #11, April 9, 2005

“What kind of methods will I have to manipulate in HF?”

Once again you are asking a most interesting and to the point question.

Usually, my class is composed of all engineering disciplines and is basically a required course for industrial engineers in their third year.

Every time I ask the students: “Tell me, what 3 main methods you use in your discipline?”

I enjoy contemplating the glazed looks on their eyes.

For them, one method to using in a discipline is logically a reasonable supposition because somehow they must have been applying some sort of a method anyhow.

Hearing that there may be more than one methods that they have been applying explicitly without realizing it propelled my university students into a state of shock and disbelief.

If I asked them how they solved their problems their immediate reaction is: “Well, we locate the appropriate equation, we input the necessary data then we whip the calculator and get the response.”

Do they know before hand the magnitude and range of the reasonable answers?

Do they ever double check whether the answer is within the acceptable range for the specific domain of the problem?

Do they make it a habit to at least attach a unit to their answer?

Do they double check whether the algebraic manipulation of the dimensions of the independent variables in the equation matches the dimension of the dependent variable?  Do they solve algebraically the equation before inputting data only in the last phase of the transformation?

The average graduate student has no recollection that his training induced him to apply methodically this process for applying algebra, considering the dimensionality of an equation or the range and domain of the problems at hand.

The average university student has barely been prompted to think about the taxonomy (classification scheme) of methods used in engineering and asked to locate the appropriate domain of methods that his course might require.

Every science is based on a set of taxonomies or classification schemes.

For example we are taught that mathematic is based on inductive and deductive reasoning, that it has several distinct branches like analytic, algebraic, numeric, geometric and not least probabilistic.

Every applied science has gone through the methodologies of experimenting, setting the protocol, collecting data, analyzing statistically the data and hopefully reaching a few practical results that the professionals in the disciplines could apply.

Fourth year engineering university graduates go through their final project with a set of inefficient experiments, each experiment being based on a unique independent variable or factor and probably a modicum of control variables, and they live happily ever after without knowing that there are courses that train you to design experiments in very efficient ways.  They graduate without being required to taking at least one course in designing cause and effect experiments where more than one factor and more than one dependent variable could be studied simultaneously for the more useful information on the interactions among the variables.  It does not matter how often I explain to them the various kind of variables through specific examples, the fact is their brain is not trained to look at problems from an experimental perspective.

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