Adonis Diaries

Fitting Human Factors in the engineering curriculum

Posted on: June 17, 2009

Article #20, April 18, 2005

“How could we fit Human Factors in the engineering curriculum?”

First of all, I would like that at least one Human Factors course be a required to all the engineering disciplines and architects.

The engineering students were awe struck that there is a whole body of knowledge specifically targeted to improving their designs and new important set of criteria which they agree with but were never exposed to in their design training.

This course was an eye opener to the various problems that engineers will have to deal with once they leave the university setting and move on to the working environment. Engineering students were following a one dimensional view of the world through equations, number crunching and manipulation of formulas that permitted them to solve simple engineering problems and may be a few design problems that never included the end users in the equation.

Now they realized that they may be exposed to problems of shift work, discrimination based on age and gender, occupational mental stress, occupational physical pains and aches, potential risks and injuries, human errors and their consequences, and the urgency to target the end users whom will use their designs.

Next, I would like that all engineering disciplines be required to take the design of experiment course. It is a pre-requisite for industrial engineers in their last two years curriculum.

This course of experimental design is highly important for several reasons: first the course material in Human Factors is pregnant with statistical results drawn from experiments which use human as subjects in the experiments.

Unfortunately, the design of experiment is not required for the other engineering disciplines and not even offered or encouraged as an optional alternative.

I have a real hard time explaining through examples the difference among the independent variables, the dependent variables and control variables from the Human Factors course. 

May be a couple of students finally end up comprehending how experiments are designed but learning the process and procedures to run a valid experiment require long training and many special courses.

How could an engineering graduate update his education and continue to keep pace with the practice if he cannot read research papers and critic them? 

The process of designing and conducting experiments is tedious, time consuming and requires skills.

Engineering students have no idea how experiments are done and their final projects are very inefficient.

Their experiments are basically of the type one independent variable and one dependent variable like scientists used to perform in the 18th century. 

Students have to perform several sets of these inefficient experiments for their final project while one well designed experiment would do.

Nowadays, inference experiments or cause and effects experiments can easily be designed with three factors or independent variables and two dependent variables and still permit good interpretation of the statistical results which provide a wealth of information on the interactions of the factors in a single experiment.

Thirdly, I would like that industrial engineers be offered an optional course on the cognitive aspects of Human Factors since computer information processing and communication is the sin qua of this age of technological advancement and mass accessibility to information.

More importantly, this follow up course will allow students to design, conduct and run a complete experiment using human subjects, learn the process and procedures of comprehending research papers, analyze the validity of the experiments and have a hand on designing a simple interface.

I am leaning toward starting with the design of an interface from the beginning and whenever common sense assumptions dictates certain parts of  the design to actually ask the student designing an experiment to validate the common sense assumptions.

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June 2009

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